By Hina Ali, Hubert H. Humphrey fellow
There are certain things you always discuss during your stay in the United States as an exchange participant. These are discussions that bring you closer to your other fellows, their countries, and their cultures.
Mother’s cooking and local cuisine of your country – On more than one occasion you will discuss with your fellows how great and flavorful your mom’s cooking is. To prove my point, I even cooked a couple of local dishes for my roommate from Bangladesh – Wahida Iffat. In fact, she used to cook for me to cheer me up! We are friends for life now.
List of places to go – You will definitely compare a list of cities to visit with the fellows. You might even visit many of them together. Traveling is tough, you will want to travel to a lot of cities but you will have a limited budget so you will share rides, hotel rooms, and other things.
Freedom of expression – In your apartment, at the university, and at official events you will discuss issues at length and even like an expert at times, especially if you are the one representing your country. Fellows, especially coming from countries where press freedom and social media often comes under attack, will find themselves giving talks about it and having heated debates in their lounges, all in good spirit.
Social injustice – Talking of freedom of expression, you will certainly find yourself actively, passionately and sometimes aggressively discuss social issues facing your country with the Americans and vice versa.
Your opinion on men and women – This will happen on a leisurely evening when you will bond with closest of your fellows. Either you will gather for tea, drinks or dinner or the evening will start with jokes and you will end up discussing the difference between a man and a woman’s life – work, family, and of course love life; comparing your opinion with other fellows – possibly, arguing your case till two in the morning.
Movies and music – You will not just discuss movies and music – you will actively share it. There will be at least a couple of fellows who will really like your music (you might like their music too) and this will make your friendships deeper and you will have exclusive insights from your fellow’s lives and cultures.
Family system – If it is your first visit, you might find yourself comparing the family system in your country and in the U.S. What I learned from such conversations is: everyone loves their family and values relationships – no matter how American or Pakistani the value systems may be.
Stereotypes – This will happen in either formal surroundings or in very informal settings. If you come from a country like Pakistan you will be asked a lot of questions on stereotypes about working women, stereotypes about Islam, etc. This will be your chance to break some stereotypes.The fascinating part about this is: You will not just break stereotypes for other people – they will do the same for you.
Success during your year – Last but not the least, you will find yourself sitting in your kitchen; you might be angry or sad or disappointed or may be all; your spirits might be broken, you might be crying or shouting; and at that time you will have a shoulder to cry on and someone to lean on.
These are the moments when you realize that the fellows have become your family.
This activity was organized by exchange alumni Sahib Khan Bhand and Abid Lashari in Nawabshah in February 2016 with the sole purpose of creating awareness among people to highlight the need for sports opportunities for persons with disabilities. We are replugging this story to share how our alumni in Sindh are working towards promoting inclusivity for persons with disabilities. The activity engaged key stakeholders from Nawabshah for an open dialogue with the community on the need for promoting equality and inclusion. Participants discussed the importance of sports for physical and mental health, creation of accessible infrastructure for persons with disabilities, and promoting the spirit of entrepreneurship among persons with disabilities.
Click to read the Report Sports Skills among persons with Disabilities [sic] compiled by Khan and Lashari to learn more about this activity.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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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