Feb 14, 2015
In the northern region of Pakistan is Chitral, a remote city that stretches across a green valley at the foot of the Hindu Kush mountains. There’s no Internet, electricity service can be spotty, and the closest major city, Peshawar, is a 14-hour bus ride away.
But make no mistake—despite the absence of some modern conveniences, the place HSU exchange student Sofia Banu calls home is culturally progressive, and becoming more so, especially when it comes to women and education.
She credits Chitral’s open-mindedness, in addition to the support of her family, for the chance to study at HSU through the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program in Pakistan (Global UGRAD-Pakistan). She’s now getting a taste of life in the U.S. and Humboldt County, experiencing bad airplane food and American politeness, learning about learning, and dispelling common misconceptions about the Middle East along the way.
Each year, Global UGRAD-Pakistan sponsors about 300 students from underserved populations in Pakistan and places them in universities around the United States. As a participant of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs program, HSU hosts one Pakistani student each semester.
What makes Banu, 20, unique is her focus—zoology. Daeng Khoupradit, International Marketing & Recruitment Coordinator for HSU’s Center for International Programs, said most exchange students study business or biology with a medical perspective.
“Banu brings perspective of her government and town, so students get to experience a part of Pakistan culture and its people through her eyes,” said Khoupradit. “She also dispels some stereotypes that women aren’t allowed to do anything in some Muslim countries.”
Banu says women who live in more traditional regions of Pakistan are not encouraged to pursue education. That’s not the case in Chitral, said Banu.
“Education of women is gaining importance in Chitral. Women are empowered, so it’s not a problem for someone like me to get an education anywhere in the world,” said Banu.
Banu is settling into life in the U.S. as a full-time student for the spring semester. And, so far, she likes what she’s seeing, learning, and doing—though not necessarily eating.
She said the food served during her flight to the U.S. (her first trip outside Pakistan) was “terrible.” But she loves Americans’ liberal use of “thank you” and “sorry” for every minor thing, she said, and finds the HSU community supportive and kind.
She’s also impressed by the style of teaching and quality of education at HSU.
With the exception of top universities, most colleges in Pakistan involve listening to lectures and memorization, said Banu. So she was surprised to see close interactions between students, faculty, staff, and the local community.
Exchange students of Global UGRAD-Pakistan are required to complete a community project. Banu chose to volunteer at “Golden Years,” a Humboldt County senior companionship volunteer program. Banu said the experience of listening to their stories and getting first-hand knowledge of life for seniors in the U.S. has been invaluable.
“I have never done community service in my own university,” said Banu. “I read books, prepared for the final paper, and attended lectures, but there was nothing else outside the box. So volunteering is really fun.”
She hopes to pass on what’s she learned back to Pakistan.
“A good teacher is a good leader,” she said. “I want to be a professor and use my educational experience here to focus on the education system of Pakistan so that students have a good future.”