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Pakistani student educates others

Abdul Khan had two goals when he decided to study abroad in America - learn about the American culture and squash any stereotypes about his home country of Pakistan.

The 16-year-old is a native of Kohat, Pakistan, a small city in the northwest corner of Pakistan.

"It's bigger than New Richmond, but it's considered small in Pakistan," he said.

Khan is in America through a cultural exchange program. To be accepted into the program he was required to complete a written test and several interviews.

"This was a golden opportunity for me to represent my country," he said.

Since arriving in August, Khan said he's completed six presentations about his country and has many more planned.

"Americans think Pakistan is what they see on TV," he said. "What you see is the tribal areas in the northwest and yes there are bad people there. There are some terrorists there, but there are good and bad people everywhere."

Khan said his presentations have been really well received in New Richmond and people are generally very curious about his country.

"My presentation at the library lasted an hour and the questions at the end lasted another hour," he said. "I had one person ask me if everyone in Pakistan was violent. People think there's war going on all over the country and that's not how it is."

Khan said he's pleased that people don't stereotype him when they first meet him.

"Most of the time they just ask questions when they find out I'm from Pakistan," he said.

Khan said he was happy to be assigned to Wisconsin, but also admitted he knew nothing about the state or where it was.

"We learned about New York and California, but I didn't know where Wisconsin was," he said with a laugh.

He said he's been surprised at how welcoming and friendly everyone has been.

"It's pretty different culturally," he said. "Pakistan is a Muslim country with Islamic rules and those rules are very different."

For example, Khan said women in Pakistan are required to be fully covered, unlike in America.

Khan said his Muslim religion also requires him to pray five times each day; however, it's never interfered with his schooling or schedule in America.

As a Muslim, Khan said he's never celebrated Christmas, but he's excited to participate in the holiday.

"It's really nice," he said. "I like that is creates harmony."

Khan said his host family plans to exchange gifts and attend a family gathering to celebrate the holiday.

Khan said he hasn't had trouble communicating with his peers because English is taught in Pakistani schools beginning at a very young age. Khan's native language is Urdu, he said.

"They all want to know how to say things like 'hi' and 'hello' and 'how are you,'" he said. "They also want me to show them how to write their names in my language."

Khan said his peers are often surprised to learn that the Pakistani language is written from right to left instead of left to right.

Another big difference is American schooling, he said. While students in America move from class to class, in Pakistan students stay in one classroom while the various teachers move from classroom to classroom, he said.

The rigor of the classes is also different, he said.

"I was actually supposed to be in 11th grade when I got here but after looking through my transcripts they put me in 12th grade," he said. "I'm taking Algebra II and the teacher has told me several times that I should be taking AP Calculus."

The climate change is also something Khan said is more rigorous in Pakistan.

"It's hot there," he said. "This is my first experience with snow and I love it. Well, there was one thing I didn't like and that's shoveling it."

Khan said he's been skiing at Trollhaugen a few times.

"The first time I took lessons and fell a lot," he said with a laugh.

Khan said he plans to organize several other presentations about Pakistan before he heads home in June. His next presentation will be in Prairie Farm, where the local coordinator for his exchange program lives.

Jackie Grumish
Jackie Grumish has been a reporter with the New Richmond News since 2008. She holds degrees in journalism and fine art from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill. Before coming to New Richmond, Jackie worked as the city government reporter at a daily newspaper in Aberdeen, S.D. 
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