By SABERA DAQIQ
Boy: “Where are you from?”
Me: “I am from Afghanistan.”
Boy: “Wow, cool.”
“The weather is hot today. Why is he saying it is cool?” I asked myself.
That was my first day of school when I came to the United States two years ago. I was sixteen and coming to the U.S. fulfilled one of my biggest dreams. I was one of 32 students, chosen out of 4,000 applicants, selected to be part of the Youth Exchange and Study program.
On my second day in the United States, my host family took me to a football game, and I wondered why no women were playing. After all, it is said that in America, rights are equal. That is when I understood that America is not heaven and has its own problems. This was not the only thing that surprised me when I came to the U.S.
The day of my arrival, my host family picked me up and took me to their house. I knew they had two dogs and was told that the dogs were friendly. I was comfortable with dogs in my country, so I did not expect to have problems.
My host mom opened the door and suddenly two big, bear-like dogs started barking and running toward me. I could not talk for some time because I was so shocked. I thought two bears—not dogs—had jumped on me. (My host family introduced me to the dogs and informed me that one of the dogs was in fact named Bear.) In Afghanistan, a friendly dog is one who minds its own business. Here, I quickly learned that a friendly dog is something quite different!
In the evening, my host family and I went to visit the neighbors. They were really friendly and nice and introduced everyone in the family. Suddenly, their dog came out and they introduced the dog. I was surprised because in Afghanistan we do not name our dogs and we would not introduce them to people.
On my third day of school I stapled my paper on the right side because we write from right to left in Persian. When the teacher saw me, she said, “It is a stapler,” and showed me how to use it. She asked me if we had staplers in Afghanistan because I stapled my paper on the other side!
The next class I asked a student who was passing in the hallway, “What are they doing?”—pointing at a girl and boy. He stared at me and asked me to repeat the question. I did and he said they were kissing. I realized that this kissing was different from what we practiced back home. There, we kiss on the cheek and it is unusual to see couples even holding hands on the street—we are a much more formal country. I saw my teacher behind me, and in front of me a couple was kissing. I wanted to tell them to stop because the teacher was coming but could not find the right words. It didn’t matter because the teacher passed me and then the couple and no one said anything.
Another strange thing happened a month later. A friend whom I hang out with in school was surprised to discover that I was not a Talib. He said, “Oh, so you are not Talib?” I was amazed by his open-mindedness and wondered how he had been willing to hang out with a Talib for a month.
Afterward, a group of Afghan friends and I gathered to discuss our experiences in the United States. When we were giving our presentations, one student asked if we had houses in Afghanistan. We said “no, we live in the tress” just to laugh. After thinking about it, he said, “Oh, cool, so you live in the trees like monkeys!” He was not joking.
The year 2010 ended with many other experiences, and now I am in college. Although I know a little bit more about the U.S., by now I am sure a lot of interesting things are waiting. It started in the cafeteria when I was explaining to a student that our calendar is different, so we don’t use all the same dates that you have. Also the days and night are different, I explained. For example, if it is day here, it is night in Afghanistan. The student then asked, “Do you have hours in Afghanistan?”
I love traveling because when you travel you become open minded and build respect and appreciation for others’ culture. I know that instead of believing that my own culture is the best, I must believe that all cultures are unique. When you travel, you see things from another perspective and attitude. You begin to understand what people do and why people do it.