49 Voices: Leena Tarar of Anchorage

Leena Tarar is an exchange student at Bartlett High School from Pakistan. (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

This week we’re hearing from Leena Tarar in Anchorage. Tarar is an exchange student at Bartlett High School, originally from Pakistan. She was part of this year’s Points of Light Youth Leadership Institute.

TARAR: I think when I came here, it was really difficult. It is absolutely difficult to go in a new culture and adapt there. But I think it took me three, three-and-a-half, you could say four months to make friends and get people comfortable around me. Because when you’re like the only Pakistani or Middle Easterner in your whole entire school, it’s really difficult.

I think it was one of the things that made people uncomfortable around me. So it took more time for me to make friends, rather than my program friends in the Lower 48. Because people are uncomfortable, they might think you’re a terrorist or something, but you’re not. And now that people actually know me, they know me and they think that I’m a nice person.

So I was interested in pollution and climate changes. So I’m thinking of now starting a club in my school: environmental club, or something. It is in other schools, but it is not at Bartlett. So I think, see things that you’re interested in and then start working on that.

I think people are afraid to participate because they’re afraid that they will be criticized. People will think that they’re foolish and “what is that person doing?” So it’s not about stepping out of your comfort zone, because if you step out of your comfort zone, you’re uncomfortable. But it’s about increasing your comfort zone to a certain where you’re not uncomfortable and you’re stepping out to the society and making a difference and paying back to your community.

When everything is good and really, really good, I have to go back. And I don’t want to.

I’m gonna head back with tons of memories, tons of experiences and I’m not going to return as the same person I was when I came here. I’m going to return as a totally different person. And I think I’m the kind of person who will get reverse culture shock, too.

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Wesley Early covers municipal politics and Anchorage life for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org.