First Person

First Person: My Exchange Journey as a Disability Leader

by Maria Qureshi, IVLP alumna.

“I was not disabled in America”

It was an honor for me to be part of the International Visitors Leadership program on Disability Leadership in the United States as it empowered and encouraged me.  It is worth mentioning here that during the said visit my earnest dreams came true, as I lived an independent life there.  I could enter any place I wished to — be it any building, public place or shopping mall — every place was completely accessible.  I traveled on public buses and train with my non-disabled friends, and the sense of being disabled disappeared, as we all were equal, rightful, and valued human beings, without any discrimination and sense of deprivation.  It made my belief stronger that no doubt “God is the greatest creator” and disability lies nowhere in humans – but in society, public opinions, ideas, and infrastructures. It is the system that creates barriers and breeds discrimination among humans.

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First Person The Alumni Corner

First Person: Beyond Exchanges

By Eisha, Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program

It is a well-known fact among the exchange community that exchanges transform lives.  After all, exchange is a year of growth, adventure, and learning.  However, not many have talked about their journey of reintegration.  What happens when you come back home as a different person who has experienced so many things during an unforgettable year?  Leaving everything behind from the exchange year spent in the U.S. as a Kennedy-Lugar Youth and Exchange Study (YES) program participant and coming back home was definitely not easy.  I missed my host family, my friends, in short, all things small and big.

But then, that is exactly how I felt when I left for my exchange program as well. 

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First Person Grants

First Person: Organizing BUBW – Pakistan to Promote Interfaith Harmony

By Priya Parkash, YES 2014-2015, Pakistan, hosted by AFS in Camarillo, CA

A few months ago, two religious commemorations — the Hindu celebration of Holi and the Christian Easter holiday — were declared public holidays in the province of Sindh.  The ensuing debate and dialogue made me realize how we, as a society, shy away from discussion on religion.  The result is nothing but massive ignorance about other faiths.  I, however, wanted to play my part and change that.

The incident took me back to my exchange year when I, as a participant of the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program (YES), attended the Better Understanding for a Better World (BUBW) conference that was sponsored by Civilizations Exchange and Cooperation Foundation and led by Imam Mohamed Bashar Arafat, a pillar in the American Muslim community who has dedicated his work to interfaith dialogue.  It was at this conference when I first realized that while religion may be a sensitive issue, dialogue can make interfaith harmony an achievable goal.

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First Person

First Person: Chitrali Topi in D.C

KL-YES with Moulik Berkana

Saryal Saeed is a Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program (KL-YES) alumnus from Peshawar.  While he was in the U.S., he had the most interesting coincidence an exchange student from Pakistan could have.  His story is a testament to the power of exchanges and cultural diversity as a tool of forging connections. 

I was in Washington D.C. for one of our program activities as a KL-YES grantee.  By this time, I had adjusted quite smoothly with the public transport system in the U.S and had no inhibitions about traveling on public transport.  Like always, I had my headphones on in the Metro Orange line and, as my routine, I was eyeing the view we were passing by.  But that day what caught my attention was not a peculiar view beyond the metro, but within!  A man wearing a hat that was native to my home province – Khyber Pukhtonkhwa.  This hat, known popularly as a Chitrali topi, is not a piece of clothing easily camouflaged into the American attire – it stands out!  Especially, if you are dressed up in a suit.   I had a burning question in my head: how did he manage to get this hat?

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First Person

Hijabi Diaries: A Different Perspective

By Tabish Shaikh, Global UGRAD alumna and Fulbright fellow 2015.

Amidst the disturbing events of this decade which are dividing the international community along cultural and religious fault-lines, there is a dire need to highlight some untold stories to emphasize the power of love and friendship – a connection that knows no boundaries.  Back in 2013, as a Global Undergraduate Exchange Program (UGRAD) student at Gannon University from Pakistan in the snowiest town in the United States: Erie in Pennsylvania, I got lucky to get to know a few people who took care of me, just like family.  That is when I experienced the true power of cross-cultural exchange and most importantly, I experienced why hosting matters.

Chris, the international student advisor at Gannon University helped me settle in as I tried to adapt to my host city.Kathy, who was a faculty member at Gannon University, along with her husband David used to occasionally invite me over for dinner at their home.  David used to make my favorite local delicacy – fruit pies, whenever I used to visit them. They introduced me to their extended family and friends and made me feel at home every time I visited them.  Our discussions would range from current worldwide issues to personal life gossips.  It was truly a home away from home!

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First Person

Stories from Seattle: The Power of Exchanges


By Vijay Kumar, Community College Initiative Program. 

How beautiful is the thought of visualizing your dream in your mind, creating its sub-conscious reality with unknown images of a different world; the excitement and joy of being in a different place, meeting with different people; where people who see things differently than you; people who look and sound different than you; but also, somewhere down the line, they share the same values of love, diversity, freedom, and friendship.  For me, that is how the last ten months of my life were as an exchange student on the Community College Initiative Program (CCIP) in the United States.

Travelling to the United States:

There is no doubt that the experiences I gathered during my exchange studies have shaped me into a different person than I was before.  As soon as I started adjusting to U.S. culture, I saw myself becoming more open to differing beliefs, ideas, and thoughts.  I took on the role of a cultural ambassador for Pakistan.  I fell even more in love with my homeland when I used to tell Americans about the beauty of my country, its culture and most importantly, the people.  I also got an opportunity to travel to the Washington D.C. with all of my other CCI fellows across the United States to learn about the political history of the United States and to visit some important places and memorials.  

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First Person

First Person: Hosting Iftar With Pyaar in Lahore

By Abdul Moeed Asad, KL-YES. 

On the last Friday of Ramadan, I met with some of the strongest people in my life.  It was over an iftar (ceremonial breaking of the fast during the holy month of Ramadan) where we broke bread together on sunset and talked about our lives. These people shared their stories of loss and redemption – or the redemption that never came.  They shared it all, rather unsettlingly, in a monotone.  I sat there quietly baffled.  I do not know where this strength originates from.  I do not know and I hope that no-one has to know.

I was going through my Facebook feed one day and discovered a friend had organized an iftar for the transgender community.  At first I passed it off as a token gesture, something only superficially beneficial.  It took a little curiosity, some introspection and a Google search for me to realize that I actually knew very little of the stories about the transgender community, commonly referred to as the “Khawaja-Saras.”  It didn’t take long before I reconsidered the usefulness of iftars with the discriminated; therefore, I decided that I too should have an iftar with the Khawaja-Sara community and learn from them. 

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First Person The Alumni Corner

The Alumni Corner: Lessons Learned from Civic Education Week

By Saif Ur Rehman, YES 2014-2015, Pakistan, hosted by YFU in Ann Harbor, MI

I am Saif Ur Rehman, an exchange student from Pakistan. I have been meeting wonderful people and learning a lot about America since the day I arrived. YES has given me so much to be grateful for, and Civic Education Week is one of the things I am most grateful for this year because it brought 100 amazing people from 33 different countries to Washington D.C. to learn about the American government system and to explore American history.

This workshop gave me incredible opportunities, like meeting Senators Debie Dingell and Gary Peters, and talking to them about my exchange experience; listening to the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Evan Ryan, and asking her questions; and discussing what life after the program is like with YES and YES-Abroad alumni. Not only that, but this workshop also allowed me to see the beautiful museums and memorials in D.C., and learn more about American history.

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First Person The Alumni Corner

Alumni Corner: Going to the US of A on a Training Program for Journalists Changed My Life Forever

By Aimen Tahir

When I was sent to the United States of America for the IVLP Program 2015, I went with many expectations, both good and bad – but I was surprised to find out how wrong I was about the country.

To be nominated by the U.S. Embassy for the IVLP Program 2015 on “Journalism and Security” was an honor for me. I was excited to participate in the program but was also concerned about the possible mistreatment, being a Pakistani in America.

Finally the day arrived: on 16th of May, 2015, I took my flight to Washington, D.C. from Allama Iqbal International Airport, Lahore. After a long and tiring flight, I landed in the land of opportunities. To my surprise I wasn’t discriminated against at all at the airport, as I had expected given my nationality.

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First Person The Alumni Corner

Alumni Corner: District Convention

By Mashal Akram.

Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.

When I came to the United States as a participant of the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program (YES), I learned first-hand the true essence of community service.  While we had to complete 100 hours of community service as part of our exchange program, my interest was more in engaging with people and serving a community completely different from Pakistan.

Joining the “Key Club” at school gave me the opportunity to sign up for different projects.  These projects were not only a way to serve the community, but also a way to learn about the different festivals, like Christmas and Halloween, that I had read or heard about.  On Halloween, I was blessed to serve small kids and at the same time get to know what the festival actually is.

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