Some students may choose to exchange overseas to experience a different culture or for fun. For one student from Pakistan, he exchanged with a purpose.
Pankaj, junior in electrical engineering, has come to Pittsburg State University from Pakistan as part of The Global UGRAD-Pakistan program.
The Global Undergraduate Exchange Program in Pakistan is sponsored by the U.S. State Department with funding provided by the U.S. government and administered by IREX.
“…this program is about taking students from Pakistan to U.S.A. for one semester, and they pay for everything, they even give us a stipend as a pocket money,” Pankaj said. “They take around 250 students every year and they send them in two batches; one in the fall and one in the spring. So, I am in Spring batch and we are 135 students places in 70 different universities in 35 different states.”
According to a press release from Global UGRAD- Pakistan, the program’s goal is to “through academic study, exploration of U.S. culture, participation in community service projects, and interactions with Americans in their host communities and campuses… participants develop expertise in their academic fields, gain a broad and nuanced understanding of American culture and values, and go on to share this understanding of the United States with their communities when they return home.”, and brings benefits to the campuses the participants are on… it brings diversity and new perspectives to the classroom and provides students with the chance to make lasting relationships that span across the globe and catalyzes global engagement in the local community.”
In order to be selected for the program, Pankaj had to go through an extensive application process.
“(The) process of the application started in October of 2017 to fill in an application online, a five-page application with all the personal information, medical information, education background and what cocurricular activities we had and the evidences for that,” Pankaj said. “Then an essay portion with statement of purpose…. You got shortlisted in February, I had my interview in March and I was told I was selected as a principle candidate for Spring 2019 and around April, then we had to process like medical…”
Pankaj was chosen from around 14,000 applicants, who were then narrowed down to around 480 for interviews, before having 240 applicants shortlisted for the program.
When he heard he was selected for the program, Pankaj said he “was feeling out of this world”.
“Because my cousin applied twice, and she never got selected, so when I told her she was more than happy for me,” he said. “I was really happy because I was the first one from our whole family to come for semester exchange.”
Pankaj said he believes it is important to share his culture, and that the program was an excellent way to do so.
“It’s really important to share the culture because if I don’t share my culture here then they won’t know how different the world is, because I’ve heard that mostly American people don’t go out of America,” he said. “So, if I don’t share my culture, they won’t know how Pakistan is, how we live or how we dress or all. Everything is different in Pakistan. Pakistan is a very cultural and traditional country. It is so many different languages, so many different ethnicities, and so many different people from different cultures.”
Pankaj was placed at Pitt Sate out of “…sheer luck”.
“They put our application in three different universities and whichever university accepts us first they put us there,” he said. “Then they putted me here because it is a very good university for technology.”
While at Pittsburg State, Pankaj has had numerous opportunities to share his culture as the program requires.
“So, we have to share our cultural experiences while over here,” he said. “I did a presentation at the Food and Culture Fair on my culture and Pakistan… I’m going to go to churches and schools this coming week to tell children how Pakistan is, and what culture we have. I also talk to my friends about stuff they want to know and share things with them. PSU has given me most of the chances (to share culture). I have a lot of choices and opportunities to share my culture.”
One main reason Pankaj wants to share about Pakistan is to try and change the image people may have about his country.
“…Pakistan is not how it is represented on international platforms…” he said. “So, they want students to come and show the positive side of Pakistan and that it’s not really how the media shows it...”
Aaron Hurt, interim director of International Programs and Services, serves as Pankaj’s advisor for the duration of his time at Pitt State. Hurt said he feels “very special to have him (Pankaj) here”, as other members of the scholarship may go to “many prestigious schools.”
“He’s the fourth student we’ve had from this program so we’re very fortunate to have that connection and host these students,” he said.
Hurt said he believes Pankaj has “done well” at acclimating to American culture and sharing his culture.
“He’s very outgoing… He’s very motivated to be here, academically a stellar student,” Hurt said. “He’s doing great. He mixed well with all cultures and he made friends immediately.”
While exchanging at PSU, Pankaj has to do 20 hours of community service as well as write several blog posts.
“My scholarship requires me to do engage activities to know I am blending in with the American culture and making American friends, like go to a house party, go to a lobby meeting, go to sports games, and I have to write two topic blogs,” Pankaj said.
Overall, Pankaj hopes to leave the U.S. with a “truer representation” of Pakistani people.
“We are really sweet and hospitable people,” he said. “Pakistani people are really welcoming. They are not how they are showed on the videos and internet…”