By Maham Zahid, Study of the United States Institutes (SUSI) Alumna
I am a strong believer that “you can go as far as you dream, think and imagine.” My dreams came true when I was selected as a principal candidate for SUSI 2014. The first four weeks of the 6-week program consisted of classes hosted at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Lectures were arranged on important topics like leadership, American history, politics and problems in Pakistan.
The last two weeks were saved for the best part of the program — a study tour across the eastern United States. From Amherst we traveled to Boston, Charlottesville, New York and finally Washington D.C. We visited Harvard University, Voice of America, the World Trade Center site, Wall Street, and the 9/11 memorial among other places. We also had the opportunity to share a home-style dinner with American families, which provided us a chance to get to know them in a relaxed and comfortable setting.
The Pakistani students also took time out to participate in a community service which provided us with a sense of internal peace and satisfaction. We held a food campaign for the Western Massachusetts Food Bank at Wal-Mart store in Hadley. It was a tough job to motivate the shoppers to make donations, but the response was good.
A young lady asked us for a list of items that we needed and then she went and purchased all of them at the store, besides donating 15 dollars. Her words, “We should remember the misfortune of others,” were truly inspiring. We were very pleased when the Food Bank organizers told us that our donation worth more than 200 dollars; exceeded any that they had received from previous SUSI batches and from American students.
I really enjoyed the U.S. University environment during classes, because it was very relaxed and interactive. Talking to American students allowed us to have a broader perspective about issues.
At the same time, expressing our opinions in front of our American counterparts also had its perks. I was able to remove their misconception that females in Peshawar don’t step out of their houses, as I hail from the same city. I also felt very good in explaining that the security situation in Pakistan was not that precarious, that tourists could not even visit the northern areas.
Washington D.C turned out to be a great city where we gave presentations at the State Department and received our certificates. It was a wonderful experience, and we celebrated our achievements, with an elaborate dinner of Asian cuisine later.
I admired a number of things about life in the U.S. –foremost being the level of hygiene and cleanliness that they maintained. There were separate bins for trash and recycling– even paper in some locations!
I observed that Americans mostly stay busy in their own work and activities and generally don’t interfere in each other’s lives. They also like to walk and eat a lot, and even professors use the same public transport as their students. The teachers also interacted with us in their spare time and we held many very fruitful discussions on different topics.
Another impressive aspect of life in the U.S. is the punctuality that people observe. I also found that motorists respect pedestrians and that drivers usually care about abiding by traffic signals. Moreover, bicycling is a healthy activity which has been adopted by people belonging to all age groups. Amherst looked absolutely amazing in the evening, when even women and elderly could be seen peddling away.
I am really thankful to SUSI for making my dreams possible. It won’t be an exaggeration for me to say that some of the experiences that I had in the U.S. may change the course of my life. My horizons have broadened, and I am definitely more open about certain things than I used to be in the past. America is all about accepting differences, so this is definitely something that I am taking home with me.
I would also like to especially thank the State Department for providing us an opportunity to closely study American culture by engaging us in different educational and cultural activities.