“What comes to your mind when you think of Pakistan?”
This is the question that Pakistani exchange student Zainab Asghar has taken to asking during her time in Delaware County.
She has been surprised by some of the responses she has heard — which include “Africa,” “bloodshed,” “terrorists” and “Middle East.”
Asghar has delivered several presentations during which she has countered these assumptions about Pakistan. The effectiveness of her presentations is shown through the answers that she receives when she once again asks her audience what they think of when they hear “Pakistan.”
Responses after her presentations tend to focus on Pakistan’s beautiful architecture, clothing and agricultural industry.
These presentations are part of the requirements for the Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program through which Asghar has been able to spend her junior year at Olentangy Orange High School.
She said that she chose to apply for this program because “we were not only exchange students we were cultural ambassadors for our country.” She said that this role of cultural ambassador appealed to her because, “I’m a very patriotic person so I’ve always wanted to represent Pakistan and show people that it’s not what they think.”
In addition to showing people that Pakistan may be different from what they assume, Asghar has learned that the United States is different from what she thought it would be.
She said that before coming to the states, “I thought that people here, they kind of live in a bubble.” She said that her assumption was proven wrong because “when I arrived here I got to know that people are very friendly.” Asghar has found that incorrect assumptions are often discarded when individuals “have a cross-cultural exchange.”
She said that it is important for people to remember that “whatever they see in the media and the news, that’s not the only truth. … There’s a whole big picture.”
Asghar said she has enjoyed experiencing and learning new things during her time in Delaware. She has begun to learn German, has improved her English, has attended her first pep rally and football game, and has found that she enjoys volunteering with children with special needs.
Asghar has also enjoyed becoming involved with the youth group at her host family’s church. She recently spent an evening with the youth group that was focused on miracles. She said that, during this time, she experienced a miracle of her own.
“I guess the biggest miracle for me is that I’m away from my country at a place where there are no Muslims or Pakistanis around and I’m so welcome,” she said.
Asghar also celebrated her first Christmas this year. She said she enjoyed spending the morning “wearing a Santa hat, eating cinnamon buns, opening presents.”
In addition to learning about her host family’s Christmas traditions, Asghar taught them about some of her own holiday traditions when they celebrated Eid Al-Azha together. “It’s really fun,” she said. “They celebrated Eid with me and I celebrated Christmas with them.”
Asghar said she hopes to make her career in Pakistan because “I really want to do something for my country.” Although she plans to return to Pakistan, Asghar will never forget her host family. “When I go back, I can tell people that I have two families in the world,” she said.
Asghar said she hopes that people will follow her host family’s example. “Open up your hearts and encourage exchange programs and have an exchange student in your home and see what the world is like,” she said.
Asghar said she has experienced and learned many new things during her time in the States. The most important thing she has found, however, seems to be that “it all comes down to humanity in the end.”
Megan Neary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.