January 31, 2015
I almost missed my flight on August 20th. I had to take a flight from Islamabad to arrive at Hamilton College. On that day, the people of Pakistan rose in protest against the government and marched all the way from Lahore to the Parliament in Islamabad. Although the peaceful, the protest led to the blockage of important routes and made it almost impossible to reach the airport. Although I eventually made it to the airport, I was caught between two strange feelings: fear of missing my flight and delight for the people of Pakistan. At last, Pakistanis had politically woken up.
Despite the shaky start to my first flight, it was a smooth journey thereon. Just as the flight started off in a surprising way, there were other surprises that awaited me. However, this time they were rather pleasant and offered an interesting contrast to the culture and country from where I came. I signed up for the college van to pick me from the airport, and I was amazed to see two things: one, the Dean of International Students came to pick me up and second, he drove the van himself! Now, if you were in Pakistan, where classism exists, a dean would never drive a college van. Come to think of it, he wouldn’t even drive his own car. The college also paid for the airport overnight stay which was rather nice and yet another example of the perks of being an international student at Hamilton.
With so much excitement in the air and so many new people on campus to meet, orientation week was incredibly fun. It started off with a breakfast for all incoming international students and proceeded with fun games and activities. A week-long orientation is not typical of colleges in Pakistan, or in the majority of countries, so it was refreshing to have a fun start to college.
The differences between the college systems in the United States and Pakistan do not end there. First, in the United States, you have enough freedom and time to choose your major, while you have to declare your major before applying to a college in Pakistan. Not only can we choose our majors here, but we also have the freedom to take classes from any department. Moreover, in Pakinstan I studied in a high school that followed a British examining system. This system meant that exams were only held at end of the year instead of throughout the semester, with a plethora of homework and exams. It was quite apparent from the first week of classes here that slacking off until the last few weeks was not going to bear any fruit. Most importantly, academics in colleges here go hand in hand with sports, which is not the case in many other countries, including Pakistan. Students, and the whole educational system, are quite grade-oriented, while sports and extracurricular activities have little importance. It was quite refreshing to see student clubs receiving a large amount of funding to work with for whatever they choose.
Culture shock is a huge part of coming to America as an international student. Fortunately, for a student from South Asia, and especially Pakistan, it is rather easy to absorb the culture shock. The British might have left the Indian subcontinent six decades ago, but the influence and culture is strongly present in the country. People in India and Pakistan are unbelievably westernized, which helps with the culture shock.
Finally, I would just like to mention two great things about Pakistan that everyone should know. Pakistan, having three mountain ranges and the second highest peak in the world, K-2, is incredibly gorgeous in the Northern part. Second, its rich history, replete with marauding armies and changing dynasties, dates back to 2500 B.C.E. when the Indus River valley civilization existed.
Although leaving my home to come here has presented me with some difficulties, Hamilton has certainly helped to make the transition a smooth one.
“From Where I Sit” is a column dedicated to the international voices of Hamilton’s campus. If you are an international student interested in contributing, contact Ilana Schwartz (email@example.com) or Sophie Gaulkin (firstname.lastname@example.org).