Former exchange student returns to Alpena

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News Photo by Jordan Spence Tajikistan native Mahina Abdullojonova has moved back to Alpena to continue her education.

ALPENA — After a summer back at home in Tajikistan, Mahina Abdullojonova is back in Alpena.

Last year, Abdullojonova — now 19 years old — spent her senior year in Alpena as part of scholarship program. She enjoyed her stay so much, she decided to come back to the United States to work on her Associate’s degree at Alpena Community College.

“Our school system at home isn’t strong as it is here,” she said. “I was struggling at improving my English and then I came to live here and thought ‘Wow I can improve my knowledge here more than at home.'”

At first, Abdullojonova wanted to become an ambassador to the United States. But, as she’s progressed in her studies she said she would like to be a government translator.

One of the main reasons she has liked Alpena so much is because of the lakes.

“I actually love the lakes here they’re beautiful,” she said. “We don’t have too much water (in Tajikistan) it’s a landlocked country. I also like the people here.”

She laughed as she added one more like, “I love the food and pizza. People tell me it’s not American and then I say ‘Well then I love American pizza.'”

Tajikistan is a country in Central Asia and there are some notable differences than America, she said.

“My country there’s a lot of difference in culture,” she said. “We have four seasons, but my country is mountainous. There’s a lot of difference in traditions; with holidays. I’ve never celebrated Christmas or Easter.”

Most of the population in Tajikistan are Muslim, she said, which is Abdullojonova’s religion as well.

“Back home we have Ramadan (which is a month of fasting from dawn until dusk to honor the first revelation of the Quran to the prophet Muhammad) most Islamic countries do that holiday because most of the population are Muslim,” she said.

Even with religious differences there are some similarities, she noted. Once the fast for Ramadan is over there is often a big feast, which she compares to Thanksgiving.

She said when Ramadan is over children often ask adults for sweets.

“Here kids were trick-or-treating and kids are going door-to-door asking for treats, it’s just wild,” she said.

She also noted the technological advancements of the American classroom. Students in America have the opportunity to continue their education at a higher level, she said.

Because she’s in the United States on a student visa she can’t work for the first year.

Instead, she volunteers her time at the soup kitchen with the United Methodist Church.

“I live with the family who hosted me last year (Cory and Shawn Lancaster),” she said. “They kind of adopted me. So I’m living with them.”

It was her “American father” Cory who suggested she try a class Abdullojonova now loves.

“I’m taking welding now. I love that class,” she said. “When he suggested it, I looked at him funny. Once I went into the field I enjoyed it. I signed up for another. It’s fun. If I compare it to my other classes it’s all physical stuff. You learn through moving. You’re not just reading and writing.”

Something else Lancaster taught her was how to change the oil on a car, “It’s cool doing these things with him.”

Lancaster said he and his wife love to have Abdullojonova around.

“She fits in with the rest of the family,” he said. “My children are 30 and 33 and she goes over to my son’s’ place and plays with the grandkids.”

He added it’s been a complete learning experience to have her live with them.

“You take for granted all that we have here,” he said. “All I can tell it reinforces is that the United States is one of the best places to live.”

One of Abdullojonova’s favorite memories of her time here is when she traveled to Baltimore as part of a conference.

“We had a conference with people all over the world,” she said. “We shared our thoughts about different religions; that there’s not much difference in religions. We just figured out that we’re all human beings.”

Jordan Spence can be reached via email at jspence@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5687.