By Laraib Asim
Two students from Pakistan studying at SUNY Plattsburgh this semester went to Oak Elementary School to engage with a group of kids and there with the help of a presentation, talked about their culture March 25.
The two presenters were Iman Ahmad, a Pakistani sophomore from Forman Christian College University based in the city of Lahore who majors in economics and Dua Saleem, a Pakistani junior from Dow University of Health Sciences based in the city of Karachi who majors in nutrition. Both the students took part in a competitive exchange program to be selected for the chance to study abroad for a semester in the United States.
“I was excited because I enjoy public speaking and on top of that I was representing my country,” Saleem said. “[I decided] I will be spontaneous because it’s my country. We talked about the different provinces, cultures associated with our provinces and the religious diversity in Pakistan.”
During the presentation, Saleem and Ahmad engaged the kids by asking them questions related to the different tourist attractions within Pakistan that the students found most appealing. From the second largest mountain peak K2 to the second largest salt mine in Asia, the kids eagerly listened to everything they said.
Ahmad said she was nervous, yet excited at first.
“We played a Pakistani National song and danced to it together. We also prepared two Pakistani dishes called Biryani [a rice dish] and Sheer Khurma [a sweet dish],” she said.
When parents came to collect their kids, one kid even asked for the recipe of biryani, which was heartwarming. The kids were taught how to make paper boats. This was inspired by the monsoon season that occurs annually in Pakistan. After the presentation was over, the kids tested their boats in small puddles outside the school and were happy when it turned out successful.
“We offered them prizes that were souvenirs from Pakistan for answering questions at the end,” Ahmad said. “I was very surprised to see that the students remembered a lot of stuff from the presentation and they actively participated in the quiz session. To my amazement, a student even remembered the full name of Pakistan, which was very fulfilling.”
Ellen Miller, the international student assistant at the Global Education Office (GEO) of SUNY Plattsburgh, was in charge of organizing the presentation given. Miller reached out to Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) Plattsburgh who referred her to Oak Elementary School’s after school program.
“I figured it would be nice to get them off campus to have a little bit more sense of the community outside of SUNY Plattsburgh,” Miller said.
She praised Ahmad and Saleem for their efforts and their success in engaging the kids suggestion.
“I was hoping for [the kids] to meet other people and understand that there is more than one way to be a person and to live a life. Plattsburgh, especially outside of the college community, is relatively homogeneous,” Miller said.
There may be a lot of churches, but religious diversity is not common in this area.
“I know the staff at the YMCA, the child care directors were totally blown away,” Miller said about the event. “I knew that [the students] had that [passion] in them. I could tell that they enjoyed talking about their culture.”
Every semester, SUNY Plattsburgh and various universities all over the United States welcome foreign exchange students to their respective universities through the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program. It is a study abroad opportunity for the students and an opportunity for universities to promote diversity and inclusion on campus.
The Global Undergraduate Exchange Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State through the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. They work with two different organizations to organize this arrangement for exchange students. Students from Pakistan are sponsored by the organization IREX (International Research & Exchanges Board) and students from other parts of the world are sponsored by the organization World Learning. All students in this program need to fulfill certain requirements such as completing a certain number of community service hours, studying American culture and giving presentations. During this semester, seven students from all over the world came on this scholarship program.