Friday, October 19th, 2018

Students of USM: Muhammad Khan on reverse culture shock

Posted on April 19, 2016 in Community
By USM Free Press

Meaghan Gonsior

Meaghan Gonsior, Free Press Staff

Some people let life drift by, but not Muhammad Khan, president of USM’s Muslim Student Association. Khan, a 19 year-old freshman from Gorham, has jumped into the USM community with both feet. Since moving to Maine from Pakistan at the age of 8, Khan has intentionally and actively embraced new situations.

“When you’re younger you can assimilate far quicker than when you are older,” Khan commented on his family’s immigration to the U.S. Khan’s family of nine moved from the Punjab province city of Multan which has a population of over a million people located in under 1,500 square miles.

When he first arrived, he knew only two words of English. Now, when he returns to visit his extended family in Pakistan every few years, they say he speaks with an accent.

“We moved to Standish, Maine with a population of a million trees,” Khan joked with a laugh. While he misses Pakistan at times, Khan admits that it’s because he only remembers the good that he left behind. He notes that returning to Pakistan does create an experience of reverse culture shock, and everything seems different.

“It almost feels like I’m going to a new country. The people are different, the way food tastes changes, the way you interact with people changes,” Khan observed. “Whatever culture you’re in, you always feel like an outsider. You’re always seen as someone who came, not someone who is from there. Our culture is our default until we go and live in another culture, and begin viewing the world from their eyes and cushion our own assumptions from their perspective.”

Khan has become an active member of USM’s Student Senate, and he is running for SGA President this week, along with third year history major Matthew Raymond as his Vice President. Khan’s friends know him as Humza, and he has many new ones at USM that he considers to be like family.

“Humza fits the description of an engaged and involved USM student; one who’s inclusive, accepting of others, and gives a helping hand when needed,” commented Reza Jalali, Coordinator of USM’s Multicultural Affairs.

In February 2016, Khan and fellow student Maryam Hassoon, approached Jalali about restarting USM’s Muslim Student Association (MSA) which had been dormant for two semesters. The first meeting began with two students and has grown to 30 members. The MSA now meets every Monday at 4pm and is open to all USM students. The group recently initiated an event called “Ask a Muslim,” which received positive feedback from the community and earned USM’s Contribution to Campus Diversity Award. The idea behind the event was to create an inclusive atmosphere and to reverse negative stereotypes that are sometimes associated with the Muslim community. Khan believes that it is important to be vocal about his religion and his culture.

“If we don’t define our religion and who we are, then someone else will, and usually it’s in a negative way.”

Outside of school, Khan enjoys meeting friends for trivia night at Buffalo Wild Wings and playing pool with his brother at a friend’s house.

“I’m still learning [how to play pool]. It’s embarrassing sometimes, but it’s fun,” Khan chuckled. Regarding his time at USM, Khan was appreciative of the community he has joined.

“I like how diverse it is, really. There’s all sorts of people from all over the world here. A lot of outgoing people, welcoming people. The MSA is my family now, I love these guys.”

Despite the challenges that moving to a foreign culture poses, Khan suggests that it is creates a more positive experience than negative. He believes everyone would benefit from spending a year or two abroad, truly immersed in a foreign culture.

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