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Linking Young Minds Together
     Volume 2 Issue 139 | October 11 , 2009|


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Fragments from my
US experience

Samia Tamrin Ahmed

THIS summer was truly special. Being selected as an exchange student representing Bangladesh, I had a great experience during a cultural exchange in USA. We had applied for SUSI-Study of the US Institute for Student Leaders program, and for a month students had to spend studying the American life as well as sharing our country's culture, hence the cultural exchange.

I was stationed at the University of Alabama in Huntsville along with 7 other Bangladeshi friends and the Office of International Programs had divided the four weeks of our stay into 4 themes- Democracy, Gender, Race Relations and Religion. We did activities (lectures, field trips, discussions, etc) pertaining to those themes every week. On one Friday we visited a mosque, Hindu temple, as well as a synagogue for the Religion week, and participated in an inter-faith dialogue with religious heads. One rainy morning we went to see two special churches- The Rock, and the Union Baptist. The former looked nothing like a place of worship, being more of a commercial TV station where a 'host' was talking about Jesus. The latter church was grand in every sense, and it was in the area where most African Americans live in Huntsville. We were guests there and they welcomed us with open arms. The best part of being there was to experience live gospel music. It was so beautiful, and it felt like being in a concert, the whole church resonating with positive energy in the form of music.

To understand race relations, we made the historical march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Years ago, in the 60's,campaigners for the Voting Rights movement made the same march from Selma to Montgomery but were attacked by the police at the point where the significant bridge ends. In the third attempt to make this march, Martin Luther King Jr. also accompanied the peace-pledged campaigners. Hence we left our marks where actual history took place. I never knew the degree of suffering African Americans in the USA had to endure before this trip. Blues music was invented by the African Americans many years ago, and we were lucky enough to be in the concert of Microwave Dave and the Nukes in the UAH campus. The band introduced us to a variety of instruments and talked about the history and evolution of blue-grass music in American south.

It was great fun, and the drummer was superb in his task.

One community service we had to do was working in a food bank. We served food to inmates of a special rehabilitation centre as well the homeless. All 20 of us had some work or the other to do, from serving the tables to washing dishes or cleaning the area after the task. It was fun and the gratitude the people showed us made our day! But I still remember the amount of food in the garbage bin that was wasted by even the homeless people!

All of us had to stay with host families over the weekend. My host family loved the outdoors and were into camping, hiking and sailing! In fact, me and my friend Rowshin living with the Crook family went hiking on Monte Sano hills, went bat watching near the lake and even camped out in the camping vehicle left in their backyard. Gena Crook took us to Cathedral Caverns, a cave with amazing stalactites and stalagmites that took our breath away. It was beautifully illuminated inside the cave and looking at the frozen waterfall was great. Apparently, at the ceiling of the cave area shark tooth have been found, and we saw one too! I still miss the home-cooked meals my host mother cooked for us. I loved the cornmeal and the rice casserole. It was nice telling their family about our life in Bangladesh and my host mother is planning to put up the Bangladeshi flag outside her home on our national days. We went to the theatre, art club, picnics, museums, and even a swimming competition. We realized how wrong we were thinking that Americans have no family bonding, as we found homely, close-knitted families in our host family experiences.

UAH took us to the country music capital in the US as part of our learning. In Memphis we visited Graceland, the home of Elvis Priesley. Graceland is the mansion the great star had purchased when he was 22 years old. The next day we were taken to the Amish country in Ethridge. The Amish are of German descent and have settled in different parts of America. Being in Amish country one can forget he/she is in America…it was nothing less than any other village in Bangladesh, in my view. Where the Amish area starts, that point marks the end of electricity poles. This is because they do not live with the comfort of technology we take for granted. Most families have many members, and we talked to a man named Danny who has 94 grandchildren. Their machines are mechanical, running with gasoline. The little corner shops run with trust, meaning customers are free to leave money in the cash till if the owner is not around. They start building a house and finish it that very day and all male members lend a hand. Some Amish communities have strict rules, and some do not allow photography. We moved around the village in a horse cart. The women and children seemed shy. The little children are very cute, and they look at foreign people with innocent wonder in their eyes. They do not regard education very highly, but provide basic knowledge of German and mathematics. Living extremely simple lives; these people manage to be happy in what they do.

We got thrilled with the first view of the Atlanta skyline. Here, we visited the CNN centre, Olympic Centennial Park, as well as the Carter Centre, created by Jimmy Carter, former US President.

A visit to the Coke Museum was fun; we got to taste drinks of the Coke Company from all over the world in one chamber. Coke adverts from global agencies are screened in the theater room. There is also a 4D experience theater and we were shown a movie on finding out the secret formula of Coke. The seats move and water gets sprinkled on the audience! We started Atlanta with the 6-Flags Amusement park, where it is famed for its many roller coasters. The scariest one to me was the coaster made of wood.

As we glided around, the whole structure rattles as if it was breaking there and then. We went so fast, it seemed a collision with the wooden structure will happen in every corner. At the end my friends rode on one of the crankiest ride in the Batman zone but by then I had enough of coasters and I had already chickened out!

At the last leg of our program we all were taken to Washington DC. All 120 students in this year's SUSI program from the 6 institutes gathered in DC for a greater cultural exchange. All the institutes had presentations to show the State Department what the students did for a month. Everyone appreciated the UAH presentation; it was prompt and professional, and we were able to show the four themes wonderfully. The cultural fair was a nice event, and it makes me proud that the Bangladeshi stall gathered so many fans! We did face painting as well as put sarees on the Burmese girls. I really miss the Turkish friends I made in DC. DC was fun, as whenever we got, free time all of us went walking around the town. I loved walking towards the White House with friends and some of us were still wearing the sarees from the cultural fair. I look back at the night in Georgetown harbor, where we sang songs together.

Some amazing memories are etched in my mind from the trip to USA. I have great love and respect for some of the great people we have met throughout our stay in Huntsville and beyond. It felt great telling people about the history of our land, and gaining appreciation for our culture in a land so far away. I miss my room at the dormitory at UAH, the regular addas we used to have. There were so many nights we hung out with Mirza, our local deshi friend in Huntsville and touring around in his car with the radio in full volume. There were days when the vending machine in the dormitory was our best friend…even doing laundry was fun! I loved our friendships with the American student ambassadors and the staff at UAH who cared round the clock for us. People like Tommy Watts would always inspire me, since he strives to change his life and works hard to attain his goals in life. We have understood the meaning of keeping our hearts at peace and conflict resolution from the textbooks we were given to study. I smile thinking of the nights I spent listening to the amazing classical music on WLRH radio and feel lucky that I too, had the American experience.

(Student of Dept. of Economics, DU)

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