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Around The World In 30 Countries

News Story

David Sharif ’19 is a Political Science major with a minor in Peace and Justice Studies currently blogging from Spain. He was diagnosed with autism and overcomes adversity by breaking down barriers across the world—one country at a time.

“Being enrolled [in] a new country that’s going to be your home for several months is both exciting and nerve-wracking,” David Sharif ’19 recently blogged for the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS). He’s a Political Science major with a minor in Peace and Justice Studies, a member of Pace’s award-winning Model United Nations Team as well as the Pi Gamma Mu honor society, and he even made the Dean’s List, maintaining a high GPA while volunteering his time for a bevy of activist organizations both on and off campus.

He was also diagnosed with autism when he was four years old, something that didn’t put a damper on his gutsy globe-trotting endeavors. “Growing up with autism, my father [gave] me the gift to be an independent world traveler,” Sharif said. “I have been traveling the globe ever since I was born.”

As a teenager, Sharif exceeded any and all expectations. He was valedictorian of his high school graduating class, a spokesperson for Autism Speaks, and the voice in “My Name is David,” a video by Matt Manning, an animator of the wildly popular television series Robot Chicken. The video was an instant hit thanks to Sharif’s compelling and frank delivery of all the day-to-day challenges he experiences that differ from those who don’t have autism. He even talks specifically about travel!

“I used to have a difficult time traveling, waiting in lines, going through airport security, or the plane being late caused anxiety for me,” Sharif said, which were his own words. “But now that I’ve traveled a lot, I’m more flexible with not knowing everything before traveling. My parents would talk to me ahead of time—explaining as best they could every detail, and taught me to ask questions before doing anything new.”

That method certainly must have worked, because today, Sharif recently took a field study course on ecosystems and biodiversity in Ecuador. He traveled across the Galapagos Islands snorkeling, hiking, and even exploring the ancient art of pottery making. “I feel like I am following the path of what I have to do in order to succeed, break through the walls, and to pursue my dreams to become the man I want to be,” he told us.

This semester, Sharif is studying in Spain at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. There, he looks to improve his Spanish-speaking skills and learn more about the rich history of Spain, its border states, and the Mediterranean. Not only that, but he hopes to best a personal record for himself that few college students his age can boast. “Spain will be my 27th country,” he said. “This will be a chance for me to set a new record of 30 countries before the end of the year.” Ambitious indeed!

For someone so well-traveled, it comes as no surprise that Sharif has many wise reflections to share about his experiences. In another blog post for the AIFS, he paused to reflect after visiting several historical landmarks, including the Plaza Mayor, Museo del Prado, and Parque del Retiro. “One of the most important things [about] visiting a [new] country is learning the history, language, and culture,” Sharif wrote. “Getting to know others means I am discovering new things; I am also realizing how people live or have lived life differently.”

Sharif takes the same approach to travel as he does his academic career—and even beyond. “Traveling the world has taught me patience, flexibility, acceptance, and understanding,” he explained to AIFS. “[I’m] pursuing a career in raising autism awareness, and participating in conferences at the UN to reduce inequality.”

How can the rest of us follow in Sharif’s footsteps? Simple. “Integrating oneself into a new country doesn’t take a lot of work, but it requires taking action,” Sharif advised his dedicated readers. “Discover what excites you in your new environment. For me, one of the best gifts about living in Barcelona is I can take the metro or bus to my destinations, just like back home in New York City.”