Finding comfort in an unfamiliar place
By Tahreem Hassan
For the Santa Monica Daily Press
Life is all about changes. Every day we have to face things that are changed from our daily routine. It’s good to have positive changes in life. Being an exchange student has been a major change in my life. The exchange students are those who are willing to accept adjustment and challenges without their own family members in a whole different place with a diverse group of people and strange environment as well. It’s really hard work and one needs a plethora of courage and flexibility.
I am going through the same process these days. My name is Tahreem Hassan, and I am an exchange student from Karachi, Pakistan. I am living here in Santa Monica with a great host family, and I am going to Santa Monica High School. My experience so far has been incredibly amazing and I love the way I am being treated. I have learned numerous things that I know I couldn’t learn back in my home town. I am here through YES (Youth Exchange and Study Program) sponsored by AFS (American Field Service). AFS program is so spread out and hundreds of fortunate students from different parts of the world are coming to the U.S. and a number of students from the U.S. are going to different countries and we are having the time of our lives.
Pakistan is a wonderful country with every resource and necessity of life. It is located in the center of the Asian continent, and it is surrounded by four of the most important countries including India, Afghanistan, China and Iran. Pakistan is a land of natural beauty; we have five rivers, mountains, plateaus, valleys and the second highest peak of the world: K2. It is basically an agricultural country, because 50 percent of its economy is based on cotton, wheat, rice, maize, tobacco, sugar cane, many vegetables and fruits. It produces surplus amounts of crops every year, so most of the countries of Asia import these food products from Pakistan. It is a developing country, and a large amount of work is going on to make it a prosperous land. In fact, there are a number of talented people that will take it to the height of prosperity and development.
My homeland is so special to every Pakistani because after a long struggle and fight with Britain and India, we won it. Prior to our independence 65 years ago, Pakistan was part of India, and then the British took over the sub-continent and ruled over 100 years. British ruling was based on inequality and injustice. There were two important nations living in the sub-continent: Muslims and Hindus. Both the nations realized that they wanted their own country and wanted freedom form British slavery. After a long struggle of Muslims and Hindus, they got their own countries where they were allowed to follow their rituals and customs. Muslims got their homeland when we lost thousands of precious lives and when thousands of families were mourning for their sons, husbands and fathers. This is why we, all Pakistani, celebrate our independence day, Aug. 14, 1947 with great zeal and enthusiasm.
It’s true it has crimes, but crimes are in every corner of the world. Criminals are everywhere, but in Pakistan they have more freedom to break the law because we are not fully developed and we don’t yet have a strong backbone. Pakistan is a newly born country. It has just been 65 years since Pakistan got independence, and 65 years are nothing to develop a country. Surely Americans can relate since this country got its freedom from British rule only 200 years ago. But we certainly have strong hearts, minds and a powerful younger generation, like me, that will lead my country.
I think these exchange programs are the best way to learn about a new country and to remove misconceptions. I am an exchange student, and it’s been four months I am living here. I am here with a host family and my experience with them has been wonderful because I personally learned a lot from them and they learned a lot form me too. In the beginning it was hard to adjust in a new environment with new people. Everything was really different: food, language, dresses, religion and customs. But I love everything that has been a change because as AFS says: “Nothing is better or worse, it’s just different.”
I celebrated Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas for the first time in my life ever, and my time celebrating these events was remarkable. Would you believe I left cookies and milk for Santa and he left me a thank you note in my language, Urdu? It was so fun to learn new traditions and to meet new people every day. My family also celebrated my festival “Eid” with me; it was a great time too. It felt so good that someone is curious about my customs and wants to know more about them.
I got so much respect and love from the people here, so it just took two or three weeks for me to adjust completely. The hardest part for me was schooling. Schools here are remarkably different from Pakistan. Studies are easier here, but schools are colossal. In Pakistan I attended a private school with only 300 students, and here I have 3,000 students, so it’s a massive difference. In the beginning making friends was hard, but I am so happy that I made so many friends on the first day of school already. And things never are in stagnant position; they always change. So now my life is wonderful. Everything is so different: school, family and friends. Things are just the way I always wanted, a great family and a huge group of loving friends.
Although I miss my country Pakistan and family sometimes, I will never get this unique experience again, so I am making the most of it.
Read the original story here.
Find out more about hosting an exchange student like Tahreem here.