Above: Maria shares traditional Pakistani dishes with her host family.
We are excited to announce Maria Qaiser from Pakistan as the January YES Student of the Month! Maria is placed by AFS-USA in Wellesley, MA, where she attends Wellesley High School.
Maria’s caring spirit has had a far-reaching impact on her host community, where she consistently demonstrates leadership, kindness, and selflessness. When Maria learned that her neighbor’s cat was missing, she and her host sister were determined to find it. Although Maria had no previous experience with pets before coming to America, she deftly caught the missing cat and presented it to her overjoyed neighbor.
An eager cultural ambassador, Maria has been learning to make traditional Pakistani dishes to share with her host family and community. Her host family’s spice cabinet now holds new flavors such as garlic chili paste, red and green chili peppers, and chaat masala. Maria’s host mom describes their kitchen as filled with new aromas, laughter, and storytelling. Along with preparing traditional food, Maria also takes time to share about the history and culture of Pakistan including holidays such as Mawlid an-Nabī.
Determined to volunteer for 100 hours this year, Maria has taken advantage of many opportunities to support her community, including sorting and washing shoes for children in need with Cradles to Crayons, helping the local community farm winterize planting beds, supporting her drama teacher’s school play, and raising funds for Pakistani flood victims at Wellesley College by offering free henna painting. Maria also started the first mehndi henna club at her high school, which now has over ten members.
Maria’s friendly and open-minded attitude at school has made a very positive impression on her classmates and teachers. During International Education Week, Maria gave successful presentations in each of her nine classes and arranged a small dinner party at her house for friends and classmates, where she cooked Pakistani food. These impressive International Education Week events not only inspired her peers to want to visit Pakistan but also prompted Maria to reflect more deeply on her own culture. Maria said, “I realize that when you go abroad, you discover things about your country more than when you were in your country. When people ask about things in your country, you also ask yourself, yes why do we do that?”
Maria’s motto to “Just try” has fueled her to experience many “firsts.” She was determined to learn how to ride a bike and swim; she mastered riding a bike after a few lessons and is still working hard on becoming an excellent swimmer. She experienced her first snow, went skiing, and ate a lobster roll. Maria personifies the spirit of cultural exchange as she continues to try new things and learn from her host community, just as they are learning from her.