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Exchange student has 'an unforgotten journey'

Muneeb Kamran gave presentations on his culture to some social studies classes at River Falls High School. Here he's shown at one such presentation. 1 / 6
Exchange student Muneeb Kamran is shown holding Pakistan's flag, wearing his traditional Salwar Kameez. Traditional clothing is common in Pakistan, though Western wear is also worn.2 / 6
River Falls High School exchange student Muneeb Kamran is shown with this host family, on a hike in Duluth. From left are: Kamran, Parker LaVold, Tim LaVold, Noah LaVold and Monica LaVold. (Submitted photos)3 / 6
Exchange student Muneeb Kamran is shown enjoying Thanksgiving with his host family's extended family. From left are Scott and Karin Anderson, holding baby Finn, Noah LaVold, Tim and Karin's mother Linda, Monica LaVold, holding baby Riley Anderson, Kamran, Tim LaVold, and Parker LaVold.4 / 6
Muneeb Kamran (left) is shown with several other exchange students holding the flags of their various countries. All the students shown travelled to the U.S. through Aspect Foundation. They were taking part in an international parade in Eau Claire.5 / 6
Eager to share his culture with others, Pakistani exchange student Muneeb Kamran brought traditional Pakistani clothing for his host family. They're shown together celebrating the Muslim holiday Eid together. Monica said kamran and the LaVold family have enjoyed sharing their cultures with each other. 6 / 6

As Americans are "dreaming of a White Christmas," and snow is covering the ground, River Falls High School exchange student Muneeb Kamran is enjoying his snowy experience.

"The snow has been fun," he said. "I haven't seen snowfall before coming to U.S. and it was a pretty good experience."

"The first time it was night, but me and my host brothers went out and built a snowman."

When Kamran came to the U.S. from Muzaffarabad, Pakistan, for his exchange trip, he hoped to find find diversity, and business learning.

Business, Kamran said, is not taught in high school in his home in Pakistan the way it is in River Falls. He's taken business management, personal finance and marketing principles classes.

"It was really fun," Kamran said of his business classes.

School is very different in the U.S. compared to Pakistan, Kamran said. American schools are bigger, offer more options for classes, and teachers are less strict, he said.

Kamran said he's also enjoyed school clubs. He was on the boys' JV soccer team in fall, and hopes to play baseball in the spring. He's also been a part of the FBLA.

Kamran said he's been impressed with the opportunities to volunteer in River Falls. He said he's done around 40-45 hours of community service since he's been in the U.S.

He's planning to donate blood before Christmas.

"That's the first time I'm going to donate blood, so I guess it's going to be a really new and adventurous experience," he said. "I want to do something for people, no matter if they are from my county or others."

Kamransaid he wants to bring that spirit of community service back with him when he returns home to Pakistan.

"I'm going to raise a campaign with my friends about education," he said, "because the illiteracy rate of Pakistan is really high. That would be good, also I'm going to pump my friends to give charity, to donate things.

"In Pakistan, you just save your clothes. If you're not wearing something for years, they would just be put in the closet."

Kamran isn't the only one experiencing new things, through his exchange trip.

His host family has also learned a lot from Kamran, said host mom Monica LaVold. She said she and her family have enjoyed sharing their culture with Kamran, and enjoyed learning about his culture too.

"We're really all more alike than we are different," LaVold said. "Even in the small things like food, if things on the surface look different and weird and strange are actually coming from a similar place... It's really, I hope, good for my kids and good for them to go forward in the world realizing that instead of hate and fear we can come to understanding and bridging cultures."

Earlier in the year, the LaVolds celebrated the Muslim holiday Eid-ul-Adha with Kamran. He brought them traditional Pakistani clothes, and they put them on, and shared a meal and celebrated with thim.

Now, the LaVolds will get to share Christmas was Kamran, which he'd never experienced before. LaVold said he seems to really enjoy Christmas cookies and Christmas treats.

"I really hope that it's good for my kids," she said. "And good for them to go forward in the world realizing that instead of hate and fear, we can come to understanding and bridging cultures."

She said even some things that have seemed very different between her culture and Kamran's come from motivations she can relate to, such as honoring family, and respecting parents.

In the wake of the election, LaVold said she was worried for Kamran, and said she makes it a point to check and make sure he feels welcome, and safe here. So far, she said, he has.

"The staff and the students at River Falls High School have made a really big difference in that," LaVold said. "I think they've worked really hard at the school to create that environment."

She said she feels the teachers have worked hard to make RFHS a welcoming place for students.

And while LaVold said she hopes Kamran's presence here might help spread some cross-cultural understanding, she also makes a point to be sure he gets a chance to just enjoy being a kid.

In addition to building snowmen at night, Kamran said he's also really enjoyed playing videogames with his host brothers, Noah and Parker—particularly "Orri:The black forest"

Some other typically American experiences Kamran said he's enjoyed have included: Swimming, ice skating, bowling , a homecoming dance (he said his school in Pakistan doesn't have homecoming), woodworking , shovelling, carving pumpkins on Halloween and trick-or-treating.

"These are all amazing experiences which I'll never forget," he said.

He's also gotten to visit Minnesota, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, West virginia, Maryland, Tennessee, North Carolina, Illinois and Kentucky, and hopes to do more traveling in the states before he returns to Pakistan.

Kamran said he's also working on a book about his exchange trip, which he plans to call "An Unforgotten Journey."

While Kamran has learned a lot about American culture, and about business, he said he's also gained some life lessons.

"I was really shy before coming to America," Kamran said, "but now I can speak to anyone at any time. And I've become more confident about that and also my fitness level has increased."

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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