Fatima Bano: My American ‘firsts’

(State Dept./Matthew Ryan Williams)

This article was written for ShareAmerica by Fatima Bano, a Pakistani student studying at Edmonds Community College in Lynnwood, Washington, through a U.S. exchange program.

One of my friends recently asked, “Fatima, what things have you done for the first time in your life because you are studying here in the U.S.?”

My list of “firsts” is long. It includes river rafting, hiking, ice skating, bowling, playing soccer,  playing volleyball, riding a bike, going clubbing, attending live concerts, carving pumpkins and more.

Fatima Bano (center) and friends embark on a bicycle adventure. (Courtesy Fatima Bano)
Fatima Bano (center) and friends embark on a bicycle adventure. (Courtesy Fatima Bano)

Bike riding to the beach in Edmonds, Washington, has been among the best experiences of my life. (I always wanted to learn how to ride a bike, but my family discouraged me when I was a child because I was a girl.) Men and women are treated differently in Pakistan; women are often denied rights to enjoy life the way men do. Here in the U.S. I’ve had the chance to do more things. It is not just about riding a bike or going clubbing. More freedom of speech and fewer restrictions have given me opportunities to express myself.

Fatima Bano (State Dept./Matthew Ryan Williams)

I used to be dependent on my family, but here I I have become more confident and independent.

American philosopher William James said, “If you can change your mind, you can change your life,” and I see a positive change in my perspective that will influence my whole life.

Every day here brings a chance to learn something. For instance, I have learned to work with male counterparts, and now that gives me strength instead of fear.

Of course, no matter where I might study, I am happy to be getting an education. In my country, some of the old do’s and don’ts are falling by the wayside, with the help of educated females.

Pakistan is changing. Although males have traditionally been thought of as the guardians and the providers, I’ve been able to help my family financially.

But there are things about Pakistan that I hope will always stay the same, such as the joint-family system that will allow me to care for my parents at home the way they cared for theirs. I’ve shared a lot about Pakistani culture with my American friends, from Shalwar kameez, our cultural dress, to Urdu greetings and the tenets of Islam. I’ve even introduced my friends to Pakistani cuisine, such as biryani, curry and kabab, so they get to experience some “firsts” of their own.