In hopes of eradicating the stereotypes against their home country, two Cornell alumni from Pakistan started organizing trips to bring students to their home country starting last year. This past spring break, 24 Cornell students travelled to Pakistan, where they got to learn about the culture and meet notable figures such as the President and the Chief of the Military.
The trips were organized by Mohammad Zohair Javed MPA ’18 and Shan-E-Ahmad MPA ’18, who wanted the trips to bring different cultures together and help dispel myths or misunderstandings about their home country.
Last year, 18 students participated in the inaugural trip. The students were selected based on their background and academic interests as well as their “genuine interest in Pakistan.”
Javed first got the idea for the trip while studying at Cornell as part of the Fulbright program, which aims to encourage “cultural exchange,” he said.
“When you’re from Pakistan and you’re studying in the U.S., it hits you immediately how misunderstood Pakistan is,” Javed said in an interview with The Sun.
Two major misconceptions, according to Javed, is that Pakistanis all speak Arabic — even though Pakistan’s national language is Urdu — and that Pakistan is in the Middle East, when in reality, it is part of Asia.
“People just think that because we have a ‘-stan’ at the end that we are a Middle Eastern country, predominantly Muslim, and are very strict about Islamic law and very backward in terms of education, women’s empowerment, lacking basic infrastructure,” Javed said.
Hoping to battle these stereotypes, Javed and Ahmad planned a nine-day itinerary around the country. For the second year of the trip, the itinerary was modified slightly to account for the fact that the majority of people going were business students.
Students visited many of the same places as the first year’s trip — Islamabad, Lahore, Hunza Valley — while also adding new locations and activities, such as a cooking class to help students experience Pakistani cuisine. They also visited a microfinance institution and met with the president of the school.
Many of the prominent figures that students on the first trip met also made an appearance on the second trip — leaders such as Mohammad Jibran Nasir, a human rights activist and lawyer, and Qamar Javed Bajwa, the Chief of the Army Staff, the most senior appointment in the Pakistani military.
One new guest appearance on this year’s trip was the President of Pakistan, Arif Alvi. In contrast to the prime minister, who students met on last year’s trip, the president is more of a “ceremonial head of state.”
Javed hoped that students can finish the trip with a better understanding of Pakistan and perhaps a few cleared up misconceptions. In the future, Javed said he plans to continue the yearly trips to Pakistan so long as there is continued interest, which he is optimistic about.