International Educational Week: 'The bigger image is to break stereotypes'

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HARRISON COUNTY, W.Va (WDTV) - As part of International Educational Week, Mohamed Ben Fredj stood in front of hundreds of Bridgeport High School Monday with one goal in mind: to build bridges of international understanding.

"The bigger image is to just break stereotypes," Mohamed said, speaking to 5 News. "There's this idea that Muslims are just these violent terrorists."

Mohamed, 17, was cloaked in traditional Tunisian garb, as he walked through a presentation about his home country.

"Just talking to them, they know you're just a human being," he said.

Mohamed is a grant student through the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program (YES), established by Congress in response to the events of September 11, 2001.

"He's very outgoing, and he is here to teach," said Kandi Persinger, a local coordinator with Academic Year is America (AYA). "He wants to promote his country, so people have a better understanding of his religion and their customs."

When he arrived in August, Mohamed recalled students behaving in a reserved manner around him.

"Rumors that they hear, they are like 'Are Muslims violent, are they actually all terrorists?' or like 'do you live in a tent? Do you ride on a camel?" he recounted.

"And I'm like 'No, we live in a city and we're just normal everyday people doing normal everyday stuff, just in a different language,'" Mohamed said.

Mohamed believes time and conversations are the only way to heal that divide, and he's noticed that just simply teaching about his culture can help break down barriers.

He does, however, fear the backlash to terrorist attacks can be used to perpetuate stereotypes. That conversation continues in the video above.