The Pursuit of Happiness: International MNSU Student Transitions From Basketball to Photography

April 24, 2019

On some nights, when most people are asleep, Mansoor Ahmad is wide awake with the white glow of a computer screen the only thing keeping him company.

Ahmad, a sophomore at Minnesota State University, Mankato, is a staff photographer, web editor, and copy editor at The Reporter — the university’s campus newspaper. He’s covered big name events for the newspaper such as Taylor Swift, Panic at the Disco, Travis Scott, and Superbowl LII in Minneapolis.

When he isn’t in class or pursuing his passion of photography, he’s in the newspaper’s office well into the night, editing and revising articles written by fellow students. While the job is sluggish and time consuming, he said he enjoys learning the ins-and-outs of the Associated Press writing-style, the grammatical writing format used in print journalism. While he’s editing, Ahmad said he’s often engrossed in his work.

“There’s been many times, even when I’m copy editing, not just taking pictures, that I’ve forgotten to eat,” Ahmad said. “But I like the fact that I’m learning AP style. It’s something I can put on my resume and up my stock as an international student.”

But while Ahmad is undoubtedly committed to his passion, he may still have obstacles to overcome, if he wants to continue pursuing.

Ahmad moved to Minnesota with a student visa in August 2017 to pursue a degree in information technology with a minor in photography. He grew up in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, or “Makkh” as it’s called in his native country. He had many passions growing up, but photography and newswriting weren’t any of them.

“During late middle school, I started playing basketball,” Ahmad said. “I just fell in love with basketball, but it’s only worshipped in the United States. Nowhere else are people crazy about it. Especially in Saudi Arabia.”

Ahmad said basketball doesn’t have a dedicated following in other counties like it does in the United States. However, he said he remembers he had high hopes to one day pursue his dream of playing basketball in the United States. After he joined his middle school’s team, he set about improving his skills. He quickly set himself apart from his teammates and spent hours on the court practicing shooting drills and footwork.

“And one day I was like, ‘I’m going to play in the NBA,’” he remembers with a laugh. “And that didn’t go through obviously because I’m not good enough.”

After a debilitating injury to his ankle, he was forced to throw in the towel and retire from the sport he loved so much at a young age. He said he spent countless hours bedridden, depressed, and searching for something to get his mind off basketball. It wasn’t until he started studying classic films by Stanley Kubrick, that he began to find a new passion.

“I fell in love with the technical part of making movies,” he said. “Which is basically moving pictures — so basically, pictures.”

When Ahmad moved to Minnesota after he graduated high school in Saudi Arabia, he started taking photography seriously. He said he recalls his college orientation day at MSU where, as part of a tour, he was introduced to Otto Recreation Center, the university’s fitness center. The building contains basketball courts frequented by students, and after seeing the students playing on the courts, an idea dawned on him.

“I just started taking pictures,” he said. “And the guys on the court didn’t mind and they were fine with it. I got some really nice pictures back at that time which I thought were good. But then I applied at The Reporter with those pictures I took just for fun and I got hired.”

Ahmad started shooting pictures of events around campus and gradually saw his skills increase as a photographer. He began to ascend the staff photographer totem pole at the newspaper and was assigned to larger events.

“Then I took pictures at the college games eventually,” he said. “And I was like, ‘this is good, combining the two things that I love – sports and photography.’ It’s a love-marriage.”

Ahmad said he never lost his love for basketball or sports even after he was injured in middle school and could no longer play. He said he sees photography as means to stay involved with sports and tries to pour his passion for athletics into his work.

“Just going to all these events week after week and seeing myself grow was important,” he said. “And when I started doing bigger concerts and events, I thought this is it, I don’t know where I’m going but it’s definitely better than where I’m at now.”

Ahmad said a pivotal moment in his career and growth at the newspaper occurred during the university’s spring break in March 2018. He spent much of spring break travelling to the Twin Cities and even Iowa.

“It was over a span of a week that I shot three concerts and got into my first mixed martial arts event,” he said. “And then I capped the week off by shooting the NCAA division two wrestling championships in Iowa. Just shooting a wide-array of subjects and getting access to all those places, and then seeing my photos decent enough for me to like them, was definitely a defining moment.”

Ahmad said his plan after college is to pursue work as a photojournalist for a large news outlet. He said he wants to capture humanity in it’s most defining moments.

However, as an international student, he said he has to leave the United States one year after graduating if he doesn’t find a job related to his degree. He said he’s willing to work in information technology but would rather pursue his passion for photography.

“I.T. is just a backup plan,” he said. “And that sounds stupid because it’s my major. But eventually the plan is to go into taking photos full-time. And seeing the current situation, I don’t even know if I’ll be able to find a job because many employers don’t want to sponsor international workers.”

Ahmad said he wants to work as a photojournalist in the United States because of the higher standards and credibility given to photographers rather than compared to his native country. He said the United States has much more opportunity for those seeking to work in media-related careers.

“Photography is regarded more here than it is back home.” he said. “There are people who appreciate photographers here. I don’t care if I live in a one-bedroom apartment with barely enough food to spend the night. As long as I’m alive and people respect me, and I’m chasing something like my goals, I’m satisfied.”

Reflecting on how he views photography and what he sees as something that’s impacted his life, Ahmad said he’s motivated to pursue his dreams.

“It’s just that there are so many different ways to take the same picture,” he said. “It’s the fact that not each photo is the same, and there’s so many pictures to take. And that just blows my mind. As long as I’m content with myself and doing something I love, which is photography, and people respect and know me for that, that’s all I need and why I’m doing it.”


Story and Photos by Gage Cureton

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