Photo: Bob Brawdy/Tri-City Herald
Details from the Tri-City Herald in Washington state:
A Muslim exchange student lives with a Mormon family and attends a small private Catholic high school.
It’s not a sitcom script. It’s a real-life cultural immersion experience for 16-year-old Muhammad Janjua.
Janjua, who goes by Umer, is living, learning and forging new relationships almost 7,000 miles from his home in Islamabad, Pakistan.
The people he lives and learns with can’t imagine not having him around.
“He made instant friends,” said exchange program coordinator Renee Kerr of Umer’s first visit to his new school, Tri-Cities Prep. “Three students went to his home that night and took him to a football game.”
For Umer, his short time in the U.S. has already led him to learn a lot about another culture and about his own.
“I get to see different perspectives, I get asked questions,” Umer said. “Apart from telling them, it helps me understand more about myself.”
…Aspects of Umer’s life in Pakistan have blended with his experiences here in the Tri-Cities.
He and another Muslim student perform their daily prayers between classes, and he’s excused to attend Friday prayers at the Islamic Center of Tri-Cities in West Richland.
His host family went with him in October to celebrate the festival of Eid al-Adha at the Islamic center. He’s cooked traditional Pakistani meals for his hosts and other exchange students.
“I had about 25 to 30 kids at the house I’ve never seen before,” Kerr said.
But he also attends church with his Mormon host family on Sundays and goes to Mass at Prep. He wears jeans and hoodies like any other American teenager, has seen the latest Hobbit movie and can regularly be seen cheering on Prep’s athletes at basketball games.
Zepeda and fellow Prep junior Claire Megna, both 16, said they and others though Umer might be shy or standoffish based on preconceptions. He’s quite the opposite, they said. He was elected as Homecoming King this fall.