What I thought of America before I traveled here was mainly what I saw in the movies and the media, and the songs and television shows. Mainly, I thought all people in America were rich. People with plenty of money to do what they want – getting tattoos and piercings, which are very expensive. The American movies that are shown in Pakistan, I think, show only people who seem to have plenty of money to do what they want.
In movies and television, the people all seemed to wear expensive clothes, drive expensive cars, and to live in big, expensive houses. Everything seemed very luxurious. When I got here, I have visited many houses of my friends’. I have seen big houses, bigger than our houses in Pakistan, but not like in the movies. I was right about their houses being bigger and having many items that we do not have, such as dishwashers, ovens, water dispensers, and clothes dryers. I learned the adults are sometimes working more than one job to have the money they need. I also saw that teenagers often work after school for money to spend.
I also have learned that most adults and many teenagers seem to have their own car. In Pakistan, most people do not have cars because they aren’t affordable. Teenagers don’t have cars or motorcycles, only a few teenagers would have a motorcycle. In my city, everything is near where I live and I wouldn’t need a car to drive to go places. We travel by bus or on foot. In the United States, it seems that everything is far from the houses. We have to have a car or it would be too far to travel. The area in which I am living is a small town in New Mexico. If I were living in New York City, I think it would be different.
In addition to the houses and all of the things, the people, their way of life, and the daily routine, is totally changed from Pakistan. We don’t shake hands or hug when we meet a girl, but in America this is common to shake hands or hug with friends who are girls. It is also very typical in Pakistan for women to wear traditional clothing, with their whole body being covered except for their faces. Here, the girls wear very short clothes. They don’t cover their whole bodies, which is very surprising to me. I wonder why their parents allow them to wear these clothes outside of their homes. My expectation is that these girls are bad girls because of the way they dress.
Here, I see it is common for teenagers to have a boyfriend or girlfriend, but this is not common
in Pakistan. Here, most teenagers seem to spend a lot of time away from home with boyfriends or girlfriends. In Pakistan, most teenagers spend their time at home, in school, or in extra classes after school.
I see students in school here in the U.S. talking during class, misbehaving with the teachers, not doing homework. Students here listen to music or use their cell phones during school. This would not happen in Pakistan. We are not allowed to take cell phones or IPods to school. If a student has one of these, they are taken by the teacher and the parents are contacted. If any student misbehaves with a teacher, he would be in trouble at school and at home. Our expectation is we respect our teachers and our parents expect us to respect the teachers.
When I arrived, I was thinking that Americans thought all Muslims were violent and were terrorists. But we also do not like terrorists and we are afraid of them, too! Most people here, I have learned, are not very familiar with Muslims. Most people, I now understand, either don’t know about Muslims or have a positive view of Muslims, and only some think all Muslims are violent and bad. In my country, culture and religion are very much connected. But here, people don’t seem to practice their religion on a daily basis.
Now that I have been in America for almost two months, I find my life changing. I like my life in Pakistan and it is what I am familiar with. But I have learned many things from my new friends and they have learned about me. I want to learn as much as I can about America, and other cultures, too. This is very exciting for me – other religions, other cultures. We can overcome the negative ideas we all have about each other – we are all, above all else, human. We must respect each other based on our shared humanity, not only see the differences of our cultures, religions, and languages.
Although I have experienced many new things in New Mexico, riding in a hot air balloon has been the most exciting. It was the most memorable day! My host mom is the area rep for World Heritage, so I made friends quickly with another exchange student. I met Laura, from France, and we attend the same school. But we also got to ride in this balloon together! It was so exciting to ride in this balloon. Even my host mom and dad have never been in a balloon! When I went to school the next Monday, none of my new friends had ever ridden in a balloon. Here I am, new to American, new to New Mexico, and I get the chance to be in a balloon. It was very exciting. New Mexico is very popular with people who have balloons. This experience took place at the White Sands National Monument, which is a huge area of the largest gypsum deposit in the world. It is a beach without water! The balloons take off from here, go up in the sky, then come back to the earth. I received two pins from different balloon pilots – these balloon pilots trade these pins to other pilots – but on one day, I helped bring a balloon down to earth & the pilot gave me one pin and then when I rode in another balloon, this pilot gave me another pin! These are very special and I don’t know anyone else with one!
I have learned that Thanksgiving and Eid ul Azha are very similar occasions. Thanksgiving is a celebration when families come together and eat turkey and give thanks for their health, for family, for friends, and for anything they have. Eid ul Azha is the celebration of the time Abraham was told by God to sacrifice his son, Isaac, but even though he was willing to, God spared his son and a sheep was slaughtered instead. Abraham was very thankful to God that his son was alive. It is traditional for Americans to eat a large turkey and for us at Eid ul Azha, we have sheep, goat, cow, or camel.
On the morning of Thanksgiving, my host mom and I went shopping very early. I learned about Black Friday sales! It was very fun to wake up early and do shopping with hot tea and we were ready to go! I was looking for several electronics, but there were many people for buying and there were only a few of the items! Later in the day, we served meals for homeless and elderly and poor people, then we shopped some more. We left at midnight to shop for clothes and more electronics. By the time Black Friday sales were over, I bought a computer, a tablet for my mother, a PSP for my brother, diamond earrings and necklace for my sister.
On Saturday, we had our Thanksgiving, because my host brother was working on Thanksgiving Thursday. We invited many people, there were 22 people eating here at our house. We had a great time and we ate many things – my mother made a huge turkey for everyone, and a halal chicken for me. It looked very tiny next to that big turkey! I liked the dressing and gravy. We also had some delicious pies, but my most favorite was the Chai Pie.
After our Thanksgiving dinner, we took a hike with my mom and some other friends. Then we went to the movie with my sister, some friends, the other exchange student, and my host dad. I first thought that Breaking Dawn would be a girl movie, but I loved it and then I watched all the other parts when I got home.
I had a wonderful time on Thanksgiving and it was very fun. I am thankful to my God for a wonderful host family, good friends, and that I got money to buy some electronics to take home with me!
One of my dreams has been fulfilled by the grace of God. I am very thankful to my God, my parents, and my teachers for the chance to be in America. It is only because of their hard work and my hard work and efforts that I am here.
I started my journal from Karachi on the 3rd of September 2012. I flew from Karachi to Dubai, which took two hours. From Dubai to Washington, D.C., it took many hours. It was a little annoying, because it was so long and because of the effect on my ears. It was very weird because I saw day and night change several times!
When I arrived in Washington, it was a whole changed world. Different people. Different language. Different lifestyles. Everything was changed for me. There were 50 to 60 people, all from Muslim countries, and we were staying together in a Washington hotel. I spent three days in Washington continuing my pre-departure orientation, which had started in Karachi.
There were three teachers telling us about how we could have a great time in the U.S. with our host families. I visited many museums and the White House. It was a wonderful trip and experience, spent with new and old friends. I stayed with three other students, from Bangladesh, Jordan, and Albania. They were nice people and I made many other friends from all over the Muslim world.
On the third day in Washington, I departed for my trip to New Mexico. I was a little afraid in the Washington airport, because for the first time I was alone. I kept thinking good things, so I would not think so much about being afraid. I was thinking about my family, but that I would have to manage since I would be without them for almost one year.
My plane first landed in Houston, Texas. There was a time difference that I did not know about. I was afraid my plane was late and I kept asking the flight attendant questions. At first, she was trying to assure me I was not late and the flight was not going to be missed. I couldn’t understand about the time and finally, I think she got a little mad. She said I would have to stay with her to find my next plane. I finally asked her the time, and then I apologized that I didn’t realize the change in the time!
When I departed Houston, I was very glad to be on my way to El Paso to meet my host family. When I arrived in El Paso, I didn’t realize my host parents were standing and waiting for me with a sign of my name. I passed them…and I heard my dad say “Zain!” I was very glad to find them and they were very happy to have me. I have a picture my mom took just as I turned around after hearing him call my name.
We drove from El Paso to New Mexico to get to our house. We were talking with each other on the way. I wanted to let my parents know I arrived safely and when we arrived to the house, my new mom and dad let me call my mom and dad in Karachi.
It was dream to live in a mountainous area, because I come from near the ocean. I saw mountains around my new house and I can see the sunrise and sunset everyday now. And at night, because in New Mexico there are light pollution laws, there are millions of stars in the sky that can be seen. My host dad knows a lot about stars and he tells me about them.
The day after I arrived, we had a party with another exchange student from France and her host family, my area representative, and several of my host mom’s friends. My mother baked a very delicious cake for us, with my name and Laura’s name on it. My host mom is a very wonderful cook and she loves to cook. And I love to eat! My host dad is famous in all of Alamogordo as a bike rider and even though he is 61 years old he rides for as many as 150 miles a day. He got me a bicycle that first weekend and my first bike ride on the second day, I rode 20 miles. I almost died!
I started my school on the anniversary of 9-11. My host mom and dad were a little worried about this being my first day and what other students might say to me. The night before this, we watched many things on television about 9-11. I didn’t know all of the information about that day. We talked about the hijackers being from Saudi Arabia. We talked about how after 9-11, many Americans became very afraid of Muslims, thinking they were all terrorists. On that day, all rules seem to have changed in America.
When I started school on the next day, I was a little bit afraid because I thought what if all Americans thought bad about Muslims? The first day of my school was a little strange to me. I had to change classrooms when we changed each class. However, it didn’t take me long to learn my way around and I was not late for any class, and the school is very big. On mhy first day, I started to make friends. By the second day, I was already invited to a friend’s home to work on a class project.
I am taking all new subjects. My subjects are English, Weight Lifting, 3D Art, Public Speaking, US History, Government/American Society. All of these subjects are very interesting to me and I am enjoying all of my subjects. All of my teachers are very great and very caring. They seem to like me a lot.
In the beginning, my English was not as good as it is now. The first week, it was a little hard for me to understand the language. I was not familiar with people speaking English very quickly.
Since I have been here, I have seen the White Sands, I rode in a hot air balloon, visited the mountains, been bike riding, attended a big Mariachi Festival, see the Crane Festival (which happens only once each year), watched many movies, started my volunteer work, given many presentations, and spent several days shopping during the famous Black Friday sales after Thanksgiving. I have talked with my host family and others about my country and I have been able to cook several Pakistani dishes. (They like my dishes, but one dish was very spicy for my host mom.)
I am living with a wonderful host family. They are taking as good of care of me as my natural family. They are taking care of me as their own child. I am not missing my natural family because they are taking such good care of me. I am very thankful to my God that I am living with this family in New Mexico and having a great time. I am looking forward to Christmas. I have decorated the Christmas tree with my host dad and then wrapped gifts with my mom. And now I am excited for Christmas and SNOW!