Student travels from Pakistan to study journalism at Pierce College
// 'Cultures might be different, but we are all human beings and have common feelings.'
Note: You can find Ismail’s articles in the Tacoma Weekly on these pages:
- International student experiences equal rights in the America
- Haircuts in the U.S. more expensive to international students
Normally, Tacoma Weekly does not publish profiles of the high-school and college interns that pass through on a routine basis, but in this case making an exception to the rule seems appropriate when the intern has traveled all the way from war-torn Pakistan to study journalism in America for the first time.
Mohammad Ismail is in the United States for a one-year intensive journalism program at Pierce College. Funded by a Fulbright Scholarship he won through the U.S. State Department, Ismail’s educational endeavor stateside is both academic and cultural. “I share Pakistani culture with American people, and I learn about American culture and society from American people,” he said.
“I think this was the greatest moment in my life when I got the scholarship. I journeyed from the most neglected part of Pakistan, known as the tribal areas, where only 3 percent of women are educated.”
Ismail has already had several of his articles published in the campus newspaper, The Pioneer, and some of these have been reprinted in Tacoma Weekly in the past couple of months. His writings tend to reflect his own experiences in this strange, new land, offering a fascinating and oftentimes humorous glimpse into what it is like for an international student to make his first visit to America. Even something as simple as riding the bus becomes a novelty.
“The transport system is great. People follow traffic rules. The bus comes on time, and you can often find a seat on the bus – back home, it is a big problem.”
Ismail said he does not feel homesick or culture shock because people here are accommodating. “In the U.S., people are very friendly, casual and accessible. I appreciate that most people contribute to their society as volunteers and professionals from different walks of life. A lot of humanitarian organizations help out homeless people and disabled people.”
Ismail has already earned a master’s degree in political science from University of Peshawar, Pakistan, and is a published journalist in his home country. He is proficient in four languages – Urdu, Pashtu, Hindi and English – and he is learning Arabic and Persian. “My profession is journalism, so I will definitely pursue this profession as a freelance writer after I’m done with school,” he said, adding that his ultimate career goal is to be a professional translator and interpreter.
Ismail said he has been thoroughly enjoying the natural beauty and friendly people of the Evergreen State. His favorite among the places he has visited is Lutherwood Camp, a beautiful 103-acre resort on the shore of Lake Samish just south of Bellingham. “It is like heaven on earth,” he said. “I love the weather, the green, tall trees and cleanliness of the city. I love American food, the different American accents and cultures.
“One can experience all aspects of life in America. You have freedom of expression in this country, which can’t be found in any part of the world the way it is practiced in America.”
Ismail was born and raised in the tribal areas of Pakistan (known as the Mohmand Agency) and in Peshawar, the capital of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa which is one of the four provinces of Pakistan, located in the northwest of the country bordering Afghanistan. Mohmand Agency is about 887 square miles and is home to more than half a million people. The area is mostly hilly and mountainous, and rainfall is insufficient to grow many crops. This is the same area where state security forces have launched a major assault against Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters.
“Literally, the area had no school and lacked basic medical facilities, so my family moved to Peshawar where I grew up and went to school,” Ismail explained. “Peshawar is considered the most strategic city for Pakistan and the United States, because the supplies for NATO and U.S. forces are sent via Peshawar, as it is located 200 kilometers from Kabul.
“There are many business opportunities in Peshawar and it is the central hub for imported items – from daily consumer goods to the most luxurious items. There is a common perception in Pakistan that if you need something that can’t be found anywhere in Pakistan, go to Peshawar’s Karkhano Market and you can get the branded imported items at very nominal rates.”
Back home, Ismail’s mother, older brother and his family all live under one roof in one big house. “Until my graduation (1997), our house was made of mud,” Ismail said – not plain dirt-and-water mud, but earth that had passed through the digestive tracts of insects. “It contains a hardening agent that enables the mounds to withstand rains and attacks by predators for a hundred years or more. The walls of a well-built house will be as hard and durable as concrete once they dry in the hot sun.”
Ismail and his family had no electricity in this house so he would read by the glow of a kerosene lantern. “Now, we have a house made of concrete, bricks and cement. We have electricity and gas.”
As a youth he went to a government school in Peshawar. “Most people who can’t afford private schools end up in government schools. I’m not satisfied with the performance of government schools in Pakistan. Very few government schools in the country provide good education. There are many problems like curriculum, lack of trained and qualified teachers. It reminds me of the quote by Woody Allen: ‘My education was dismal. I went to series of schools for mentally disturbed teachers.’”
Ismail said young people whose families cannot afford government schools go to seminaries where they receive religious education, food and a living. “From seminaries, some of them fall into the hands of terrorists, and finally end up as human bombs (suicide bombers).
“Literally, we are creating three different classes through our education system: the ones who go to private schools (the elite class and upper middle class of Pakistan) called the English medium schools; the lower middle class who go to government schools where the medium of instruction is Urdu; and the poor class goes to seminaries. These three classes don’t co-exist in practical life.”
Ismail said population growth is perhaps Pakistan’s most imminent worry. “In 1960, the population was about 48 million; in 1980 it was 84 million; in 2000 it was 138 million and today’s estimate is over 170 million. There are more people in Pakistan than in Russia.” He fears that famine my strike, as it has in Niger, where people are starving to death every day. Other main problems include an acute shortage of energy (he said most people get electricity for only five to six hours every day), law and order and inflation.
Ismail says being in America has given him a whole new outlook on life. “I’ve been so mentally refreshed that I’m already viewing my life from a far more pragmatic perspective. Pursuing education in Pierce College has shaken me up and sorted me out. The best times I’ve had are with my U.S. classmates and college instructors. I met some of the most interesting people, seen so much and done so much.
“I tell my Pakistani friends, if they’re even thinking about such a wonderful experience, take my advice and do it. I think we should be open to all cultures. Cultures might be different, but we are all human beings and have common feelings.”
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