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A year in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

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It was really amazing to spend a year (2007-8) at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. The area is a breath taking beauty, that I like much more than European countries. It is truly a heaven on Earth. The most amazing part is they accept the outsiders and various cultures very easily; and for that purpose they put in a conscious effort through their educational system.  On interactions, Americans are very friendly, helpful and open. This attitude of theirs was very helpful in understanding myself…Many times I thought, “Oh,…that is what I want as person, student, employee or woman, but due to my cultural constraints I can’t voice it…” There public library at Monroeville, just nearby our apartment  was an incredible resource…they had books on each and every aspect of life, from minute things to the huge, like on handling the fights between siblings, personal and individual issues, student guides, employment guides, professional scopes, husbands/wives who can’t love, how to overcome shyness, child birth, child care, and any kind of subjects you can imagine. I believe their openness and honesty contributed a lot in looking into the matters, conducting research and documenting them. Their language is very easy and content is very interesting and reality based. Once you start a book, you can’t help completing it in the first place.
Their schools are amazing, though following their national policy on various political issues like Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. but they accommodate the multicultural students very generously and multi-ethnic students not only have equal rights but also their religions are respected, e.g. as Muslims, my children had options to either take meat, fish or vegetable for school lunch. If you informed them about the food items that had Haram ingredients, they provided your children with Halal substitutes. Muslim students can have vacations on the religious festivals even if there are exams. After the vacation, the students can come to school and take the individual papers on some other date… Every year, they have cultural events to familiarize their students with different cultures.Regardless of cultural or ethnic differences, all the students have equal opportunities, like my elder son fought and won the student council election in 7th grade just after the 2 weeks of his admission. It was really surprising when a playmate of my sons, accepted Islam through his own study of the religion and announced it without any fear at school, and no one opposed or harm him, though got naturally shocked. Their public schools provide all the facilities that our best private schools offer, but our bright students at these schools are the toppers there without much effort. Their students are not forced to study and stay quiet in their classrooms like we do at our schools, still when they grow up they know how to follow the instructions of their teachers immaculately. Once a teacher says, “Quiet!”… And there is a pin drop silence. During their class assignments, they do their work in absolute silence. However, their system has some issues as well because it is run by humans…For example the accident insurance at school practically did not provide what exactly it offered on papers. We got upset to receive notices on returning of the books that we have never even seen in the library. 

Their health system is also complicated. Without insurance, it’s really hard to get any kind of treatment because it is very expansive; however, in case of emergencies they help one way or the other. And, for other health problems, you can’t get the appointment immediately, but you have to wait for several weeks to meet the doctor. Same is the case which medical examination and reports. A good thing is you can’t take the medicine from any pharmacy without doctor’s prescription, but if a doctor calls a pharmacy for saving your time, they cooperate immediately.
They believe in professionalism and for every small or big job, you should be certified, qualified and licensed, except for odd jobs that are easily available all the time, so that everyone can survive.
In a year I took 4 short courses at college level, 3 in English and 1 in world Geography, and it was an overwhelming experience because each course moved me from one level to the other in terms of skills. And, later it benefited me a lot because I got so many opportunities because of the basic composition skill I learnt there.
People are generous in appreciating you regardless of gender. They flirt and pursue for relationships but they have their values. Once they know you are happily married, they won’t bother you. In general interactions, their men are kind and respectful to ladies and women don’t feel any kind of insecurity with their presence at work places, educational institutes, neighborhood, etc. In case of any harassment, ladies can call police immediately. Both genders shake hands and hug each other as a gesture of kindness and warmth. Despite all the cultural difference, you don’t have a heart to say, “I don’t shake hand” or so. However, you can make your hands busy to avoid it…:)
Like break ups and infidelity, divorces and extra-marital affairs are very common. However, one thing is really admirable that they don’t drag their relationships for nothing or don’t lie in relationships. As a result, second marriages and step children are easily accepted, despite its bitterness. In case of separation, both parents have visitation rights to meet their real kids and this way both the real parents share the responsibilities to some extent, even though financial child support on the part of the father is still an issue and in most cases mothers have to raise their kids single handed. Teenage pregnancies and single parenting add additional stress on ladies where they have to work full time along with their other responsibilities. Majority couples earn from full time odd jobs, except the professionals, because this is the only way to survive. Since the age of 15, they start working till their old age and at 18, they have to move out of their parents to be independent in terms of their apartment, food, clothes, bills and everything. If they don’t do so, parents take it as a burden on them. Generally, they have to work full time, do all the chores at home and study simultaneously and it’s really a very hard student life. If they have very good grades, they can have scholarships easily, but with an average academic record, they are eligible to loans. Therefore, they get envied to learn that in Pakistani society children live with their parents all their student lives and even afterwards and always parents are responsible for their educational and all other expenses until they get a job. At this stage, they find their lives extremely stressful. And, don’t find it easy to pursue college studies. Nevertheless, some decent and well-to-do families allow their children to live with them during their studies. Relationships consume a lot of attention, time and energies of the students. Their majority don’t go for college education and stay in odd jobs. They have facilities of buying houses on mortgages and finance their cars the same way, but then it takes all their lives to clear the debts. Credit cards are commonly used and thus people buy more than they earn and it is an additional burden. So, common people work more than 8 hours. And, at off time, every adult, regardless of gender, rushes to the market to buy cigarettes and all to smoke and release the stress. In the scenario, naturally, children don’t get enough attention of the parents and usually a huge generation gap is seen. “I hate you” or “My mom/dad really hates me,” kind of sentences are very common in teenage kids. Even, as minors, many children support their families through their full time jobs. 80% children get beatings at home but they don’t report despite all their training at schools.
It seems that all their life revolves around money. Right from childhood parents pay their kids for performing house chores rather than teaching them to share family responsibilities out of morality or religion. Even, at old age, since old citizens are government’s responsibility, children take the job as caretakers and the government pay them. So, there is no real concept of serving the parents. At jobs and professions, they are very nice, cooperative and supportive to run a nice system, because otherwise they will lose their jobs and businesses. Companies are also doing the same. But once people are off from their jobs, they don’t even recognize their regular customers or you can find them as very different persons. However, the good part is that they value people’s time and effort. For example, if they conduct a research or survey, they pay people for their time and sharing, though it’s a little amount. We were really surprised when in our neighborhood, an eighty years old person who was living alone in his apartment, was about to fall down while climbing the stairs with a lot of grocery bags, my 12 years son immediately helped him by taking a few bags from his hands and took him to his apartment. The gentleman thanked him and offered $2, which my son refused to take with thanks.
I was really surprised to know about two things. They make the similar language mistakes as non-natives do in grammar like the use of do/does, he go, etc. And, the second thing was they were human beings just like us in terms of their issues, thinking, feelings and expectations. Especially, ladies have the same issues with the same approach as Pakistani women do have. I realized that American ladies were having a much more challenging life due to unreliable and abusive partners and the responsibility of full time jobs. The average age of a marriage is 5 years there. Because of a lot of options, no moral boundaries and marital rights of wives are there in case of a divorce, American men are hesitant to go for marriage or committed relationships, taking family responsibilities and sticking to one partner. For both men and women “I” is more important than anything else, and in search of perfection, they can’t continue with their relationships and marriages for a long time. Generally, at midlife both men and women are very lonely and under financial burdens.
Still there are great American who have character, believe in family values and are concerned about the best brought up of their kids. They put in conscious efforts. Among them, you find people who believe in having more number of kids, home schooling, and best parenting on each and every level. They, as a couple, also help each other to excel in their careers. I saw couples taking turns while one is studying and the other one is working full time and after a couple of yours they change the turns. Similarly, they take turns while taking care of their kids.Another amazing aspect was religion. I found many people practicing Christians and asked about their religious teachings.and got overwhelmed to find the teachings of both Islam and Christianity very close. I found their religious people more compassionate and considerate towards their families and other people in  the society.

About Kausar Bilal

I am a Trainer for Professional Writing. I conduct Writing workshops for Business Executives, Young Professionals, Academic Writers, College/University Students, Journalists, Advertisers, Corporate Content Writers and Nonfiction Writing Lovers. As a Corporate Writer and Social Change Agent, you may find my voice in diverse areas on this site. Your feedback and comments are most welcomed.

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