Four student ambassadors from Muslim countries will be speaking at University of Alaska Southeast tonight about their stay in the U.S.
The four students are attending Thunder Mountain High School on scholarships provided by the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program (YES). They will talk about their culture, share some stories of their Juneau experiences, and discuss their role as student ambassadors for their home countries.
Kaleb McGoey reports from TMHS.
Omar says he has enjoyed his stay in Juneau and feels the experience has been an opportunity for personal growth.
“It’s made a change in my character and my skills, all of this has changed,” he says.
Before he arrived he admits to some preconceived views of the west, shaped by the mass media.
“I knew about the U.S. from the American movies and what we see in the media. If you look at American movies you think they’re (Americans) rich and all living great lives and driving Lamborghinis.”
Omar says when he got here that he thought he would be judged for being from an Arab country and being Muslim.
“I was worried about coming to Alaska, but I was wrong because I have really great family and friends. And the people around me are very open minded,” he says.
Gary Roach, the cooking teacher at Thunder Mountain, says all four students are fitting in very well.
“Omar was good enough to lead classes during extension and lunch on Arabic and Muslim culture, which I attended. He showed me the alphabet.
Omar is from Egypt. He likes sports, has played basketball at TMHS and plans to try out for the baseball team. He hopes to become a member of the Egyptian national rowing team and plans to attend medical school. He’s also teaching Arabic to some Juneau parents, elementary and high school students.
Berçem is from Turkey and says she’s never traveled outside her home country. She has learned most of her English here. She says she likes the American school system better than Turkey, because she gets to choose her classes. She’s played volleyball at TMHS, and is participating in the Model UN program.
Berçem hopes to attend medical school to become a doctor of neurology.
She says one of her biggest challenges here has been the food. With her host family she enjoys Alaska seafood, but at school, “because we don’t have more options, it just makes us fat.”
As for being a student ambassador, Berçem says being Muslim sometimes colors her meetings with new people.
“Some people really acts like rude, but some people acts like they think about us different because they don’t know, and they want to know. So we tell what we think, how we live, how is being a Muslim,” she says.
Rich Moniak and his partner are Berçem’s host parents. He’s also a member of Juneau People for Peace and Justice, which has worked with the YES program to bring the four students to Juneau this year.
YES is funded by U.S. State Department grants. Moniak says since 2003, 300 to 400 Muslim students from 38 countries have come to America to study each year, and “to become integrated with students in the U.S. to share what their life and culture is like, so we can understand it better and they can bring home a better understanding of our culture and our people.”
Muslim Student Ambassadors in Juneau speak at 7 o’clock tonight (Friday, Feb. 17) in the UAS Egan Lecture Hall.