(Muneeb from Pakistan studying in Wisconsin)
We have so many truly amazing and talented young students at Aspect Foundation, but certain students really stand out from the pack. Today, we are putting the spotlight on a standout student who has been making the most of his exchange year, Muneeb from Pakistan! Muneeb is studying in Wisconsin on a scholarship sponsored by the US Department of State’s Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program. He lives with with the LaVold family, and he has been filling his year with volunteering, group trips, and family fun! We asked Muneeb several questions about his exchange year, see what he had to say below!
Tell us a little bit about your first days in America!
The first day was awesome . We landed in Washington D.C. and there was a huge crowd of people. It took me more than two hours to get through airport checking. Then I sat with other exchange students (mostly from Pakistan) in the bus. The bus took us to the 4H center where we were going to stay and attend some workshops. We had a short workshop about what we were going to do in next two days. Then we all went to our rooms. One of my friends Sairem, was sharing that room with me. We sang songs at night and then went to bed. We both were hyped up for everything we were going to experience in next 10 months!
Did your host family meet you at the airport?
Yes, Monica (my host mom) and Dixie (my local coordinator) were there to greet me.
How did you feel when you first saw your host family?
The moment I came out, I was really tired but when I saw two ladies waving at me I felt so relaxed and hyped that I just went up to them and gave them hugs!
How did they make you feel welcomed?
As soon as I came out of airport my mom gave me a hug and said “This year is going to be awesome.” I loved it.
Thinking back to the beginning of the year, what is one memory that really stands out in your mind from your first weeks in America?
So during my first week in America, my local coordinator took me and her exchange student (Muhammad from Jordan) to North Carolina. On our way we saw 10 states and visited several places like Mammoth Cave, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Pigeon Park, etc. We had a lot of fun that week!
(Muneeb and some of his fellow Exchange Students)
High school in the States is probably pretty different from high school in Pakistan. What are some of the biggest differences you have noticed?
The biggest differences which I noticed are:
-In US there is a variety of subjects which you can study whereas in Pakistan, we don’t have a lot of choices in subjects.
-In the US, sports are a really essential part of high school and there is a variety of sports (soccer, softball, baseball, American football, track and field, basketball, volleyball, etc) that you can play whereas in Pakistan, we just have three sports (cricket, soccer, and badminton.)
– In Pakistan the students sit in one class and teachers change classes while in America students change classes.
-In Pakistan the classes of each grade are different so a freshmen can’t attend a class with a junior or senior and vice versa while in America a junior can attend a class with seniors.
-In Pakistan most of the schools have uniforms while in America students don’t have to wear uniforms.
How would you say that high school here and high school back home are similar?
I think the teachers are really patient in both countries and they try to help their students as much as they can.
Have you joined any clubs or team sports this year?
Yeah as far as clubs are concerned I was a part of FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) and Community Club. Both were different but amazing. For sports, I was a part of soccer team during the fall, then I joined speed and strength program for winter, and now I am a part of the track and field team and everything is going good.
What do you like the most about the clubs and team sports you have joined?
–I think being in FBLA gave me an idea of how practical life is going to be if you are a businessman while Community Club gave me a lot of ideas in which I can serve my people when I go back home.
– Soccer and track sports embellished my mental and physical skills, and also taught me that teamwork, respect, and sportsman spirit are really important during any sport because if you lack any one of these you are not a good sportsman.
Wisconsin’s climate and landscape are really different from that of your hometown in Pakistan. How do you like living in such a new environment?
I think it was a new and interesting experience because I’ve never been to an area where the temperature can go below -30 Celsius. I loved it because I love watching a movie and eating something when it’s snowing out and I think it was the best environment to do so. I enjoyed Wisconsin winter.
What are some things about Wisconsin that you appreciate?
I think the people of Wisconsin are really welcoming to new people because in River Falls, everyone has been so nice to me from the beginning of the year! But the best thing about Wisconsin is cheese curds. They are so delicious!
Was this past winter your first time seeing snow? What was that experience like?
No it wasn’t but I haven’t seen this much snow before. I love seeing snow fall so it was a great experience, drinking hot chocolate and seeing snow fall.
This year, you got to share a holiday with you host family, and be a part of one of theirs! Tells us about these experiences!
Being away from home on Eid-ul-adha was a bit sad because I really like celebrating that day with my family and friends, but my host family didn’t let me get depressed. I think this experience showed me how colorful the world and different traditions can be.
How did you celebrate Eid-ul-Adha with your host family?
We had a family dinner and everyone wore dresses (Shalwar Kameez) which I brought for them from Pakistan. It felt like I was celebrating Eid at my own house back home in Pakistan! It felt like they really care about my feelings.
(Muneeb celebrating Eid-ul-Adha with his Host Family)
Tell us about Christmas with your host family! Was it fun to experience another culture’s holiday?
Yes! We celebrated Christmas at our house. My host grandmother came to our house to celebrate Christmas with us. We got a lot of gifts (who doesn’t like an event where you get gifts when it’s not your birthday, lol!) We unwrapped the gifts and some gifts were hilarious! I loved Christmas.
You have been committed to changing the negative stereotypes associated with Islam and Muslims. Have you found most people receptive to your message of tolerance and acceptance?
Yes, I think most of the people I gave presentations to were really receptive to my ideas. In general , the people of River Falls are awesome and are always hyped to listen to what I say.
What has been the most challenging aspect of changing these stereotypes?
After 9/11, it’s been really hard for Muslims to live a normal life in America. They have to face a lot of stereotypes about their religion and countries. For me, it was hard to explain to them what terrorism actually is and that it has nothing to do with religion. Though it sounds like an easy thing to do, it’s not. Convincing people that what they have been assuming for a long time is wrong is not easy. Also telling them about how a Muslim feels, when he faces racist or anti-religious comments, was hard because they have never experienced such criticism in another country.
What has been the most rewarding aspect?
I broke a lot of stereotypes, like all Muslims are terrorists, Pakistan is a desert country, or women are not allowed to do anything in Islam etc, at least in River Falls. I think it’s a big achievement for me and I am looking forward to presenting my ideas to more people to change their thinking towards different religions and traditions.
How can others help to spread your message of tolerance and acceptance?
So, whatever I told people in my presentations was not from a book or something that was conflicting. It was what I see happening around the world these days. Everything was logical so everyone agreed with me on almost everything. What others can do is first bring a change in their attitude toward people from other countries or religions. Then, tell their friends that none of the world’s religions support terrorism, so don’t connect terror acts with religions.
You have spent a lot of time volunteering this year! Tell us how you have given back to your community!
I think giving back to your community, especially when everyone cares so much about you, is really important. I played my part in helping people to organize or run different events successfully and I am happy with what I did for this community.
What have you learned from your time volunteering?
I’ve learned that if your community serves you with such awesome facilities, it becomes your duty to serve your community in any way that can help in the development of the city.
Will you continue to volunteer once you are home in Pakistan? If yes, how do you plan on giving back to your community?
Yes definitely. This year has taught me that it doesn’t matter if you have a job or not, you can always serve your city in a thousand different ways. You just need the willpower to make the change.
As soon as I go back, I’ll make a campaign with my friends whose objective would be to make the city clean and help poor people as much as possible. I am thinking of providing financial aid to people who are in a dilemma or don’t have money to pay for their daily requirements or child’s education.
(Muneeb volunteering in his community)
Now that you are nearly through your exchange year, we want to know if you have any advice for students or host families.
Make each other feel special and build everlasting bonds.
What advice would you give to another student who is thinking about studying abroad in America?
If you want to experience diversity in everything, America is indeed the best place to go!
What advice would you give to an exchange student when trying new things?
Don’t let fear stop you from trying and experiencing new things. Go out there, give yourself a shot, and you will not regret anything.
We want to give you a chance to share any of your experiences or thoughts from your exchange year with our community!
I went with a Japanese exchange student (Momoka) to prom. It was a new experience for both of us. We both were nervous that day because we had no idea of what was going to happen. We walked in the Grand March and it was beautiful. Then we went with our friends and had a prom photo session. Then, we all went to the hotel for dinner. At almost 8 o’clock we reached the prom dance party where we all danced. After that, we went to one of our friend’s house and had snacks and watched movies. It was an awesome day. The best part of all this was that I found a bunch of awesome friends and I love them!
Before prom, during the first month of my exchange year, I went to North Carolina with my local coordinator and her family. That was one of the best part parts of my exchange year; to go through different states and visiting the popular places there. These are some of my best experiences in U.S.
(Muneeb and friends posing for photos at Prom)
If you could sum your exchange year up in one word, what would that be?
Lastly, is there anything else you would like to say today?
Yeah, I want to thank my host family for hosting me and giving me love and a place in their family for this entire year!
Do you know a standout student that you would like to see featured? Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.