Personality Profile: Pakistani teen loves his WVHS experience
Akhtar Hussain has been eagerly soaking in local culture for the past couple of months as a foreign exchange student.
The 17-year-old from Gilgit, Pakistan, is a junior at Walker Valley High School, where he plans to continue studying for the entirety of the 2014-15 school year.
Hussain got the opportunity as a participant in the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study program, which is overseen by the U.S. Department of State in the office of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
The program is specifically for students from countries “with significant Muslim populations,” according to its website. Some 900 students a year are given the chance to “live with host families, attend high school, engage in activities to learn about American society and values, acquire leadership skills and educate Americans about their countries and cultures.”
Though Cleveland, Tenn., was not what he expected when he was awaiting his placement, he said he has enjoyed getting to know more about this part of the world.
“Before coming here, I was expecting to be placed in a large city,” Hussain said. “But it’s beautiful, the nature and all. I’m very happy with it.”
After 20 hours worth of flights, Hussain settled into the home of Cleveland host parents Juan and Karina Roldan in August, and has since been working to understand the culture surrounding him now.
Though Hussain explained his program required foreign students to be fluent in English, he said he has faced an unexpected language barrier — accents.
He said it is sometimes difficult for his classmates to understand him with his thick Pakistani accent, and the U.S. Southern accent is also new to him.
Hussain speaks four languages, including Urdu and two local Pakistani dialects.
He said he learned to speak English in school. At home, he would watch American TV shows and practice speaking with friends and in front of the mirror.
When he first arrived in the United States for a week of program orientation in Washington, D.C., Hussain said he was surprised to find that American life was not just like what he had seen on TV.
Another thing he has had to get used to has been the weather.
Gilgit is in the mountainous northern part of Pakistan, and Hussain said he is used to cool, dry weather — a departure from Tennessee’s heat and humidity.
His hometown is also not far from Ketu Mountain, which is often referred to as simply K2, known as being the second-tallest mountain in the world behind Mount Everest.
Hussain said the first Americans he ever met were mountain climbers hoping to reach K2’s summit.
He explained that Pakistan has a “very rich” culture, and he has enjoyed meeting more Americans and learning what is important to them.
Because of Cleveland’s designation as being the home of a few different Christian denominations, Hussain said he has gotten a unique chance to learn more about Christians and their beliefs.
Though he knows some in Pakistan who say they are Christians, Hussain said it is not common there for people from different religions to talk openly about their faiths.
“It’s a big transition,” Hussain said. “There’s a big diversity here in Cleveland. … It has helped me learn what God is for them. It was a whole new experience.”
Hussain said he has been working to compare the differences between the two faiths because religion plays a big part in one’s culture.
He said one difference is that Christians see the Jesus of the Bible as the son of God, while Muslims view him as a prophet.
He said Islam has gotten a bad name because of terrorists in the Middle East hurting people while professing that faith.
“I believe Islam is a religion of peace,” Hussain said. “They are just using the name of Islam. If I believed that, I wouldn’t be here.”
In addition to the slightly weightier topic of religion, he said he has also enjoyed learning more about how school works differently in the U.S. than it does in Pakistan.
His favorite subject in school is biology, as he said he plans to pursue a career in medicine someday.
Hussain had nice things to say about his teachers at Walker Valley, noting some of his teachers back home do not spend as much time explaining new concepts in class.
He explained it is not unusual for Pakistanis to attend eight different classes in a day, while his schedule at Walker Valley this semester includes fewer, but lengthier, classes.
“The teachers [at Walker Valley] really work hard to make us understand the concepts,” Hussain said.
Another part of school he has enjoyed has been learning how to play new sports.
He said he played sports like soccer and basketball for the first time in gym class and has had the chance to witness the loud, cheery spectacle that surrounds a high school football game.
Back in Pakistan, he said the most popular sport is cricket, a sport played with bat and ball not too unlike baseball.
Just like most teenage boys, he has enjoyed sampling new foods. Though it is “more greasy” than what he is used to back home, he has gained an affinity for McDonald’s burgers and fries.
He also said he has enjoyed sampling the wide variety of international foods available. He explained it is unusual to see an Italian, Mexican, Japanese or Chinese restaurant in his part of Pakistan.
Still he said he misses favorite foods like biryani, a spicy dish typically made with chicken.
In his spare time, he enjoys reading and listening to music. While those are things he has always enjoyed, he now listens to more English-language music and frequents the local public library for new reading material.
Once a week, he also calls or video chats with his family back home to keep up on the news there.
As part of his exchange program, he and other students also take part in service projects together.
Hussain said his favorite part has been visiting nursing homes and getting the chance to talk with older people who have firsthand knowledge of what the U.S. was like when they were younger.
“It’s incredible how America has evolved over the past years,” Hussain said.
He will return to Pakistan after the school year ends, and he said he will be ready to share what he has learned.
Both the people of Cleveland and the people of Gilgit can learn from each other, he said.
He said his classmates at Walker Valley have asked him questions about everything from whether or not Pakistan is a country to whether or not people there can purchase the iPhone 6 smartphone.
Hussain added that he arrived in the U.S. with ideas of his own and was pleasantly surprised by what he found.
He said Americans sometimes have a reputation overseas of being lazy, but added he has found people like his host parents actually work hard to provide for their families every day.
“People are curious to know how it works there, and people there are curious to know how it works here,” Hussain said. “It will help me in clearing up the stereotypes. … That is why I wanted the exchange. I have learned more than my high school mates
Source: Cleveland Daily Banner