WEST LIBERTY - Foreign exchange student Huda Bhurgri from Pakistan insists the culture of northern West Virginia is not much different from that of her native country.
"In Pakistani culture, people care about each other a lot," Bhurgri said. "It is the same with West Virginia. People are very connected to each other, especially families. Communities are bound together and people are connected."
Bhurgri, 20, is a student in the International Program at West Liberty University, as she has come to the United States for a semester to study social work.
She said the U.S. has a good reputation in education in Pakistan. She was curious if America was the "booming country" with tall buildings and rushing crowds as depicted in the media.
Once in the U.S., however, her experience was very different from the rush and bustle of a city. She found it instead to be very people-oriented and friendly, where folks treated her like a member of their own family.
"I've worked in the soup kitchen here and been to churches and seen how people are connected to each other," Bhurgri said. "They're available to help their fellow person. It was such a good experience to see these things about America. It was so different than what you see in the media and Hollywood."
Bhurgri said when she first came to the U.S., she was worried about the stereotypes surrounding her faith as a Muslim. However, she found wherever she went, people accepted her. She was respected and judged by her character instead of her religion.
"People said they were a little fearful to talk to a Pakistani, but after I came, they got to know me and they have seen a different type of person," Bhurgri said. "I'm glad people judge me on my character - not any stereotypes related to my religion. I'm respected here a lot."
Bhurgri said she experienced many sides of America, including the "small town pride" of West Virginia, as well as cities such as New York and Chicago.
"The culture is very diverse here," Bhurgri said. "The way people value their lives, their principles, food, dressing and cultural image, like the Celtic Festival, Valentine's Day parties and the way they celebrate Easter and Christmas. Everything is always changing. It was such a diverse experience."
Bhurgri said the thing she misses the most about Pakistan is the "delicious" spicy food found in her hometown of Sindh.
"The fun thing visitors of Pakistan will notice is the hospitality," Bhurgri said. "People will treat you like a celebrity. People will offer you so much food. Everybody cares about each other."
Bhurgri described Pakistan culture as "colorful" with a rich heritage and many languages. According to Bhurgri, a person in Pakistan will know three or four languages "easily."
Although she will sadly miss the people she has met in America, Bhurgri plans to find work in her country after she graduates.
She will be going back to Pakistan this month to finish her degree.
"My objective is and was to come with peace and love for the people who live here," Bhurgri said. "I'm going to take the same thing to my country - the message of peace, love and friendship."