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Last Updated: Friday, 24 November 2006, 06:13 GMT
'The college is like the United Nations'
Bilal with friend
'At 23 I am the oldest freshman'
Former BBC Kabul producer Bilal Sarwary left his job in August to complete a college course in the United States.

In his first column, he wrote about how it was a dangerous time for an Afghan to be in transit westwards.

Now he has settled down, and writes about life in an American college.

When I left Kabul and its mountains, I wasn't thinking about reading and writing all the time.

After arriving in the US, I stayed at a motel for almost a week before I moved to my single room in Middlebury college.

It is hard to switch off from Afghanistan, with all the bad news these days

My college life began with the international student orientation programme. It was then that I realised that my dream of a college education was coming true.

My fellow students kept me busy explaining the A-Z of college life. I bombarded everyone with questions.

Now some people think of me as the guy who is always asking questions. My defence is that I have not gone to school for more than 10 years, let alone to college.

I was missing classes in the morning because at first I did not have an alarm clock. Now I have one, and for some reason I wake up two hours earlier than the time I set.

Having an early morning shower is very easy as there is plenty of hot water, unlike Kabul.

There is another difference with Kabul. On the way to early morning classes, no one seems to have time for a chat. But in Kabul, that was part of life from the start of the day to the end.

Age question

It makes me think of that line you hear a lot about life in America and the West - time is money.

Unlike Afghanistan, here in the US professors seem to be very tolerant if you are late for a class, although they may be changing their attitude towards me now I have been here longer!

Middlebury College
'When I see the green valleys of Vermont, I often think I am in Afghanistan'
There is yet another difference though: in Afghanistan, the teacher would do most of the work and the student would do very little.

But in the US, the student is the one who has to deliver, which is a very good thing.

After I was interviewed by the college newspaper and talked about my work in Afghanistan, some people started calling me the BBC guy, or sometimes BBC dude.

I get a lot of questions about my age, because at 23 I am the oldest freshman. The students here seem to come from almost every corner of the world - it's like the United Nations.

When I first got here, I kept getting calls from Afghanistan. Friends and contacts would get in touch as if I was still in Kabul, or send me emails.

I decided to switch the mobile off after a while, as each conversation was costing a lot because of the incoming charges. Now I try to restrict my telephone contacts with Afghanistan to just the weekend. The rest of the week is for study.

However, it is hard to switch off from Afghanistan, with all the bad news these days.

There is a lot to worry about, particularly about close friends. Sometimes, I find it difficult to concentrate on college work, but the professors have been very supportive and help me to stay focused.

During my free time, I follow the news for hours while students do other things. It is hard to let go of something that you were involved in for years.

I have a list of things that I still can't do yet - cashing money from the machine, opening my mail box and washing clothes in the machine. Although I am getting better and a good friend from Spain says I will get there eventually!

Bilal with friends
'The students come from every corner of the world'
When I was in Kabul, I could often stay in bed and still do my job - phoning people and collecting news.

But here I have to wake up early and stay up late, immersing myself in my reading and writing.

Sometimes I am up so late the darkness vanishes and I realise it is morning again. Then there are the nights, I better call them nightmares, when I have to write a long essay.

Afghan room

I have Afghan carpets in my room, as well as green tea, dried fruits and Afghan hats. So some students who visit me now call it the Afghan room.

I have been invited to stay with my American friends at their houses. But their houses are far away.

One of them lives almost as far away as it is between Kabul and London.

If I drive, though, at least the roads are good - no fear of roadside bombs. And there are no Taleban coming across the border from Canada, like there are from Pakistan to Afghanistan.

One thing which surprised me was how small the market area is in the town. It has only about 30 shops, which is fewer than we have in my district town in eastern Afghanistan.

But the town here has banks and a fire station, which is a lot more than we have.

When I see the green valleys of Vermont, I often think I am in Afghanistan.

Soon I will experience my first American winter.

But unlike Afghanistan, I know I don't have to worry about heating, hot water and all of that.

I realise I will have to follow a suggestion from another BBC colleague who has worked in America - I should never finish all the food on my plate in America , otherwise I will become fat.

After my first month or so here, I have already come to the conclusion that student life will be a lot of hard work, but a very unique experience and full of fun.

Now I have to get back into my reading - that is why I am here I tell myself all the time.

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