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.