As an EducationUSA Adviser for almost 15 years, it has been my job to provide guidance and information to students who wish to study in the United States. While, sometimes, it has been challenging to explain to Pakistani students that they are welcome in the United States, as their views are influenced by the US media portrayals of Pakistan, it has been interesting to hear what they think the US academic experience would be like. Despite their reservations, they are curious about life in this “land of opportunity,” as they put it.

Those who have studied in the United States often rave about their experience.

According to Saira, a recent US college graduate, studying in the United States “is beyond your expectations.”

She studied at a popular girls’ school in Lahore and chose to go to the United States for her undergraduate degree. Having never visited the United States before, she was apprehensive not only about living far away from home but also about what major to select and what career direction she should take.

“In Pakistan, we are seldom given the option to pursue varied or diverse subject options. In grade 9, I had to choose between either the sciences or humanities but I really wanted to study English Literature along with Biology - imagine my surprise when my academic adviser at my college in USA said I could explore my options for the first two years and then decide upon a major!” Saira expressed.

She graduated with a major in Environmental Biology and a minor in English Literature.

Many students appreciate the flexibility available at many US colleges and universities. Some institutions provide students with the option to design their own majors, while many others offer students the ability to pursue a double major.

Ali, a student from Multan, was keen to study what he called “modern farming” to increase the yield of his family’s lands. He was also interested in expanding his family tradition into a business, and so he secured a double major in Agricultural Production as well as Agricultural/Food Products processing. Equipped with what he calls “the most advanced education in agriculture,” Ali is all set to expand the horizon of his family’s agricultural tradition.

“I miss the friendly stance of the American people off and on campus,” says Asma a recent master’s graduate. Her memorable experience, she says, was enhanced because of her professors’ positive attitudes. “They are so approachable,” she says, “and so open to ideas even if we contest their stance!” Asma emphasises that her study experience in the US not only gave her confidence but also instilled in her a will “to come back and make a difference and a belief that yes that is possible.”

Pakistani students emphasise that their degrees from the United States have placed them in a higher category as far as local employment opportunities are concerned. They see this as a valuable return for their investment in education, but also appreciate the diverse lot of friends they made while on campus.

“I have learned so much from my college friends,” says Kamran who completed his undergraduate degree from a college in Texas. “Above all, I learned that we are all similar - whether we come from Pakistan or Canada or Sweden or Tunisia - we all have our dreams and respect for each other which turns into lifelong friendship.” Kamran’s Canadian class fellow helped get him a job in Dubai after graduation.

Perhaps the most excited responses about study in the United States come from UGRAD Alumni. Selected by the United States Educational Foundation in Pakistan from various universities across the country, these young freshman and sophomore students go to US campuses for a one semester exchange program.

“It was a fabulous experience,” says Nabeela enthusiastically. “Americans are so friendly and now after meeting so many people from so many different countries I truly feel like a global citizen.” Nabeela plans to go back to the United States for her graduate program now and is currently busy searching for the right university.

Almost all students who come back to Pakistan after their studies talk nostalgically about their life on US campuses. They reminisce about taking holiday trips with class-fellows, watching exciting soccer and football matches, engaging in interactive debates in class, and participating in festivals celebrated so colourfully in the US.

Above all, they talk about the spirit of camaraderie and tolerance which they now value and bring back to Pakistan.

The writer is an EducationUSA Adviser at US Consulate General in Lahore.