We are living in a world where we have around 196 countries and each country has its own customs, rituals, values, traditions, languages and cultures. Each and every culture is so unique, fascinating and different from others and this is what the beauty of this world is.
I still remember when I was in Pakistan; I was in a bubble of my values and traditions. But when I came to the U.S., I realized there’s a whole different world surviving in an awfully different way from me and my land.
Things are surely different, but they are not worse. It’s good to learn about the things we are not related to. And I think that is why I came here all the way back from Pakistan without my family or friends, to see the beautiful world around me. For the first time in my life I saw people I never met before. I started living with some people whom I had never talked to before and started calling them “Mom” and “Dad” and I started calling some children whom I never played with before my “siblings.” I found things really hard in the beginning and cried a lot, wanting the things back that I am used to, like a kid being stubborn for a toy. I had a cultural shock; saying “thank you,” “sorry,” and “please” were the hardest part for me. Going to school and sitting around friends and catching up with their conversations was the toughest job. But I am glad I did it.
My experience with a new culture is amazing, but there were certain things that were really hard for me in the beginning. I am a latchkey kid now; I walk to my school myself and I walk back to my home. Finding no mom home when I got there frustrated me a lot. Here both parents work. Back in Pakistan I always see my mom at home when I come back from school or anywhere else. It is certainly hard to see things that are different. This is because the culture I belong to is very different from American culture. But truly and honestly I enjoyed everything that has happened to me because that made me so strong and sturdy.
There are some major differences that I observed in our cultures. Pets are not a part of my culture, and when I saw dogs on the couches at home, I was literally scared because I am not used to it. Food and clothes are different, too. But surely these cultures have some similarities; family dinners, parties, respect of traditions and important occasions are an important part of my culture and these things I observe in American culture, too.
Secondly, education plays a significant role in my society as well as yours. It is a vital part of both cultures. But I was astonished when I came to know that schooling is free here; it made me so happy because schools in Pakistan cost money. Studies are easier here, but the teachers are qualified and highly educated. Every day I learn something new and interesting from them.
The educational system in Pakistan is well organized and has high standards. My generation there is working to make it the best educational system in the world. We are pretty focused toward learning. But unfortunately there are some villages where there are still some hurdles for young girls and women. Two or three decades ago, women were not allowed to read and write there; that is true. But things changed and women showed that they are not just for house chores. They have the complete right to be educated like men. This concept of women was surely a burden for men at that time, but eventually women got a hold of a lot of things there.
Benazir Bhutto was the first woman elected as prime minister in the history of Pakistan. She was highly educated and a noble woman. She was working a lot for Pakistan, especially for the rights of women. But unfortunately she was killed five years ago, and that was a mournful time for every beating heart in Pakistan. She left behind hopes and her powerful words that are still an inspiration for every girl who wants to get an education, and those words are leading them toward the height of success. Time never keeps the situation the same, everything changes: minds, thoughts, words, and actions. The thing that I am so proud of is that this year as Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program members in the United States, there are 60 percent of girls in the group.
I am so happy after coming to the U.S. that I wasn’t limited to study only about one specific culture, but come to know about several different backgrounds just because of the diversity here. Learning about a new culture has always been my dream and this year I fulfilled it. The respect, love and benevolence I am getting this year will forever remain in my heart.
TAHREEM is an exchange student from Karachi, Pakistan living in Santa Monica for the school year. She attends Santa Monica High School and can be reached at email@example.com.