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Life in U.S. surprises Afghans

Published Aug. 28, 2005

They thought they knew about America.

In the United States there are no Muslims, they were taught. America's goal is to destroy Islam, to kill Muslims.

Khushal Rasoli, Abdulahad Barak and Abdulahad Fasil, teenagers in Afghanistan, cowered in fear when they learned that the war between the United States and the Taliban was over, and the nation they feared was now in charge of their homeland.

Their fear lasted about a week. After it was clear that American soldiers were not indiscriminately killing the faithful, and that Muslims _ Afghan Muslims _ would be in charge of the new government, the America the three young men thought they knew became the America they wanted to know firsthand.

Today, Barak, Fasil and Rasoli are attending South Florida high schools, discovering an America that both confirms and defies the propaganda they were taught in the boys-only schools of Kabul and Kandahar.

After the Taliban government fell, the three boys, who did not know each other, attended classes for more than two years to learn English. Fluency in English would later become a requirement for the U.S. State Department program that brought them, along with nearly 60 other natives of Afghanistan now placed in homes across the country.

"In Afghanistan, English is now the most popular language to learn," said Rasoli, 17.

Barak said breaking the language barrier in Afghanistan was the key to furthering his education about his country and the world around him. "Before, we could not study the modern subjects," said Barak, 16.

Culture shock was one of their first challenges upon arrival in South Florida _ specifically, the curious experience of entering a Wal-Mart.

Another new experience was a school where boys and girls are not only allowed to sit in the same classroom, but are expected to do so. "I have never studied in a coed school," said Rasoli, who attends Killian High School in Kendall. He and Barak are both in public schools, and noted, diplomatically, that teenage South Floridian girls dress somewhat differently than the women of Afghanistan under Taliban rule.

"It's their culture," Barak said of his classmates. "We cannot say anything about it."