Home Away from Home
Exchange student from Pakistan poses on bridge for homecoming dance in Utah

Like a bridge between cultures: an exchange's beginning

The airport was like a melting pot of contrasting emotions as some people bathed in the light of joy at the prospect of being reunited with their loved ones, while others had tears running down their cheeks leaving their special ones behind them as they went off and away. The air was filled with sounds of feet tapping with impatience combined with tense sighs and exasperated exclamations.

Yet, even in this melting pot, nothing matched the storm of feelings that was raging inside her. That one teen girl who slowly walked forward, her eyes shining with dreams and delight, her lips etched into a smile that reflected excitement and a slight fright at the same time. Her fists were clenched in a state of confusion and nervousness but simultaneously, her cheeks were the brightest shade of pink with thrill and pride. At that one moment, she was standing at an entirely new station where the train of life had left her. A station where thousands of questions welcomed her.

Had she made the right decision, coming to this place where she knew no one? Leaving Pakistan so suddenly? Were the people here in Utah going to accept her? Would she be able to adjust to this absolutely different culture? What if her host family started disliking her? What if she was unable to make any friends in her U.S. high school?

But one barrier held all these questions at bay. With this exchange year, she had begun a new chapter in her book and there was no turning back the pages now. And as she moved a little ahead in the lines, she spotted her host parents waiting for her, and she found herself running toward her host mother and flinging herself into her arms. Love and peace engulfed her. The beautiful heart that beat against her ears, constantly repeated a single word.


As she embraced her loving host father, the warmth that she felt whispered a single thing to her, “You were chosen to be here because you have it in you. Believe in yourself and you can do it! The suitcase you are carrying may feel heavy right now but in fact, it is so empty. You will feel its actual weight when you take it back loaded with uncountable marvelous memories that you shall cherish forever.”

You were chosen to be here because you have it in you.

And as that girl scribbles these words at present, she can say that just in a time span of two months, every single word has proven to be correct.

Making traditional Pakistani food for my family, giving them Pakistani items, wearing shalwaar-kameez (Pakistani national dress) to school, drawing the curiosity and attention of my schoolmates, having my bus driver learn about my religion Islam through me, answering questions as hilarious as, “Mariam, do you ride to school on camels in Pakistan?” to as serious as, “What is the history of the partition of Pakistan?” in school, experiencing things I never dreamt of experiencing, developing a cross-cultural understanding and forming the most amazing and everlasting bonds—these are moments that I would not trade for all the power, money, and gems in this whole wide world.

It seems like I have been living here forever and I absolutely love it. My host family, who I once feared might not like me, is who I am closest to and who I love literally the most! Believing in myself and being myself eventually led me to having the best friends that I could ever get! It is true when they say that an exchange year is not a year in your lifetime, it’s a lifetime in a year. I am on a journey this year. It is a journey in which I have to leave my comfort zone and experience and achieve as much as possible.

—Mariam (YES, Pakistan), hosted by the Eggett family (UT)