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Pakistani Scholars and International CONNECTions

by Nikki Kroushl on November 22, 2016

Pakistani scholars
Photo by Nikki Kroushl. From left to right: Kaitlyn Patterson, Farrukh Nadeem (IIUI), Nadia Awan (IIUI), Salma Kalim (IIUI), Mahmood-ul-Hassan (IIUI), Inamullah Jan (IIUI), Jess Boersma

All kinds of people from all over end up at the annual Cucalorus Film Festival and its technology/business pre-conference, CONNECT, but on Thursday, November 10th, an entirely unique set of visitors filed out of a showing of the documentary Generation Startup at the CFCC Union Station.

It wasn't just the first time they were in Wilmington—it was the first time they had ever visited the United States.

In 2014, UNCW won a million-dollar State Department grant that fosters academic and cultural exchange between the university and the International Islamic University Islamabad (IIUI). Six Pakistani scholars—PhDs and PhD students in English and politics and international relations—arrived in Wilmington earlier that week with a jam-packed schedule.

“We are here for three weeks,” said Farrukh Nadeem from IIUI's English department. “It's my first time in the U.S. and in Wilmington, and I am very happy, very enlightened, and very delighted to see the activities that have been designed for us.” The other lecturers echoed his sentiments enthusiastically.

The Pakistani scholars have research mentors and have engaged in pedagogy activities to learn more about UNCW's teaching practices. They are working with the UNCW Department of English, Department of Public and International Affairs, and the Center for Teaching Excellence on a variety of programs, including sessions on gender issues in Pakistan, academic writing in Pakistan, international relations, and other topics. The group has attended Cucalorus, watched the U.S. election process at work, participated in some interfaith activities, and will enjoy a Thanksgiving meal before they leave.

As they spoke with the CIE team, they warmed up quickly and spoke enthusiastically about the opportunities that the State Department grant has afforded them.

“I had a chance to interact with students in the English department,” said Nadeem. “All of them were very delighted to see me there. And they asked different questions regarding the English department in Pakistan and how our people perceive the Western world. All of them showed great warmth of feeling for all of us. They welcomed me.”

“They are treating us like family,” added Nadia Awan of IIUI's Department of Politics and International Relations. “They're too nice, much more than we expected.”

When asked what they found strangest about the U.S., the scholars said they didn't feel it was much different at all, and that the only thing they missed was Pakistani food. When asked what their favorite part about their visit was, Nadeem jokingly answered, “Meeting Jess”—meaning Jess Boersma, the man serving as guide and chauffeur, and the other scholars erupted into laughter and agreed.

“Human beings, when they interact with each other, have different ideas that develop,” said Nadeem. “We become more progressive in our learning, in our teaching education. This visit has a lot of importance because there were so many things I was listening to and reading in my country [about the U.S.], so the way I have personally experienced it… that's very much different. Before, [my knowledge] was just through media.”

“The things in the media and the things we're experiencing are really two worlds apart,” Awan said, noting also how the same is true for the portrayal of Pakistani life in mainstream media and the reality.

As their three weeks in the U.S. comes to an end, the Pakistani scholars will have plenty of stories to tell their students and families and material to write about. Mr. Nadeem even talked about using one of the Cucalorus short films as a media text in his classes—one small piece of the large tapestry of cultural threads interweaving as a result of this trip.

After all, politics and international relations scholar Inamullah Jan said it best: “There are more things, many more things, that can connect us together than there are things that can separate us.”

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