Story by Abby Siegel, Contributing writer
Murray State is hosting four Pakistani students participating in the U.S. Department of State’s Global Undergraduate Exchange Program to “build a bridge between the two nations.”
Humayoon Akhtar Qaimkhani, senior from Hyderabad, Pakistan, earned a spot in the competitive semester-long program from a pool of 6,000 applicants.
He said this was a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to develop his leadership and communication skills.
Akhtar said his friends in Pakistan initially said the program would be a waste of half of his senior year. But those friends are now jealous of his experiences, and he said is now helping them prepare to apply in the future.
The Global UGRAD-Pakistan program focuses its participants on building civic and economic skills to affect change in their underserved home communities. While in the United States, participants will complete a minimum of 20 hours of community service.
Yaseen Fatima, senior from Larkana, Pakistan, is completing her community service hours at the Women’s Center. Akhtar is completing his service hours at Need Line, stocking shelves in the food pantry.
Additionally, the exchange students must participate in American traditions and in return share Pakistani traditions with the Murray community through programs at local schools, Rotary clubs and assisted living facilities.
Akhtar said he is learning about the United States and will bring what he learns back to Pakistan.
Along with other students in the program, he attends American cultural festivals as well as festivals put on by other international students at the university to gain a greater understanding of the overall scope of diversity.
“What is showing in Hollywood … it is not like that,” said Abdul Qadir Ahmed Abbassi, senior from Kashmir, Pakistan.
Abbassi and Akhtar said they were surprised how friendly people in Murray have been to them. When they have asked for directions, people walked them to their destination, rather than just telling them where to go.
“The best thing I’ve found here is good people,” Fatima said. “Sometimes they are astonished by my culture, but I have only had healthy conversations with them.”
Through their travels, they have found that every state has different kinds of people, Fatima said.
“People were not so friendly in New York,” Akhtar said.
They have plans to travel to California at the end of the semester and said they are excited to see what kind of people they will meet there.
During their time at Murray State, Global UGRAD-Pakistan students live in residential colleges with Murray State students.
Akhtar said his roommate thought he was from some rural community with little infrastructure.
“He was amazed to know there were big restaurants in my country,” he said.
Fatima also said she has had a pleasant experience with her American roommate.
“She breaks my stereotypes of Americans,” she said.
Students from the program are placed in 24 states across the United Sates. But Fatima said landing at Murray State was a privilege.
“You are lucky if you come here,” she said.
Fatima said she applied to the program because she wanted to bring change to her community. She is the first woman from her university to be accepted into the program, and she comes from a conservative community.
“They thought I wouldn’t go,” Fatima said. “I wanted to go to America, but I never thought I would get the chance.”
Fatima’s goal is to build a health care facility that people can go to for free because many people cannot afford medical care in her community. Hepatitis B is a problem in her community, and she said she wants to work to end the spread of the disease there.
Akhtar said he wants to pursue a master’s degree in electrical engineering and hopes to become a professor. He said Murray State professors have been a good influence because they “talk to you like a friend,” and he wants to do the same for his future students.
Murray State’s Global UGRAD-Pakistan students have only one complaint about the program.
“The program should increase its duration to at least one year,” Abbassi said.