Three years ago, senior Shanzeh Shunaid moved to the United States from Pakistan with her twin brother Shahzeb Shunaid, to live with their aunt in Los Altos. Though she had been to America numerous times before, permanently moving from a private British school in Karachi to Los Altos High School offered quite the new cultural experience.
When asked to describe American culture in one word, “open” was the first to come out of Shanzeh’s mouth.
“American culture is really liberal. It’s pretty much the opposite, because Pakistani culture is a bit more conservative,” Shanzeh said. “Typically, in the Pakistani culture, you are expected to respect your elders a lot regardless of whether they’re your own parents. Here, I’ll occasionally see a lot of kids using abusive language to their parents, but back home that’s not okay.”
The significance placed on coming of legal age is also a big cultural difference.
“In American culture, when the kid turns 18, the parents are like ‘oh you are on your own now’ and very accepting that the kid is leaving the house,” Shanzeh said.
For Shanzeh, parent-child relationships are the biggest difference between the two cultures. “In my culture, we’re expected to always be very connected to our parents, while I don’t see that too much in America,” Shanzeh said. “ I used to talk to my dad every day ever since I’ve been here, but recently I was busy with college apps so I didn’t message him every day. So to my father, me not talking to him every day was a sign of me becoming more American, that I was drifting away, even if that wasn’t actually the case.”
It’s not uncommon for extended families to be living together in Pakistani culture. Shanzeh grew up surrounded by her cousins, and living like that was the ultimate childhood for Shanzeh. Sundays are known to be family days, and going out with friends is not typical; in contrast, she noted that many of her peers in Los Altos didn’t treat Sundays with the same tradition that she did back at home.
“While at home there are a lot of traditions, I don’t really see any traditions here, anything where people stop everything they’re doing to participate in the same thing together,” Shanzeh said. “Everyone here is doing their own thing, without much sense of community. They’re driven to just keep moving themselves forward rather than working towards moving the community forward together.”
Shanzeh fully recognizes that the lack of “American” tradition comes from the fact that the United States is uniquely comprised of a multitude of cultures, each of which bring their own traditions. However, she sees these community gatherings as a way for people to go beyond their ethnic and cultural divides and noted their absence as she spent her remaining high school years in Los Altos.
When Shanzeh moved to Los Altos three years ago, her parents remained in Karachi. This lessened the impact of culture clash because her parents were forced to loosen their controlling reigns. Fortunately, her first experiences at LAHS were nothing short of positive, and students welcomed her to class and appreciated her background.
“People were amazingly accepting,” she said. “‘Really cool’ was the first thing that everyone told me, which was really surprising, and I really didn’t face racial discrimination when I moved here.”
As she graduates this spring and moves back to her homeland for the summer, she will undoubtedly return home with a new perspective.