Pakistan has thousands of students abroad. Over 5,000 are on scholarships from the Higher Education Commission (HEC), mainly university teachers who need to upgrade and broaden their knowledge and skills and carry out research for a formal PhD degree.
Scholarships are also awarded by foreign donors and embassies. Those who can afford it, pay their own way. The HEC scholars have agreed to return to Pakistan and work here upon completion of their studies.
There are less than one thousand foreign students at Pakistani universities, and some one hundred staff members who com to the country to guest lecture, and carry out fieldwork and research, according to HEC.
After the Second World War, the United Nations emphasised the importance of exchange of students and scientists.
It was thought that if intellectuals, artists, scientists and other people have more contact with each other the likelihood of conflicts will be less.
In the mid-1960s, Unesco summarised the experience and released a book titled Students as links between cultures, written by Ingrid Eide, which documented and underlined how useful it was that students travel and meet people from other countries.
It was not only good as regards subject matters but perhaps more for all the extracurricular aspects: “people learn to live together by living together”.
Pakistanis are globetrotters with students and foreign workers abroad.
Many wealthy Pakistanis live part of the year abroad, often in the UK, America, UAE or elsewhere. Nowadays, with relatively cheap air fares, ordinary people, too, can visit relatives abroad.
We know that Pakistanis travel. What is given less attention is the fact that foreign students and researchers also come to Pakistan.
Some come for short study visits, but most come for fieldwork for a Master’s thesis or other research for a degree or a report, or for language studies at the National University of Modern Languages (Numl) and other universities.
A Norwegian researcher, Dr Anja Bredal from the Norwegian Institute of Social Research will come to Pakistan in the autumn to study the situation of Pakistani-Norwegian youth who come to their parents’ homeland to spend a year or two here.
They want to learn Urdu properly and get to know their grandparents and relatives, and have the opportunity to live in a Muslim country. Some will also have an open eye for a future spouse.
They will return to Norway to complete their Matriculation. Dr Bredal’s study will focus on those issues: do the young students lose out on the Norwegian language and social studies when they stay abroad for a long time?
Since Pakistan, especially Gujrat district, is a main sending country of immigrants to Norway, Dr Bredal will collect data from there, but also from Islamabad and Lahore.
She will be affiliated to a university in Lahore during her work. Initially, she had wanted to come in spring, but formalities and preparations took a bit longer so she had to postpone it to autumn.
“In any case, I know that the weather is absolutely fantastic in Pakistan in October-November, too, when it gets cold again in Norway,” Dr Anja Bredal says.
“I chose Pakistan because it was relevant for my Master’s degree in geography,” says Thomas Knobel from the University of Zurich in Switzerland. He has spent most of the spring semester in Islamabad while his classmate, Raphael Gaus, has done research in Nepal. They have both visited each other to exchange progress, compare notes and to be tourists together.
“This is our first longer stays abroad so we should take advantage of seeing the beautiful countries we are visiting,” Thomas and Raphael say.
“My degree in human geography has close links to development studies, so my topic is about development ideas of political parties in Pakistan,” Thomas explains.
“I have been based at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) in the capital and I have received great help from researchers and associates there.”
“I conducted about twenty structured interviews with key respondents from various groups and parties,” he says. “I wish I could have spent more time and had more people included in my interviews, but that will have to be for another time now.”
“I am on my way back to Switzerland where I will complete the write-up of the thesis, about one hundred pages or so, plus additional coursework. I am due to graduate at the end of September”, Thomas says, and Raphael joins in.
“We are both very glad that we chose this interesting part of the world. Many students think that Pakistan is very dangerous. But that is not quite true, and especially not Islamabad”, Thomas adds.
“It is actually very important that student exchange goes on even when there may be some unrest and conflict,” he adds.
Obviously, students must be careful and follow advice about how to behave and where to go. But to learn about security issues and daily life is part of the learning of a foreign student.
I have learnt some things I would not even have thought of if I had stayed at home in Switzerland and only done a desk study.
“It is important that students in social sciences get a feeling of everyday issues, of the problems of the common man and woman and not just learn theories and statistics, and read media reports and journals.
“I don’t think I could have done my study without my fieldwork in Pakistan”, Thomas underlines.
Raphael is also keen to underline that Students are links between cultures. He met many students and researchers in Kathmandu in Nepal.
“In some ways, I think that Islamabad was easier than Kathmandu,” he says. “The countless demonstrations and strikes in Kathmandu interrupted our daily routines quite often. But both cities are unique and very beautiful,” he adds in a diplomatic language.
“I certainly believe that student exchange contributes to peaceful relations between countries”, Thomas says. “Today, it is so easy to stay in contact on Internet and in other ways. But nothing can substitute for travels and direct contact with people.
And then when we return home we can give talks and hold orientation gatherings for fellow students, and show pictures, of course.
“I brought my new camera to Pakistan and I must have thousands of pictures. I don’t think anyone will be bored!” he adds optimistically.
“Besides trips to Faisalabad and Lahore, I also have some pictures from Taxila and Murree, which we also visited. We also bought beautiful coffee table books showing very impressive pictures of the countries at the foot of the Himalayan Mountain Range.
“That is important to know for geography students like Raphael and me, and interesting for anyone, especially for people in Switzerland, which is also a mountainous and beautiful country,” Thomas says, with a touch of homesickness.
This article was originally published at: Dawn
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.