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Filtering by Tag: Pakistan

Seven Months into My Exchange Year!

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I learned how to be more independent, how to face challenges alone, and how to be strong in situations that can make me feel really weak. I learned how to convert my weakness into strength, and yes, I learned never to give up.

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A Dream Come True

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Guest post from 2014-2015 YES Scholarship Recipient, HibaHow do you know what is a goal if you have never accomplished one? How do you know what anguish is if you have never said goodbye to your family and friends with eyes full of tears? How do you know what diversity is when you have never lived under the same roof with people from a different country and culture? How do you know what imagination is if you have never thought of the moment when you will go back home?

I have experienced a roller coaster ride of emotions during the past few months. I am an eleventh grade exchange student from Karachi, Pakistan now living with a family at Frog Song in Cotati and studying at Credo High School. It is incredible to believe that I was selected as one of 108 students out of over 3,000 applicants for the Kennedy Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program. This program provides scholarships for high school students from countries with significant Muslim populations to spend up to one academic year in the U.S. Students live with host families, attend high school, engage in activities to learn about American society and values, acquire leadership skills, and help educate Americans about our countries and cultures.

Hiba with YFU staff during arrival orientation

Cotati’s a little smaller

Sept. 29, 2014 marked the start of my exchange year in the United States. Leaving a city of 23.5 million people in Pakistan, I arrived in Cotati, a city of 7,000 people. Karachi is known as the “City of Lights,” a place that never sleeps. Of course, what can you expect from a place having more than 20 million people?

The day I learned I would be placed in California, three things popped into mind: beaches, celebrities and fancy skyscrapers. I thought of meeting Angelina Jolie – that was the impression I had of California. Then I arrived in Cotati, a small city surrounded by big green fields, farms and a hilly landscape, which gave me a whole new perspective of California. In fact, I am finding it a very different and peaceful way of living here. Cotati has allowed me to ponder nature and its beauty; I rarely had witnessed this kind of nature in Karachi, where all I saw were big cars, tall buildings, settlements and a busy life. I realized that America is a diverse land, not what it is typically shown in the movies. I understand now that things cannot be generalized or stereotyped.

I am overwhelmed with the love and care I have received since my arrival. Being hosted by a supportive family is an integral part of any exchange year, and I am thankful for being matched with a family so kind and caring. A recent day with them in San Francisco, where I could see the ethnic diversity and bubbling colors, was lovely.

During my exchange, I am attending Credo High School. The expectation of the first day of my American high school used to intimidate me; I imagined attending a large school with 2,000 students. However, after learning how young Credo is, I knew that something different was waiting for me and that my exchange year would not be like that of other exchange friends. Honestly speaking, Credo is the best thing that has happened to me. Many students were waiting to welcome an exchange student from Pakistan. The Waldorf education system is new to me, and I like the fact that I get to study a variety of subjects that are not taught in my home school, like Astronomy or my current course in Transcendentalism.

Hiba Collage

People ask what is the biggest cultural difference for me. One thing that immediately comes into my mind is “the culture of biking.” You rarely see people biking in Karachi. With the availability of different means of public transportation, we don’t bother to bike. For example, motor rickshaws, a motorbike with double seats attached at the back, can ride you from one stop to another for 25-cents. This is why biking 15 minutes to and from Credo High was a cultural shock. However, I am getting used to biking, and I like it. It is helping to keep me active, and I like the independence to go anywhere I wish.

Weather much different

Another difference is the weather. Karachi, which is near the Arabian Sea, rarely has extreme temperatures due to the oceanic influence. In general, the climate of Karachi is steadily hot. Figuring out the right clothing in Cotati is always a challenge: Should I put on my jacket because it’s too cold to bike in the morning? Or should I leave my jacket at home because the weather is going to be hot during the day and I don’t want to carry it around?  I question myself every time I leave my house.

The day I felt really accomplished was the day when the Credo High Debate Club officially started. I have always been interested in knowing about world issues, participating in Model United Nations and researching; these activities make me more confident, knowledgeable and practical. This is the reason why I thought of initiating a Debate Club at Credo. Everyone supported this idea, and now Credo has a very lively Debate Club and will hopefully some day have a debate team too.

Henna tattoos a hobby

Lately, I have been making henna tattoos. These are so common in Pakistan that people don’t even notice what pretty designs you have; in America, a simple henna flower is something that people love. This is why I am doing a lot of henna for my friends. It’s difficult for me to figure out what design I should make on a boy’s hand because in Pakistan, henna and boys are like the two ends of a rope. I really need to figure out some masculine henna designs!

Making Pakistani food for my friends and family, giving presentations, doing a Pakistani dance in my community’s talent show and teaching traditional moves and styles have enabled me to play a good role as a cultural youth ambassador. However, there is a lot more to come.

With eight more months to spend in the U.S., I hope to have a great time ahead, filled to the brim with color, joy and laughter. These light-hearted times are not going to come back, and this year of my life will perhaps be the most cherished journey.

I thank everyone from my host family, the town of Cotati and Credo High School who have made this journey possible.

Story originally shared in The Community Voice.

Dreams Come True

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Guest post from 2013-2014 YES Scholarship Recipient, Rabia While I was in the plane for the first time in my life I couldn’t wait to know what the future would be holding for me. I was ready to start my exchange year, one of the best years in my life.

Michael Hill & Rabia

I am Rabia from Pakistan and was placed in Suffolk, VA. I am 17 years old and got selected to be a cultural ambassador of my country, affiliated to the exchange program known as Youth Exchange and Study Program (YES) and my placement organization is Youth For Understanding USA (YFU).

The excitement to come to USA can’t be expressed. It was the first time that I was going to be away from my family for one year. All the feelings of excitement, nervousness, anxiousness and willingness to explore the world were jumbled up in my mind. On August 13, 2013 I came to America. The first three days that we spent in Washington DC were definitely amazing. I got a chance to meet the President and CEO of YFU which was a great encouragement for me to start my year.

I knew this year was going to be a lot of fun when I met my host mom, Narendra Pleas. She is so loving and amazing woman and helped me a lot to understand American values so I could fit in. I was totally prepared to go to American high school, which I knew would be a whole new experience. I went to Kings Fork High School as a senior. High school is the part which makes the exchange year even more enjoyable, wonderful and memorable. I made lots of friends by giving presentations in my classes and by telling them about my culture. They all got so excited when I introduced Henna Tattoos and it helped me to make more friends. It doesn’t matter wherever you are fashion always brings teenagers close. After my presentation in Chorus class one of the girls came to me and said: “I didn’t really know that much about Pakistan, but after you showed us everything it really changed my point of view about your country and I think it’s pretty amazing.” After another presentation another student talked to me and she said: “I was feeling like I was there (in Pakistan) while you were talking about your country and showing us different things.”

To make this year even more exciting I joined after school clubs and sports. I was selected as the secretary of the international club and I am also a member of key club. We did different projects with both clubs to help our sponsors like fund raising for UNICEF to help orphan kids. I also played Varsity Tennis and became stats and score keeper of Kings Fork Boys’ Basketball team.

I wanted to try all the new things during my stay in America. I joined chorus and Air Force Junior ROTC. Both of these courses were definitely new for me and I loved both of these classes. It’s always fun to try new things. In my ROTC class I earned the cadet of the quarter award for all the four quarters of this year and also the outstanding cadet of the year award was one of my big accomplishments. In chorus I started with the mixed group and made it to the selected chorus group. I will miss both of these classes. They taught me something new and I will take all these memories with me.

My high school year went great, made lots of friends, got involved in different activities and inducted as a National Honor Society member. I will never forget how everyone showed love to me and accepted me as one of them. My friends, teachers and Principal were always there for me. They always tried to make my year wonderful. After the induction ceremony of National Honor Society my principal took me to the cafeteria and surprised me. He put the Pakistani flag along with all the other flags that were already there and told me to go stand with it so he could take a picture. It was all beyond my imaginations. All these people have been an important part of this year and I love them all.

After being inducted into the National Honor Roll Society

My exchange year in America gave me a chance to get up and help the community. I did community service at Greensville Volunteer Rescue Squad (GVRS) throughout the year and I was awarded for being a Junior Squad member this year. I also did community service at a church on Thanksgiving. We packed food for homeless people to make them feel that they have someone out there to think about them and to make them a part of their celebrations. I have done 188 hours of community service.

I had the full American experience of Thanksgiving with turkey, Halloween by being a pumpkin, Christmas with all the gifts, super bowl by sitting on a couch and watching the super bowl on TV with some food, I mean lots of American food  and last but not least New Year Eve. All these occasions taught me to be thankful for what we have, be generous and spread happiness.

My year kept getting better and better. I was selected to attend a week long Civic Education Workshop (CEW). It was one of the best parts of this year. I got a chance to visit Capitol Hill and that was an amazing experience to go in to the government buildings and to have meetings with government officials to tell them about our exchange experiences. It gave me a lot of confidence and a great experience to remember.

I always wanted to go to different places in America and learn more about it. I got a chance to participate in YFU's Southeast District contest to win a trip to Hawaii. I participated in the contest. I gave several presentations in my host community and high school about YFU and exchange programs which are affiliated to YFU, distributed informative flyers and put up information about YFU at different public places to spread the word. All this hard work earned me that trip to Hawaii. I was the happiest person on Earth. The trip to the islands was a completely different experience and I got to know about a different culture in America. The beauty of that place was breathtaking.

No doubt, my exchange year went great. I have had lots of fun. It was unbelievable for me that I was selected as YES student of the month for the month of April. My host mom told me this great news and I literally screamed because I couldn’t believe that I was the one out of 900 students. It was a great achievement and I was so happy that day.

This year is not just a year in my life, it is more than that. It gave me an opportunity to present the true Pakistani culture. I got a chance to remove the misconceptions between two countries and to build long lasting ties. During the last days in my high school, I took small interviews from some of my teachers and classmates. My English teacher said: “I never had a Pakistani student before, but it was a very good experience to know about different culture. I think it’s really important to have exchange programs because exchange students come to class with a lot of things to offer which American students really like to learn.“ My French teacher said: “I think exchange programs open up many possibilities and encourage people to be more tolerant, more aware, give them a broader perspective and make people understand about other cultures.” She also said: “I was very pleased and surprised with how outgoing you are. You are so polite and very accepting of other people.” These people have had always been an encouragement for me to do even better.

My year is ending, but all the things I learned and all the experiences I had will always teach me new things and will definitely help me in future. The special relationship I have developed with my host family and host community will never end. Thank you YES and YFU for giving me such a great year!

A snapshot of Rabia's year in the US.

Inspired by Rabia? Meet some of our incoming YES scholarship recipients and welcome one of these future leaders into your family this fall!