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She Forever Changed My Preconceived Notions of Muslim Culture

Jacqueline Mason is no stranger to hosting- her family has welcomed four exchange students throughout the years! This year when Jacqueline applied to college, she was asked to write about a life changing event. She wrote about Mouna, her exchange sister from Tunisia.


Jacqueline's College Essay

For many students nerves, a new environment, and the transition from being a big-bad eighth grader to a bottom-of-the-food-chain ninth grader mark the start of high school. I had already dealt with these worries as an eighth grader, since I took French in the mornings before middle school started. Instead, I found myself opening my home, my life, and mind to a new member of my family From a tiny Muslim country called Tunisia came our new family member, Mouna.

She was an outgoing, intelligent and adventurous girl that forever changed my preconceived notions of Muslim culture. Very rarely would one hear about Muslim countries that accepted, educated and respected ambitious women. And yet, here was Mouna. She was allowed to choose not to wear a hijab. She was top of her class and was able to come to the United States by winning an academic contest.

Mouna continuously astounded me. She was already bilingual before learning English (Tunisia had been occupied by France so they spoke a mix of Arabic and French). When she arrived, her English was already better than the majority of high school students. Additionally, her year in the US would not count in Tunisia, sending her back a year, so she had no reason to challenge herself. Despite all this, Mouna refused to waste her year. She decided to begin learning Spanish, to learn a foreign language in a foreign language! She took advantage of academic electives offered and continued to work toward her goal of becoming a doctor.

More than amazing to me, Mouna became my role model. I looked up to her and to this day ask myself what she would do, pushing myself harder knowing that Mouna would be able to do it and more. I learned so much from her. I learned about determination and endurance during Ramadan – a whole month those of the Muslim faith fast, eating and drinking nothing throughout the day. I joined her in fasting for several days to see what it would be like and I still cannot believe thousands of people a month survive it.

I continue to learn from Mouna, three years after she lived with us. When the revolution began in Tunisia, Mouna taught me about the courage to stand up for what you believe in when she helped organize and participate in protests against her government. From Mouna, I have learned to be a better person and continue to grow thanks to her influence.