A group of students from Afghanistan visited Washington, D.C. Monday, as part of a study abroad program funded by the U.S. State Department. One of the stops -- the Voice of America headquarters.
Twenty-seven Afghan high school students who have been living in different parts of the United States met in Washington D.C. this week. Their visit included a private tour of the Voice of America studios. They peppered VOA broadcasters with dozens of questions.
They also shared their impressions of the U.S. news media.
One student, Ghufran Tarin says,"They always show a bomb blast and 40 people killed and 10 people injured, or they show like the mountains or the desert or the jungle. American kids watch the TV and they think all of Afghanistan is jungle, and that all of the Middle East people are terrorists, all the people are Taliban."
Selected from 2,500 applicants, Gufran Tarin and the other teenagers are part of the 'Youth Exchange and Study', or "YES", program, and have spent the last nine months living with American families, and attending American schools in cities and towns from california to Florida.
High school senior Shabana Basijrasikh is from Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, and admits she had prejudices about America. "Before coming here, I was thinking that in the USA, everybody hates Afghan people … also I was thinking that Americans are very selfish, that was one of the top things that I was thinking, that Americans are very ignorant."
Ghufran Tarin, who is from Mazar E Sharf in northern Afghanistan, had his own preconceptions ."All the U.S. is tall buildings, all of the U.S. is like Disney World. There are no mosques, no Muslims, everybody is Christian," he said.
Now that the program is coming to a close, the students say their attitudes about America - and life - have changed.
Ghufran admits he didn’t realize how diverse the US. "But when you come to the United States, you can see that there are mosques all over. There are many Muslims, many Jewish, Hindus, Buddhists and people are living all over. And there are not one Muslim, two Muslim, there are like millions of Muslims all over," he said.
From a girl’s perspective, Shabana adds, "As an Afghan teenage girl, I didn't feel very responsible for my country. I just wanted to become a surgeon and be rich and have lots of money, but when I got here, especially watching people being so volunteered to the community. And Volunteerism is so important in the US, I was like 'wow'. We are not like this."
One major change for the students is learning in a modern, co-ed classroom. Many Afghan schools lack amenities, and boys and girls are educated separately.
The students say the program has been an experience they will always remember, but they miss their friends and families, and are looking forward to returning home in June.