Global Humanitarianism: Narrative of an Exchange Program

The writer is an author and columnist
By: Areeba Tayyab 

Regional English Language Office (RELO Pakistan) in collaboration with University of Nebraska and FHI 360 organized a cultural exchange program for English language teachers funded by the U.S State Department. The purpose of this program was to expose Pakistani teachers to American classroom culture and let them peek into the various advance teaching pedagogies exercised in United States.

Fortunately, along with a group of 25 other teachers, I got selected for this exchange program from Lahore Institute of Future Education (LIFE) and my initial response was very rigid. I was of the view that may be internet and other local trainings by foreign trainers are enough to inculcate that “very advance learning”, but this is where I was completely wrong. No number of books can give you what first-hand experience has to offer. 

First and foremost, if you are planning on applying for any exchange program, please understand that the visa process is not an easy nut to crack but at the same time, they are very accommodating. Pack your bags very intelligently because you are the one carrying it all the way home. The tickets given to us were surprisingly very interesting. From Lahore we had to travel Abu Dhabhi and from Abu Dhabi to Brussels and then Finally Newark, but this was not the end of it. We had to take a one-hour drive to our destination Lincoln, but this was also well taken care of because we travelled in the Huskers bus which is a big deal in Lincoln. Huskers is the intercollegiate athletic team that represent the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

Adding on, Husker is not just a team for Nebraska, but it is much more. It is like a driving force and an identity for the people in Nebraska. From shopping malls to individual stores, and from pharmaceuticals to restaurants, you will see a fair share of its logos and tags. This is indeed interesting as it gives a very strong message of community and people having shared likeliness towards one team and sport. In this strong rift of sports and community, we also became Huskers without releasing that we were from another part of the world. I guess, this is what exchange program teaches you; to be open, to adjust and to share love. Our session of watching the match with the host family was amazing.

In the guidance of our beloved teacher Crystal Bock, we not only explored the cultural but their academics as well. Since our purpose was to explore the classrooms, we were taken on a campus tour at University of Nebraska. The university is not just great in its gigantic architecture, but it is very advance in terms of its teaching pedagogies as well. One of the most intriguing department for me was PIESL (Programs in English as Second Language) which offers English language learning to those who have travelled from different regions of the world and cannot speak or understand English well. The department also has English Lab which offers extra time and facility to students who are not able to learn English in the given time limit within a semester. Apart from all these resources, one cannot deny the rapid use of technology at UNL.

A sense of community is very strong in Nebraska, and it was very evident in the event we attended named as “1 million cups”. In this place, the startups and strugglers from different realms of professions seek guidance from the community and even can be lucky enough to get financial or logistical support. This activity is conducted frequently, and the community sits togethers and listen as well as decide for the betterment of the community members. Another great example that I find interesting enough to share is “The Bay” which is a non-profit organization serving the underprivileged and equipping them with everyday skills free of cost. The Bay also offers free space for struggling arts and musicians so that they can perform in their best capacity. Initially an old warehouse, The Bay is now transformed into an epitome of art and culture.

Apart from the community the art and culture are also a very prominent traits in Lincoln Nebraska. One of the prominent features of the art in Lincoln is that it majorly represents its own history and changing dynamics of the city and the state of Nebraska. Since Lincoln is one of the most accommodating cities in terms of settling the refugees, the art there also depicts a great deal of the identity crisis, displacement and sense of isolation in a foreign land.  Sheldon Museum is one of the most diverse and modern museums with the facility of displaying art not just through canvas but screening as well.

Not just art and community, but politics was also very intriguing in Lincoln. In our tour to the State Capitol, we realized how much Americans protect and honor their history. As artistic as it can be, the Capitol is filled with huge painted ceiling, each depicting the history of their land. The building is almost 400 ft tall with all its legislative and political departments in it. In our meeting with the representatives of the government, one message of local community was also very clear that they do not try to control the local communities, but they are very much independent in fixing their own problem when needed. Truly, the peace and organization of their city depicts good governance of local bodies as well.

In a foreign land, you feel the urge to be even more Pakistani, hence we celebrated our cultural day and the people in Lincoln were as usual very supportive about it.

 The best thing about Nebraska is that you don’t feel a sense of isolation there because I personally believe that they have a tendency of hosting and giving space to several cultures. Nothing is a taboo there; people accept people for them being human. Yes! People do not accept you if you lie, cheat or hurt others. Being a global humanitarian, you work out for solutions for coexisting. I am using the term global, because on our way back, we had to take 6 flights around the globe. From Newark to London and London to Brussels and then Dubai, people accommodated us.  This is an instance that the world out there is not bad.

For those who aim at travelling and still are not getting out of their shells, there is no such thing as a foreign land. It is your own mindset that limits the scope for other traditions and culture. I have seen hospitality, I have seen sharing food on thanksgiving, I have seen family meeting and hosting lunches and dinners, and most importantly I have seen mothers and kids, ultimately, I have seen a strong family system in Nebraska. Just like our country, they believe in living together, they are believing in meeting one another and helping one another. For all you folks, exchange programs are not just academic, it is much more for you to become a part of global community which offers you more solutions for humanity rather than creating difference.

The writer is Mphil in English Literature and can be reached at [email protected]