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Connecting PCC to the world

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He’s had a gun pointed at him and he’s been threatened by the Taliban. But for second-year PCC international student Mohammed Farhad he was just being a patriot for Afghanistan, resolving misunderstandings between his people and the United States Army.

"I was happy to support the U.S. Army and my people," said Farhad, who worked as an Army interpreter for two years. "I explained to the Army how the Afghanistan community did things and that they needed to have respect for religious thought and places. And I explained to my people what the U.S. Army was there for and to make sure they understood that they were there to help, build schools and clinics, and to help the government get back on its feet. It was a good opportunity for me to be a good, patriotic person for my people."

There was always a need for interpreters in Afghanistan, mainly because the job is so dangerous. Farhad would accompany the U.S. soldiers on tours into urban areas in search of terrorists and to help in building infrastructure. Often times, he wouldn’t come home until 3 or 4 a.m.

"My brother wouldn’t let me go home alone," he said. "My family wanted me to quit, but they didn’t force me to. We were warned by the Taliban that they will kill you. You worried that they would come and get you in your room, inside your own house. Everyone was scared of the Taliban."

Farhad, a native of Kabul, was hired on as a U.S. Army interpreter in 2004 at the age of 17. That opportunity to use his English skills to smooth any tension between the two factions helped him get out of Afghanistan and come to the United States to study in 2006. Now, he’s completing his transfer degree in biology at PCC and hopes to become a doctor.

Farhad and other international students will try to smooth over misunderstandings at PCC, too, as they host the fifth annual International Education Week, which introduces the college and outside communities to world cultures and issues.

"We need to join together to know each other’s communities to see what we are like," he said. "Not just through the media, newspapers or what an extremist says. It’s important for people to know what Afghanistan Muslims think and that they want the world to be a peaceful place. It’s really important for all of us to know each other and help one another to have a better community."

Events at International Education Week include the international student showcases where students explore their culture and countries through food, music and national dress. The showcases will be held 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 13, in the Building 3 Mall at the Rock Creek Campus; 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 13, in the CC Building Upper Mall at the Sylvania Campus; and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 14, in the cafeteria of the SC Building at the Cascade Campus.

Attendees will get to understand the real world inside countries abroad. Countries much like Farhad’s Afghanistan, which is embroiled in a rebuilding phase and a fight with the remaining Taliban.

"Life in Afghanistan is totally different than what the media says," Farhad said. "The media films places that are good and nice looking, but don’t go into the urban areas to see what the schools look like. Most schools don’t have buildings and students sit under tents, or they sit on the floor of an old building. The economy is very bad. Most people don’t have money for breakfast or dinner. When I was in the 11th grade I sat on the floor in front of a blackboard with holes in it."

As Farhad works toward his educational goals, he misses his homeland. But he understands that he has been given a great opportunity that someday could help his people.

"To go to school in the U.S. is like going to DisneyWorld," he said. "Here, students have computers for classes and that’s unheard of back home. It doesn’t happen. Here, they use slideshows on computers and use state-of-the-art projectors. None of this was in Afghanistan."

While the members of his family – four sisters, three brothers and five nieces and nephews who all live in the same house – were not thrilled with his job as an interpreter, they were happy to see him go to school in the U.S. to pursue his dream. Health care in his country is a big issue. There aren’t enough doctors and to get good care Afghans must cross the border into Pakistan to find a decent hospital.

"They said, ‘Farhad do your best. You have nothing to complain about. You have to do the best you can. You have everything,’" he said. "They were really excited when I decided to go to the U.S. for college. My father was a colonel in the Afghan Army and he always encouraged us to help our people. They supported me getting an education and coming back to the country as a doctor would be a big benefit for our society." For more information on other events, visit the Office of International Education Web site or call (503) 614-7150. A complete schedule for International Education Week is online.

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »