"I once wanted to change this world, and so I changed myself," Pakistani exchange student Jeena Tariq said.
Jeena Tariq was sitting in her classroom at Peshawar Model Girls High School in Peshawar, Pakistan when a soldier rushed in saying there was a terrorist attack at the Peshawar Army Public School nearby. This was worrisome for the then 13-year-old, as her three brothers attended that school.
Tariq did not know much about the situation that had occurred, or if her brothers were safe. She waited for her eldest brother, Shamowail Tariq, to pick her up from school like normal. She waited for three hours at school for her brother, but what she did not know is that the unimaginable had occurred. Tariq’s brother would not come to pick her up, and she would never see two of her three brothers again.
On December 16, 2014, the Peshawar Army Public School experienced a devastating attack that involved six terrorists and ended with the death of 155 people, the majority of whom were students and teachers.
Two of the dead were students Shamowail Tariq, 16, and Nangyal Tariq, 15, Tariq’s two eldest brothers.
“In the morning I saw him happy, and he was running, and he was coming towards me, and he was talking," Jeena Tariq said. "How is it possible that just in a second he got lost?”
At first, the loss of her brothers was very devastating for Tariq, and it was difficult for her to find the motivation to continue her studies. However, with the help of supportive teachers and friends, Tariq found her drive to live out her brothers’ dreams of education.
“I was unable to concentrate, and I was thinking about my brothers who got killed because they went to school. Some teachers and friends at school motivated me, and I also got psychological treatments that helped me get through it,” she said.
Soon after losing her brothers, Tariq heard about the Youth Exchange and Study Program in which 74 Pakistani students had the opportunity to study abroad and become ambassadors to share their culture and gain new experiences around the world.
The process was very selective and included multiple rounds of testing. Out of the 4500 students who applied from Pakistan, Tariq was one of the few to get accepted into the program. This summer Tariq, now 15, traveled to Oregon to attend Parkrose High School.
“I thought it's the only way to do something good and to move ahead. I needed some space from the situation because I was just stuck,” she said.
Education has always been important to Tariq’s family. She belongs to a class in Pakistan that typically does not allow their daughters to get fully educated. However, her father, Khan Tariq, has never discriminated between Tariq and her brothers, and tried to provide a good education for all four of his children.
Although it was a difficult decision, Khan decided to send his children to schools in the city of Peshawar, which is more developed. Khan was willing to drive from the countryside, where he and his wife work, to the city every day in order to send Tariq and her brothers to a good school.
Jeena Tariq said her father is very supportive and wants her to explore the world and fulfill her dream of higher education.
Despite disapproval from their community, Khan granted Tariq the permission to take part in the program and move to Oregon, where she was assigned to a host family. Tariq, a junior, will be attending Parkrose High School for a full academic year. Her goals for the year are to gain knowledge, make friends, and teach others about her culture.
“I may not satisfy the whole world, but at least I will satisfy myself that I am doing great,” Tariq said.
Tariq said that she is enjoying her time in Oregon and has already experienced many new things. From visiting Powell’s Book Store, to trying out food trucks in downtown Portland, to going to a pumpkin patch, Tariq has had a taste of American culture since she moved here in early August.
She spent the month of August adjusting to Oregon before the first day of school in September.
In her time in the United States, Tariq has various trips and activities planned so she can make the most of her opportunities.
On Oct. 24, Tariq will travel to California with her host family and visit Disneyland.
“I used to dream about that in my childhood, and I wasn’t sure that I would actually get the opportunity to go someday,” she said.
As Tariq expected, the American culture is very different than her own, and she is trying to learn more about the American culture while also teaching others about Pakistan.
Tariq said she is passionately trying to learn about the world so she can return to Pakistan with the power to change others’ views on education and the education system.
Tariq said that education in Pakistan is backwards, and there are less opportunities available, especially for young women like herself. She is appreciative of her chance to travel to America and go past the restrictions others have created for her in Pakistan simply because of her gender and class.
With the death of her brothers in mind, Tariq is determined to continue her education and continue to change people’s views about education and about terrorism.
“The only sword to fight any battle is education,” Tariq said.
Karina Patel, Faustina Than & Elizabeth Francisco
Features Editor & Staff Writers