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Being Afghan and Muslim at a US High School

I was holding up Afghanistan’s flag as the photographers, teachers, and other students watched ... I felt love, and respect for all of the other flags, and slowly my tears came down my cheeks.

I came to the U.S. in order to get a great education, and to make my family and my country proud. I thought coming to the U.S. and getting education was the only important thing for me. Even though my education truly was important and still is, I discovered something that now gives a meaning to my life - my passion to build friendship between different cultures, and to raise awareness of diversity in my community.

When I first came to the U.S., I found myself in a place where people were from different countries, cultures, and spoke different languages. It was a change from Afghanistan, where I lived and grew up with people of the same culture and language. I didn’t even know what it would be like to meet a person who speaks in English, so I was nervous about living with an American family and going to an American school.

Pride for my flag

After the first few months of my attendance at Burlington High School, my art teacher recommended that I join the International Club, and that I would find it interesting. Later I found out that she was right. It was very exciting to meet kids not only from the U.S., but also from Africa, China, France, Spain and some other places. I can speak five languages, and I enjoyed in particular meeting other people who I could speak to in their own language.

Farima holds Afghanistan
Farima holds Afghanistan

At the end of the school year the International Club hosted something called a Flag Assembly; it was a really nice event where all the international students would walk around a big hall holding their home country flags, and exchange them at the end with the U.S. flag.

I was the first person in the alphabetical order, so was the first to walk around the hall, where everyone would be looking at us and would applaud in honor of our flags. It was a very important day for me to be able to hold up Afghanistan’s flag among the flags of countries from all over the world. I went into some deep thoughts, while trying to feel the significance of this event.

I looked at the representative of each country holding his or her flag, and they looked as excited as I was. Suddenly, I heard someone calling my name to start going towards the hall. After a minute I found myself in the middle of the hall, and I was holding up Afghanistan’s flag as the photographers, teachers, and other students watched. I felt strong and proud, for being present at this peaceful moment when all of the flags were there representing the different countries. I felt love, and respect for all of the other flags, and slowly my tears came down my cheeks.

This moment made me realize how much I was passionate about living for others, respecting other cultures and loving the idea of thinking of the world as one big family.

Bringing international relations to Kent

I applied to Kent School that year, which is a private high school, and I considered myself lucky to get in and to spend the remainder of my high school years there. Inspired by my experience at Burlington High School, I started an International Club at Kent School in order to build better relations between kids from different cultures. Burlington High School had a strong international body compared to Kent School, and it was important for me to create a similar environment at my new school.

I announced the new club in our school’s chapel where I was giving a speech about Afghanistan, and my experience in the US. I dressed in typical Afghan dress to show the audience my native culture (I still remember that one of my teachers complemented that I looked like a living Christmas tree!), and told the audience:
I am an Afghan girl, and I represent the people of my country. We are friendly, and we want peace. You have learned a lot about Afghanistan and Afghani culture this evening. Life is about learning and we have to know about different cultures in order to be friends with them. I want to be one of the people who bring a change in a community; I am starting an International Club in order to learn about the similarities and differences of our cultures, languages, and find our peace in them…

After my speech many students came to me, and joined the club, and I was really excited to get so many members. The first activity that we did was to watch the movie “Osama” (the story of an Afghan girl who has to become a boy during the Taliban regime), which was a very touching movie. Some of the club members even volunteered to help me in raising money to send to “Pennies for Peace Project” to educate Afghan and Pakistani kids.

The success of the International Club reminded me of how happy I was to be a student at Kent School, where people appreciate having kids from different cultures, and want to know more about them.

Representing my faith in chapel

I have been the only Muslim girl to wear a hijab (head scarf) at Kent School, which makes me different from every other student. Therefore, my friends, the faculty members, and the school staff have asked me the reason for wearing it, and I have always appreciated their curiosity and have been happy to answer their questions. When I was asked if I would like to chant from the Holy Quran in the chapel, I was honored to represent the Muslim faith.

I was the first girl in my family to learn this skill and chant Holy Quran in different ceremonies back in Afghanistan too, but chanting in a place where people have different religions was unusual, and was definitely something new and different for the audience who were listening to me. While reciting in a magic silence in the chapel, I heard my voice reflecting back to my ears. I felt a light of blessing going through my heart that connected me to the audience, which was very peaceful.

At the end of my recitation, it was graceful to end it with a prayer in Arabic, and ask Allah to lighten our hearts, and guide us towards the goodness and happiness in our lives.

All of these great experiences - the pride of holding the flag of my country, of representing my culture, of teaching about my religion - have caused me to look at the world differently. My experiences have taught me about the world, but also about myself. Learning about other cultures has helped me to understand my own culture, and identity better. Now, I believe that a human is created to live for other human beings; neither culture nor religion can come between their relationship of love. At last, I have discovered my strong sense of humanity, and my ability of leadership, and I want to use them to bring a positive change in my community and make the world a better place to live for everyone.