WKU hosts Pakistani student through Department of State program

Bryson Keltner

It took Rida Fatima a year to get to Bowling Green. After going through a selective application process, she was chosen out of thousands of applicants from all over Pakistan for the exchange program that brought her to WKU.

Fatima is here through the Global U-GRAD Pakistan program, a semester-long exchange through the U.S. Department of State. This is WKU’s second year of hosting the Pakistan program, but WKU is currently applying to host a Tunisia program through the same sponsor.

“The Global U-GRAD program provides undergraduate students from Pakistan and Tunisia with the opportunity to study in the U.S. for one semester to one year,” Ashley Givan, WKU’s sponsored international student adviser, said. “The goal of the program is to build capacity of youth leaders from underserved populations from these areas.”

According to the program’s website, nearly 85 percent of the program’s alumni returning to Pakistan reported involvement in community service activities. More than 50,000 Pakistanis have benefited from community initiatives developed by alumni, according to the website.

The U.S. Department of State sponsors the U-GRAD program on a fellowship.

“They [the U-GRAD students} have to complete community service hours, do a pre-departure orientation, attend a welcome workshop in Washington, D.C., and attend re-entry workshops later in the semester,” Givan said.

Givan said U-GRAD students must also fulfill specific academic and cultural requirements like taking a U.S. culture course and giving a presentation about his/her own country.

Fatima, an electrical engineering major, recalled the interview process for applying.

“I remember it quite clearly,” she said. “For my interview, there was an American representative and a psychologist. They wanted to make sure what we were saying was true and all. It was actually really intense.”

After interviewing, she had to pass an English exam and fill out more paperwork, but she said it was all worth it when she received her acceptance email.

“I was not able to breathe,” Fatima said. “I was in disbelief the whole time. I didn’t believe it until I got here. It’s like, is this magic?”

Fatima waited eight more months before making the move to the U.S. – her first trip to the country. After spending almost two months here, she said she has felt nothing but welcomed.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “I love the people here. I love their hospitality and how friendly they are. I never felt like I was a different person. I had heard that I might face racism and everything, but I have not faced anything like that at all.”

She said she has a positive perception of the country mostly because of her time as a Hilltopper.

“The credit goes to WKU,” she said. “It’s a warm environment. It is really a home away from home.”

Fatima said she has experienced several American traditions since she has been here, including a wedding, a super bowl party and a “Galentine’s Day” get-together.

When asked about what American tradition she has enjoyed the most, she gave a simple response: “Pop-Tarts.”

Fatima said she wants to take in more traditions before she leaves in May.

“I want to go skydiving,” she said. “I also have to fish. I have to camp.”

When asked if she planned on visiting Mammoth Cave, she said, “Oh my gosh. I have to do that too.”

Fatima said she also loves the freedom to be herself.

“In Pakistan, there are some boundaries that are set for women – like ‘that’s how they should be acting and how they should be behaving,’ but here I can be what I want to be,” she said. “I actually explored myself here.”

Givan said students like Fatima are the reason the U-GRAD program is important.

“This program is a huge asset to not only WKU, but also to American higher education,” Givan said. “We get the chance to host students whom are leaders both in and outside of the classroom. It allows American students, staff and faculty to learn more about other cultures. Anyone who knows Rida understands what a privilege it is.”

Reporter Bryson Keltner can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected]