August 6, 2011

Host Mother Visits YES Student in Pakistan

As written in The News on August 6, 2011 by Saadia Khalid.

Life Changing Experience

It is a common perception that people-to-people contact between two countries can change the overall insight about the two nations and their citizens. This very fact was proven when a host mother from United States visited her guest student from Pakistan after being impressed by him and his country.

Christine Schilling hosts students from different countries in United States under Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Programme.

Under this programme, US Department of States provides scholarships for high school students (15-17 years) from countries with significant Muslim populations to spend up to one academic year in the US. Students live with local families, attend high school and engage in activities to learn about American society and values, acquire leadership skills, and help educate Americans about their countries and cultures.

Irfan Tahir, was one of those students who spent his one year at Christine Schilling’s home. “It was one of the best experiences in my life. My host mother treated me just like her own kids and did every possible thing to make me feel comfortable,” said Irfan while talking to this scribe.

According Tahir, living with an American family and studying in US was a life changing experience for him and he has totally reformed after this experience. “There were students from different countries and among them I gave presentations on Pakistan, which not only helped me highlight the image of my country, but also enhanced my confidence,” he said.

He proudly told this scribe that he was ambassador of his country to US and ascribed the people about several facts regarding Pakistan, which they were unaware of. “I told people about our culture, heritage, traditions, lifestyle and many more. I used to wear ‘shalwar qameez’ in my university campus on every Friday and people used to admire my dress, which made me feel proud,” he said.

Tahir said that his perception about US had changed altogether after his visit, as previously he believed that all citizens of US were against Pakistan as well as Islam. “All I knew about them was that they imposed war against Muslims in different parts of world. Now I know them as committed and dedicated persons,” he said.

He said that the best thing he learnt from US was to serve the community. “We were supposed to do 150 hours community work in US. I would continue this habit and would actively involve myself in community work here as well,” he said.

For Christine Schilling, on the other hand, Irfan was like her own son who told her about the true picture of Islam and Pakistan. “I have never been to this part of the world. Had I not been so impressed by this country and its people, I would not have come here,” she said.

Schilling said that the only way to get rid of misconceptions about one another’s religion and country is the reciprocal exchange of people. “Only people-to-people contact could ensure friendly relationship between the two countries,” she said.

She said that Irfan Tahir was her first Pakistani guest student and the bond between her and her guest (Irfan) grew so strong that she had to visit him in Pakistan. “It’s been great in Pakistan. Reading and listening is altogether different from having first hand experience,” she said.

The real mother of Irfan, Robina Tahir also shared her experience of sending her son abroad. “I was really afraid as my son never stayed away from home even for two days. Knowing about his host mother was a great relief. My son told me that she takes as good care of him, as I used to take,” she said.

Robina Tahir said hosting Christine Schilling was a great experience. “She is as good a guest as she was as a host. She eats everything and enjoys every single moment of her stay in Pakistan,” she added.

Irfan Tahir at the end said that he was now applying for US Fulbright scholarship, and was determined to serve his country after completing his studies. “This country has given me so much. The only way through which I could return something to it is that I should contribute positively towards its progress,” he said.

Please view attached news interview of Irfan Tahir and Christine Schilling. *Please note the English translation subtitles were added by iEARN staff for the convenience of our non-urdu speaking audience.