Tariq Rahim is using his time at OSU Institute of Technology to learn as much as he can about American culture while also teaching those around him about life in his home country of Pakistan.
Rahim was chosen to take part in the U.S. Department of State’s Global Undergraduate Exchange Program in Pakistan. The program offers students in underserved populations in Pakistan the opportunity to attend U.S. universities for one semester to explore American culture, develop leadership skills, and serve as ambassadors for Pakistan on college campuses.
Rahim said he was surprised he was one of the 250 students chosen out of the thousands who applied to the program. He was assigned to OSUIT and is studying business administration during his semester in the U.S.
“This is my first experience going abroad anywhere. It’s been a really good experience,” Rahim said, and he admitted he had made assumptions of Americans before he arrived. “I thought everyone in the U.S. was isolated and didn’t interact with each other. I lived in Tulsa for two weeks with a host family and each and every night they had a small party. They all interacted with each other all the time.”
Now Rahim is living in one of OSUIT’s residence halls and getting more involved on campus.
“I hope to meet many people here so I can explore the culture more and more,” he said. “I can take the good things I learn here and implement some of them at home.”
As part of the UGRAD program, students from Pakistan have to meet a number of requirements while in the U.S. including keeping a culture passport with information about their experiences exploring American arts, music, sports, holidays, local pride and youth concerns. Students also must complete at least 20 hours of community service and give a presentation about Pakistani culture and its people to the university community.
Kenneth Kern, director of international student services, said there are a number of benefits to Global UGRAD participants, as well as all international students, when they decide to attend college outside their country’s borders.
“I believe the most transformative benefit that takes place seems to be when the participants befriend individuals in the community and begin to grasp the authentic American culture, moreover Oklahoman culture, and return home as ambassadors for the U.S., Oklahoma, and this institution,” Kern said.
The cultural exchange that happens is not a one-way street. Students, faculty and staff all gain so much knowledge when they interact and get to know these students from other countries and cultures, he said.
“At OSUIT, Americans who live on campus with these participants are able to experience a part of the world, including world views, that they would likely not otherwise come across,” Kern said. “When students and staff begin to realize the dreams, desires and ethics of Global UGRAD participants are similar, if not the same as our own, we grow in our patience and openness toward other cultures.”
Rahim said he hopes by taking part in the Global UGRAD program he can help change the misconceptions people have about his home of Pakistan.
“It’s a big responsibility being an ambassador for my country. Unfortunately people only know about the negative. I hope I can show them that just like here, people go to work, they go home to their families, they have celebrations and take vacations,” he said.