A Pakistani Perspective

Exchange student Hareem finds friends, kindness, and surprises in a semester at Nazareth.

by Hareem


My father always used to say: If you are not willing to risk the usual, you will have to settle for the ordinary. This stuck with me through the years, but it was not until 2017 that I decided to choose the former option.

I am Hareem, and I was a Global UGRADPakistan exchange student at Nazareth. This undergraduate exchange program is funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State and administered by IREX (International Research and Exchange Board). By joining this program, I chose to risk my fears, strengths, and weaknesses and put to test my confidence.

Traveling for the first time from a developing part of the world, I found this fast-paced, developed world scary and intimidating. My fear was worsened by daily horrific media reports about travel bans and increasing hate crimes against minorities. But I decided not to let media stereotypes dictate my perception of people I had not met yet.

I remember when Laura, my advisor from the Center for International Education, helped me carry my bags to the fourth floor of O'Connor on the move-in day. Her humility and kindness surprised me. I had learned, while growing up back home, that Americans were busy people with no time to be polite. In that generalization, I somehow lost track that Americans were still kind and gentle—the most smiling nation across the world.

Chad, the veterans coordinator at Naz taught me a most important lesson— unapologetic honesty. He visited our class for a discussion on Redeployment, a warstory book by Phil Klay, and I asked him about the repercussions of ongoing wars. The idea of approaching an American soldier created fear and resentment in me because I grew up in a place where you never knew when you could die at the hands of an unseen enemy. I expected him to ignore my question, but to my surprise, he not only answered my question but also did not lie about wars not being the solution to a problem. I found an honest man who led me to understand pain exists on both sides.

It is not only all these big serious lessons that I learned at Naz, but little ones as well. Being on time for any class or meeting was always a struggle for me because in Pakistan, "being on time" means being at least 15 minutes late!

The best part of this roller-coaster ride at Nazareth was the global approach that the College provides. Here, Pakistan did not only meet people from different parts of U.S. Instead, there were 22 countries that came together on one campus. It was pleasantly surprising for me to see black people working with white people and being friends, and seeing a Muslim girl working next to a Jewish girl on campus. It was something I would very rarely see at home. For me it was diversity and inclusion not in talk but in action!

True to its values, Nazareth prepares us to make our mark on the world by reframing our ideas and changing our perspectives. Nazareth changed my perspective not only of the larger world but of the U.S. itself and helped me shape my stories of a country that is kind, generous, and open to people from all across the globe. Letting go of my old ideas about this new place opened up a sparkle that I never imagined—the helping community, the humble and welcoming people, the dedication personified in class, and the strong community service work ethic. Nazareth taught me the importance of honesty, acceptance of differences, and openness to ideas—ideas I was familiar with but that I didn't value as much until I came to Nazareth.

Though I traveled to different places in America, my experience wasn't the same across every state. Nazareth is different: in the way that people treat you, how they welcome you in their lives and places, and accept you for who you are. I think Nazareth is the epitome of what America ideally tries to achieve. It gave me amazing friends, and when I look at these diverse people under one roof, it fills me with immense happiness and pride. Nazareth redefined my confidence, helped me run faster than the fast-paced world, and changed my everyday surprise into a comfort zone.

Sometimes expressing gratitude about Nazareth is difficult. It has my heart. Many people say: You will never be at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.

Hareem was a Pakistani exchange student at Nazareth during fall semester 2017. The author's full name is not disclosed per U.S. Department of State security guidelines.