Visiting Student Brings Pakistan to PCDS
by Rae Aaron '15
How does one feel when entering the lottery? Probably the same way Mona Shahid felt when applying for the YES Phoenix Exchange Program. Mona, selected out of three thousand applicants to attend PCDS for the 2011-12 school year, was the lucky winner. Unlike the lottery though, she wasn’t chosen by chance but for her outstanding personality and potential as a Pakistani ambassador to the United States.
During her time at PCDS, Mona not only changed our community for the better with her fun spirit and engaging and informative sessions on Pakistan, but she was changed during her excursion to the United States by the burst of energy that she was exposed to in and outside of PCDS. After exploring many facets of life in Phoenix and living with three host families over nine months, Mona now faces tough choices regarding her educational opportunities in America while remembering that she has a family back home in Pakistan.
Mona wasted no time adapting to our culture, quickly surmounting the language barrier, wardrobe variations, and the contrast between her traditional Pakistani community and our liberal American customs. Joining several Upper School clubs such as the Jewish Cultural Club, Asian Cultural Club, Junior State of America, Badminton, Green Team, and Cultural Dance was just one way Mona became an active member of the PCDS community. Coming from a minimal education in her hometown of Islamabad, where some youth don't get even a public education, Mona described the difference between seeing America in Hollywood movies and actually being in America, saying, "To think and to experience is a totally different thing."
Mona went on to say that she had been prepared for the differences she would encounter, but was surprised by new aspects of the atmosphere by which she was surrounded. "I'm happy that I opened myself," she said, as she reflected on her experience. "I love people and now I don't even care what religions they're from, what country they are from. I just am friends with them. They are just people—they are unity."
Although Mona encouraged the people she met to think differently of Pakistani people, she encountered some that weren't even open to listening. She and her host mom agreed that it was more worthwhile to talk to people who were willing to listen and absorb what she had to say and not waste time with those who were closed-minded. "If you don't want to open your mind you should listen at least," Mona said.
Even with the grueling work of junior year, Mona managed to enjoy her teachers and make many fantastic friends. "I think I accomplished a lot in my own personality," she said, including coming out of her shell and reaching out on her own. She broke stereotypes about Pakistan, met people from different ethnicities, and realized how hurtful and unproductive prejudice can be. "If there is no diversity, there is no respect for other things," she said. She also marveled over the fact that people in the United States are generally so friendly! Mona's positive experience has led her to an open-ended future. Now that her yearlong program is over, Mona will have to decide whether to stay in her homeland or try to return on another trip.
"I will surely apply for college,” she said. “If I get selected, I will surely come." While she recognizes the value of education, it will be a hard choice for Mona and her family whether she should take advantage of international opportunities in high school and college or stay home with her parents and sisters. Mona said the universities are very good in Pakistan, and if she stays there she would like to go to engineering college or major in international relations. "I really want to do something in my country. They need us. We cannot just run away."
After living in the U.S. this year and becoming such an important part of the PCDS community, Mona now firmly believes that travel is an ideal way to slowly build relationships among countries and diminish hostilities. She believes that to "just go outside (the box)—you have to travel. See the world. See the culture. That's how you gain perspective—if you are positive about everything."
Mona surely has been changed by the YES program, and has great plans for the future. Her experience has inspired her to become an active member of each community she visits, and to become an even more respectful person. "It was amazing,” she said, of her time at PCDS. “I just want to thank PCDS and Lee Buettner (PCDS Director of International Programs) especially. She worked really hard with me. She is an amazing person."
Mona Shahid, a caring, funny, smart, and insightful intellectual, was an awesome addition to the PCDS community. Although we will not see her here next year, we're confident she will be successful wherever she decides to go.
Pictured (top to bottom): Mona with one of her host families; her family in Pakistan