Falmouth Academy’s class of 2012 may be small, but it has a wide world view. Among the 31 students who graduated on Saturday are a boy from Afghanistan and a girl from Russia. Neither had met a citizen of the other’s country until they came to Falmouth Academy. The fall of 2010 was the start of Tariq Maroofi’s second year at the grade 7-12 school and Irina Ivanova’s first. They met the first day of school in an FA classroom with a world map on the wall. “He showed me where Afghanistan is on the map. I didn’t even know,” said Irina.
Tariq came to FA as a sophomore three years ago from Kabul. He had gone to school in Pakistan and Afghanistan and spoke four languages. His uncle had been well educated but his father hadn’t gone to school beyond the third grade. Both men encouraged Tariq to seize the opportunity of an American high school education.
Irina grew up in St. Petersburg but had gone to an English-speaking school in Sweden for five years before she arrived in Falmouth scared and jet lagged and one day before the start of her junior year in high school. She is here with her mother, Nina Ivanova, a geophysicist with a three-year contract at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Irina, who speaks three languages, knew about American high schools only from the movies.
Falmouth Academy surprised her and Tariq. “I assumed it would be a typical US high school with lockers and big classes,” said Irina. “I didn’t expect small classes and I didn’t realize all the teachers would be helping you out even if you weren’t doing well.
“At first I struggled with reading and understood only about fifty percent. My writing was really terrible. I never proofread before coming here. But my teachers were definitely nice and helpful. They have worked with me a lot,” she said. “Everything is different and better than I expected.”
“I didn’t know anything when I first arrived,” said Tariq. “This was such a completely different society. It’s been like climbing a ladder… it was hard work, but I was supported all along.” He credits his host family, Mark and Joyce Haycock and their son Nathaniel, his teachers, and classmates for helping him climb the ladder.
Tariq and Irina both like classroom discussions with students from different cultures with different ideas. They feel sure these discussions are beneficial for everyone in the class.
“The first year I was shy,” said Tariq. “The second year I did more participation. And my senior year I try my best to make discussions go on and on.”
“Being here has helped me,” said Irina. “It’s helpful for kids to have other nationalities, religions, and cultures in the classroom, to have different opinions. It makes people more accepting. You don’t always know at the time how it changes you, but it does.”
“Falmouth Academy is small so a lot of people think that we’re not very diverse,” said Rachel Dragos, also an FA senior. “But because it’s small we all know each other, and we have the blessing of working with friends like Tariq and Irina.”
Irina will return to Russia for the summer before she enters Elmira College with a significant merit scholarship. She hopes to major, in international relations, math and political science or economics. “Definitely a double major,” she said. “Maybe a triple and perhaps minors in Arabic and dance.”
Tariq will spend the summer with relatives near Washington, D.C. In the fall he will enter Union College in Schenectady with a full scholarship.
In fact, Tariq wrote a senior reference for Irina: “When it comes to an Afghan writing about a Russian, of course you might think I am not going to say anything nice about Irina, but not so. Our introduction to each other on the first day could have led to the shattering or clashing of our worlds, but in reality our introduction has made us promise to bring our two different worlds together. When it comes to this Afghan, he will always have something nice to say about this passionate Russian, Irina Ivanova.”
“Tariq is the first person I’d met from Afghanistan,” said Irina.
“Irina was the first Russian, I had met, added Tariq.
They have become best friends and have agreed that someday they will visit each other’s country.