It’s a philosophy that led him to journey more than 7,000 miles — from his home in Lahore, Pakistan — to the United States. Safdar, who was born in Abu Dhabi, was accepted into a highly selective exchange program sponsored by the U.S. State Department.
“It’s a very diverse program. It’s called the Global U-Grad program. Pakistan is the country that received the largest share. But you have people coming from Indonesia and Europe,” he said. “It’s a cultural exchange program.”
Safdar finished high school in Pakistan and two years at Forman Christian College, a chartered university in Lahore, before applying for the program. The process was a rigorous one, which included a 10-month-long process along with mountains of paperwork and documentation.
“It’s a big deal to be selected in this program. There’s around 10,000 applicants and they reject 3,000 of them because they are incomplete. After the 7,000, they short-list about 700 and out of those they chose 250 and 125 come to the states in the fall and 125 come to the states in the spring,” he said. “You also have to have some university in the United States accept you. You also have to be given your visa.”
The schools that the students attend are often located in smaller towns, which offer an experience closer related to the lives of average Americans. One of these was Brunswick and its College of Coastal Georgia. Safdar was notified he was selected for the program but didn’t know he’d be traveling here until he was scheduled to leave in August.
“I found out that I was accepted in February of this year, but you don’t know where you are going. We have to sign the terms and conditions without knowing where we’re going and the State department applies on our behalf to many different schools, focusing on smaller towns so that we get the real American experience,” he said.
Since making the journey, Safdar has settled into life as a student, focusing on economics at the college. But he’s also tasked with sharing the message of his culture, answering questions about Pakistani world views as well as absorbing American culture.
“People over here are a bit more open minded and more accepting. But really we are very similar. We drive on the same side of the road. We even have Popeye’s and KFC,” he said. “There are really a great amount of American people over there, who work there, who go about their lives there.”
He hopes to dispel any misconceptions that people here might have about his home country —mainly, that the country is full of radical Muslims who have links to terrorism. Safdar, a Muslim himself, often jokes to dispel the tension in these situations.
“You’ll find in Pakistan that 95 percent of the people are normal people, just like you, just like me. They want a stable life, they want a good income and a good life for their children. That’s what each and every person wants in the world. There are a few people, like with the Oregon shooting, you find these black sheep everywhere. And we have a small segment of our society who are fundamental and radical,” he said.
After returning to Pakistan in December, he hopes to return to the states to pursue a doctorate in economics. Eventually, his goal is to continue to aid cultural relations between nations, as well as help his own nation and the rest of the world progress.
“I believe in the current state of globalization we all need to understand it. It’s really important, learning about other cultures,” he said. “And I dream of helping to improve my country. Of course I have to improve myself first and I’m doing that through education. I don’t want fame or anything like that. I just want to make it better for the next generation.”
Coastal People appears Mondays. Contact Lindsey Adkison at email@example.com or at 265-8320, ext. 346 to suggest a person for a column.
Photo of Zeeshan Safdar by Bobby Haven