Teen from other side of the world learning about America at Pine-Richland

Deborah Deasy
| Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Farida Abbasova, 17, of Azerbaijan, picked up a new look — sassy, face-framing bangs — plus, a new passion for pizza since she arrived in the United States to attend Pine-Richland High School.

But Farida, who fluently speaks and writes English, still prays daily to Allah, and flinches at some of her school mates' apparent lack of respect for their elders and peers.

“I don't like gossiping,” Farida said.

But Farida really likes other aspects of American culture.

“I love how American kids can drive when they are 16,” she said. “The driving age is 18 in Azerbaijan.”

Since arriving in Pittsburgh seven months ago, Farida has visited Phipps Conservatory, watched a football game at Heinz Field, and attended a Mass at St. Richard Catholic Church in Richland.

Farida also has explored local youth groups sponsored by several Christian denominations.

“They treated me really well,” she said. “No one called me a terrorist.”

In May, Farida will return to Azerbaijan and bid goodbye to host family — Steve and Cindy Stemberger of Richland, and their 11-year-old daughter Chloe, a sixth-grader at Eden Hall Upper Elementary School.

“She's an amazing girl. She's very outgoing,” said Cindy Stemberger. “She's such an inspiration to me.”

Farida said her homeland is an independent, democratic republic, located between Iran and the former Soviet Union, on the west coast of the Caspian Sea. The capital city is Baku, she said. The national language is Azerbaijani.

“It's very close to Turkish, but some words are Arabic,” said Farida, the daughter of a lawyer and former elementary school teacher, Galamdar and Gullubayim Abbasova of Shaki, a city in northwestern Azerbaijan.

Last week, Farida prepared Azerbaijani desserts for the Global Relations Club at Pine-Richland High School to celebrate Novruz, a national holiday in Azerbaijan.

“She's very willing to talk about her country, her religion, her culture,” said Lauren Super, co-sponsor of the Global Relations Club and librarian at Pine-Richland High School. “Our kids have learned a lot from her.”

Farida also is learning a lot at Pine-Richland High School, such as how to speak Spanish and how to play the piano. Farida's other classes include U.S. history, English and trigonometry.

Farida hopes to one day work in international relations. She decries the actions of Muslim terrorists.

“You can't kill like that,” she said while talking about the tenets of Islam. “It's very important to treat everybody well.”

Next month, Farida will attend the Better Understanding for a Better World Conference from April 17 to 21 in Baltimore, sponsored by the Civilizations Exchange & Cooperation Foundation.

“There will be Muslim, Christian and Jewish kids. We'll give small presentations and talks about our cultures,” said Farida, also a student participant in the Future Leader Exchange (FLEX) Program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

Farida came to the United States through the American Scandinavian Student Exchange (ASSE) program.

“Now they deal with over 40 countries,” said Cindy Stemberger, the ASSE program's Western Pennsylvania coordinator. “We always have a need for host families.”

Host families must provide a room, plus meals for visiting students whose stays may range from three to 10 months.

“We do a criminal background check,” Stemberger said. “We have a representative go to their home.”

Prospective hosts also must supply three references.

“The kids come with their own spending money,” Stemberger said. “If anyone is interested in hosting a student, they're welcome to call me.”

For information, call 412-720-8702.

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or ddeasy@tribweb.com.

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