Over the past two years spent in the United States, I have realized media has a huge influence on how people view Afghanistan. Although some media channels cover the positive side of Afghanistan, most of the news highlights the explosions, deaths, and poverty in my country. I am fortunate to know there is so much more to Afghan life than blood and horror.

Recently, I was making my way back home from Washington DC to Kabul and I had a stop in Dubai’s international airport. I had dressed comfortably and forgot I would be going to Kabul where I need to respect the way of dressing, which means I had to cover my head and hair and wear a long piece of cloth.

But I was just being me and ignored being an obedient young Afghan girl. I was late and there was a long line of people waiting to board. In the line, I saw many Afghan men with long beards and long white traditional Afghan clothes. To be honest, I was a little bit scared. I felt like they were giving me looks. I mean what kind of Afghan man would like to see an Afghan girl with a shirt and pants and a scarf that barely covers her head who has sunglasses on her head and Starbucks in her hand?

After a minute, I heard them whispering and I was about to freak out. I was preparing myself by coming up with defensive sentences and gestures in case they said something to me. I told myself in the worst scenario, I would just call security.

Suddenly, one of the men turned to me. I was so ready to make a scene. And he said: “It is a very long line, but you can go in front of the line. We can wait.”

Suddenly all my aggressive feelings were replaced with simple shame and regret. What do I think of myself? A girl who goes to the United States for education and now judges my own people by the common prejudices of the news or held by foreigners.

That day those Afghan men taught me something that I never learned in a classroom. They taught me not to judge a book by its cover.

It can be easy to judge people of a country by their corrupt government and poverty, and ignore what they have gone through and what their real values are. It is very important for our generation around the world to understand these prejudices and be critical about them. Many of our judgments are based in haste on common stereotypes and labels put on a race or nationality. Raising awareness is the key to using our good judgment.

Last month, with the help of one of our school officials, Ms. Harrison, I created a blog called “High Schoolers’ Cultural Exchange.” This blog tries to raise awareness among teenagers about different cultures. It only covers teenagers in Afghanistan and United States, but we hope to expand it to more countries.

These past few weeks, fourteen girls in Afghanistan and the United States talked over Skype about cultural differences. Now fourteen girls have altered the way they look at the other country and expanded their vision beyond common stereotypes.

There are so many other things besides bomb explosions, poverty, and corruption in Afghanistan. People learn to love, respect, and smile and live happily with what they have. Afghans are strong believers, because otherwise it would have been just very hard to live in a country that everybody else thinks is only a birthplace for terrorists.

By Fatima H.

Photo by Andy King