Youth Voices

International Study Visit to Pakistan 2012

By Fakiha Hassan Rizvi 
Institute of Communication Studies
University of the Punjab, Lahore

Image source: Image by the author (courtesy Elma Begic from Bosnia) 

I had the honour of being a part of a multicultural exchange program titled as the International Study Visit (ISV) to Pakistan 2012. It was my first experience to engage in a person-to-person interaction with Active Citizens from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bosnia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom.

Although I was a host participant but the thrill was not vague and my participation wasn’t half-hearted as I had heavier responsibilities on my shoulders. Being the News Editor for the leading Social Action Project (the Voice of Youth) under the Active Citizens Program of British Council, I was granted with the theme of; ‘promoting intercultural harmony and networking through print media’. It was a bit scary at first because I was constantly thinking of how to defend my country and answer the innumerable questions that people from other countries might ask about the socio-economic conditions of Pakistan and its political instability.

Country team presentations by other Active Citizens propelled me to think that there isn’t a need to worry about the future of this world provided that such inspirational people continue to work with the same zeal of giving back to their communities. Be it Afghanistan’s unmatched hospitality, Bosnia’s beauty, UK’s diversity, Myanmar’s  bond between ethnicities, Bangladesh’s low-lying rivers, Sri Lanka’s Tamil or Pakistan’s resilience, everything inspired me.

The journey from Lahore to Islamabad along with Amir Mulalic, Shunn Lein Swee Yee, Mahbuba Begum Mukta, Nickelette Miguel Delgado and Aisha Sarah transformed into an irreplaceable moment of life. I had thought-provoking discussions with my Bangladeshi friend and roommate (Mahbuba Mukta) who changed her perception about Pakistan during the ISV. Nicklette Miguel Delgado a 63- year old Active Citizen from UK with no lesser enthusiasm than any of the young adults enhanced my knowledge to a great extent. From the fourth generation warfare to Afro-pessimism, from international communication to the problems faced by culturally disharmonized communities, I discussed it all with my new friends. It was truly sensational. Within a short span of five days we looked more like a family rather than a team.

Visit to the National Assembly of Pakistan and meeting with the Deputy Speaker (Faisal Karim Kundi), the amazing architecture of Fatima Jinnah Women University, the alluring views of Lok Virsa (a cultural museum located in Islamabad) walls, the phenomenal Bangial Community School being run by two disabled individuals, the dinner at Cafe 1969 and funny moments while shopping as a group in Jinnah Super market of Islamabad are still fresh and unforgettable. Our stay at the Margala Hotel (Islamabad) added to our joy due to its exotic ambience. Not to forget the grand Global Citizenship Conference along with the formal launch of Global Citizenship publication (in which the Voice of Youth was featured). This conference at Marriott Hotel Islamabad elucidated concepts of globalization, glocalization and global citizenship. It was like getting connected with the whole world under a single roof.

This learning experience focused my attention towards ‘self-reflexivity’ it developed an impartial and objective approach in me as an individual which I’ll eventually cascade into my community. I know where I stand among various cultures and how to respect others for who they are.

Every beginning has an end and soon the time came to leave my ‘global family’  During the debrief session we were asked to hold a string ball, keep a part of it with us and roll the rest of the ball towards someone from whom we had learnt something during the five day visit. I didn’t expect the ball to roll towards me (as I considered myself to be just a learner) but it suddenly rolled towards me…

Soon I heard Nicklette Delgado saying that; “Oh! I forgot her name was it Fa-keee-ha :p? Yes! So I learnt from this girl how to keep on struggling in order to achieve excellence and not to give up when the tasks become quite annoying. Let me tell her that she is going to become an excellent journalist for Pakistan. And yes, your English is better than mine (as he looked towards me through the circular arrangement of participants connected with the string).”

These words being delivered by someone who was 40 years older than me had a deep impact. They had no other choice than to get engraved in my memory. As soon as I heard them I knew that it would be hard for me to hold back my tears. I had to leave the string soon after this unexpected appraisal as I had to catch the bus for going back to my home-city (Lahore). I was the first ISV participant to leave and there was so much that I wanted to say while bidding farewell to an amazingly active team. However, all I could manage to utter was; “Thank you British Council for giving me this opportunity, I had a wonderful time with all of you…(my voice trembled and tears trickled down from my eyes)”. Swallowing my words, I thought it was better to leave…

Dedicated to all the ISV participants.