Dec. 27, 2012. The comments were all positive and the feelings all warm Friday morning, Dec. 14, as participants in a U.S./Pakistan exchange program reflected on the visit of a delegation of Pakistanis to the Watauga County Schools this month.
Time after time, speakers described how stereotypes were shattered, common ground was discovered, new friendships were formed, and deep bonds of affection emerged after two weeks of sharing between 20 Pakistani students and educators from Taxila, Pakistan and their hosts in Watauga County.
Participants from both countries were sharing their thoughts and feelings about the experience at a special review session at the Reich College of Education at Appalachian State University. The Pakistani visitors included 12 students, three teachers, and five school administrators from three schools in Taxila: Heavy Industries Taxila Education City’s (HITEC) Cambridge School, the HITEC Junior High School for Boys, and the HITEC College for Girls. The WCS schools participating in the exchange program were Green Valley School, Hardin Park School, and Watauga High School.
The exchange program is intended to foster increased understanding and mutual respect between Americans and Pakistanis on a personal level and to help build a foundation for improved relations at all levels. Based on participant’s comments, the program exceeded all expectations in meeting these objectives.
While the program is primarily school based, a key aspect of the cultural sharing is the hosting of Pakistani visitors by local families for two weeks, and this aspect of the program clearly had a major impact on both guests and hosts. Pakistanis spoke of being treated as a member of the family by their hosts and of feeling at home here, and said they were very grateful for the warm welcome they received.
“I felt like I had a magic wand,” said one of the visiting educators. “All I had to do was wave it and my wishes would come true.”
The Pakistanis experienced American food and appreciated (or graciously endured) the efforts of their hosts to provide more familiar fare as well. They took part in such rituals of American life as going shopping and watching movies, and some students received their first introduction to the use of automatic dishwashers and vacuum cleaners.
They also enjoyed the opportunity to visit Grandfather Mountain and took a trip to Charlotte and Discovery Place.
The visitors’ firsthand experience of Americans in school, at home, and elsewhere in the community effectively dispelled negative stereotypes common in Pakistan. Some of the visitors noted that Americans were often viewed back home as self-centered, lacking in close family ties, and not interested in sharing. After two weeks in Watauga County, they came to see Americans as very caring and loving with their families, friendly and welcoming of others, and willing and eager to help even strangers when they can.
In the schools, the visitors noted the widespread use of technology and praised local teachers for how hard they worked and the high level of caring they showed for their students. They also commented on how American students asked a lot of questions in class, and they were both relieved and pleased at how curious the American students were about life in Pakistan.
For their part, local educators praised the Pakistani visitors as having brought wonderful energy and a rich educational opportunity to the schools they visited and the households where they stayed.
Craig Wright, assistant principal at Watauga High School commented on how the experience helped show that “when you take away the outside differences in speech and dress, you realize that we’re really all the same underneath.”
Green Valley Principal Phillip Griffin said the Pakistani students were “all impressive from day one and their visit greatly benefitted our students.” Griffin also said the program “helps students develop an appreciation for another culture, and that will go a long way to helping our students more freely demonstrate acceptance and tolerance.”
The visit of the Pakistanis in Watauga County is the second part of three components of this U.S./Pakistan exchange program. Prior to the visit, the first phase of the project involved using technology to share digital photos and videos and to collaborate on classroom projects between Pakistan and local schools. The third and final phase of the program will be a six day visit to Pakistan in February by six teachers and three administrators from WCS and three representatives of ASU. However, plans are in the works to continue communicating and collaborating even after the conclusion of this final part of the program.
Staring Sunday, the Pakistani delegation will spend four days in Washington, D.C. While there, they will visit the White House and the U.S. Department of State, as well as attend a reception hosted by the Pakistani Embassy.
The exchange program is funded through a grant of $266,197 to Appalachian State University from the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan. It is overseen by Jesse Lutabingwa, associate vice chancellor for international education and development at Appalachian State University, and Arshad Bashier, a Fulbright doctoral student in ASU’s Reich College for Education.
Bashier also has connections at HITEC, having taught there before coming to ASU.