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Pakistani Student Says Exchange Program Has Changed Her Life

Posted: November 22, 2011

Faryal Mehr, a Pakistani student completing her junior year of college, joined Wilson College for the fall 2011 semester through the U.S. Department of State’s Global Undergraduate Exchange Program in Pakistan.

The Global UGRAD-Pakistan program, which aims to advance leadership and promote understanding both in America and Pakistan, has had a profound effect on Faryal.

“This program has changed my life,” said Faryal, who explained that girls and women are not afforded the same opportunities as their male counterparts in Pakistan. “The atmosphere I’m getting here is impossible in Pakistan. I would not be able to do all the activities I’m doing here.”

Faryal, whose major is environmental science, has mixed feelings about returning to her country in mid-December. Her dream, after graduating from Peshawar University in Pakistan, is to start an organization that educates people – especially children – about the importance of protecting the environment. She also hopes to start an after-school program for children that would provide general education and environmental education.

“Because in Pakistan, the people are less aware about the environment,” she said.

The Global UGRAD-Pakistan program provides its students with one academic term of non-degree undergraduate U.S. study. Students are chosen on a highly competitive basis, according to the program, and represent a diverse group of emerging student leaders from underrepresented sectors of Pakistan.

“In my case, 3,500 students (submitted) applications,” said Faryal, who comes from the city of Peshawar. “After that, they chose 400 and then interviewed the 400 and selected 200.”

Of the 200 who made the cut, 100 came to the U.S. for the fall 2011 semester and 100 will arrive for the spring semester. Another Pakistani student will come to Wilson through the program at the beginning of 2012, according to Paul Miller, Wilson’s international student adviser.

As part of her responsibilities to the Global-UGRAD program, Faryal gives presentations about her country and culture to schools, nursing homes, service clubs and other venues that will reach local residents. So far, she’s spoken at Wilson and a local church, and is planning some other outreach activities.

“When I tell people the good aspects of Pakistan, they’re very interested to know,” she said. “I’ve told them it’s not just here people have suffered because of 9/11, but we have suffered the rest of the years from 9/11 until now. The terrorists are killing us as well. There are blasts every Friday. There is no safety or security in Pakistan because of these terrorists.”

Faryal said the news media – both American and Pakistani – has not done a very good job reporting on what is happening in Pakistan.

After returning to her home country, Faryal will be a cultural ambassador again — this time on behalf of America — basing much of what she shares with her fellow Pakistanis on her experiences and observations at Wilson and in the surrounding community.

She still clearly recalls arriving on the Wilson campus on Aug. 12, uncertain of what to expect.

“I was nervous of course because I was scared a bit that maybe they won’t like me. They won’t talk to me,” said Faryal, who is acutely aware of the negative opinions many Americans have of the Pakistani people and Muslims in general. “But the first day one of the American (students) came to my room and to say ‘hi’ and it was very comfortable after that. People here at Wilson really respect diversity.”

Today, Faryal counts many Americans as friends. She says one fellow student has brought her warm clothes and boots. Another has invited her and other international students to Thanksgiving dinner at her home in Philadelphia.

“I will miss it,” Faryal said. “In my country, it’s a dream to come to America.”

The Global Undergraduate Exchange Program in Pakistan is a program of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the Department of State and is administered by the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX.

Last Updated: November 22, 2011