Foreign students: Outside looking in

Foreign students who come to Pakistan have diverse views about what they see and experience.

August 18, 2011

Living in a foreign country offers numerous experiences for students; some great, some good and some just plain bad. Foreign students who come to Pakistan have diverse views about what they see and experience.  Some are content, some indifferent and some intensely frustrated by what they perceive as hypocrisy in a country made in the name of Islam.

“They call themselves Muslims, yet harassment is rampant on the streets,” says Asraya Kadariya, a Nepali student studying at the University of Karachi.

Bhawana Khakurel, a Nepali Buddhist and a student of Pharmacy, received her first cultural shock when she saw so many girls with heads covered as she entered the country.

She confides that though she respects the way people here are ‘guarded by their faith’, she still considers Pakistan to be a conservative society which is not very open to accepting people of different faiths and values.

“I see girls forced into covering their heads. They do what they want behind their families’ backs but otherwise pretend to comply with conventional values. This sort of behaviour is producing hypocrites rather than morally responsible people.”

She also complained about the way men blow the horns of their cars at girls asking them to go with them even within varsity premises.

Ikran Hussein Abdi, a Somali student of the Sociology department says, “When Somalia was a colony prior to 1960, the values of the locals were quite different and were rather liberal. Today, people are more religiously conscious. However, boys and girls can still interact freely with one another in my country unlike here in Pakistan where finger-pointing begins as soon as a boy and a girl start talking.”

Despite this so-called segregation among boys and girls, there is disregard for women.

“Although we are fully covered but due to our Somali style long gowns and scarves, men hoot.”

Khalid Abdullah, another Somali student of Sindh Medical College drew parallels between life in India and Pakistan and claimed the former to have more freedom of expression and acceptability of alien culture and values. He also feels that many Pakistanis are not ‘friendly enough’ to involve foreigners in local culture.

“Ask any of the foreign students here and they will all testify to the fact that Pakistanis avoid inter-mingling.”

However, most foreigners showed great appreciation for the creativity displayed in local traditions.

Afriha Jawed, a Sri Lankan student at SMC who has been in Pakistan for the last three years displayed her candid excitement for local occasions. “I like the way wedding ceremonies are organised here. There is a mehendi and a nikah and a valima and the festivity goes on for at least a week. The celebration is much simpler back in my country, but I like it better here.”

“I almost laughed out loud when I saw the buses here for the first time. What creativity!” exclaimed Rakshya Shree Thapa of Nepal. However, there are also those who have not been exposed to the true essence of Pakistani culture at all.

Bakil Saleh Ahmed, Mohammed Saeed Kazim and Nasr Al Shawash of Yemen prefer to celebrate their indigenous culture and showed complete ignorance of local traditions despite having stayed in the country for over three years. “We simply enjoy our own culture and that’s what we celebrate.”

For most, Pakistan is a blend of beauty and repulsiveness, a cultured life parallel to the rule of the jungle. It has become a place which excites the mind but also kindles fear.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 13th, 2011.


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