Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Shining Example

A couple of days back, history was made again in Pakistan. No. Not the sort of history that we get media coverage most of the time in the international press. As a matter of fact, I did not see any media coverage on this topic in the international press. Also, not the kind of history, that makes our people ashamed of.  And not the kind of history that leaves us with in disbelief and disgust. 

But the kind of history, that has set a superior example to all the kids and adults of Pakistan, to follow the footsteps of this young and example-setting individual. The one, who has awed the whole nation with his utter hard work.  The one, who has shown, to the rich and the poor, that the only way to success is sheer dedication and motivation to education and there are no short cuts. 

It is a humbling story of Mohsin Ali. This young man belongs to a small village in Hafizabad. He is an eldest among his 11 siblings. He belongs to a poor family, the kind of family who earn to pay for their meals. He has been working throughout on a tandoor, an oven where bread is baked, owned by his brother. Mohsin, worked late making bread til’ midnight and he would get up early in the morning for his studies. 

He appeared for BA/BSC exam under Punjab University as a private candidate. A total of 143,750 students appeared for this exam. (Private students outsmart regulars in BA/BSc exams, 2012). Mohsin scored 688 marks out of 800 in these exams. His story is remarkable because normally regular students top these exams, not the private students. The private students are those who could not study full-time in the university or college and have to study on odd times. The regular students enjoy the luxury of college environment, teaching and normally do not have to work besides their studies. 

So, Mohsin is also a torch-bearer for all the private students, who aspire to excel in these exams without conventionally attending the college. He has also shown to all the poor people in this country that they all can, with their hard work, get top positions without anybody’s help. So poverty alone is not a hindrance to bigger dreams. 
So the dream for a better country lives on. We can still hope that as long as dreamers like Mohsin Ali are here, we can achieve bigger goals in this country. And the only way to the top is hard work. 

We should all stand up for the champion. We must applaud his efforts and encourage others to follow his lead. This is his moment and he deserves all the accolades. Great job, Mohsin. Keep up the good work and make this country proud.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Change We Believe In

Having lived overseas for almost one third of my life and then ‘migrating’ back to my country, people get curious as to what led to my ‘return’? To me that is strange, because I think sooner or later everybody will return to their place of birth. But my reply does not satisfy the lay men because, knowing what they know about this country, I should not have returned to my country. 

Now that I have been here for a couple of years, I can understand their growing frustration. I am also aware of the fact that if the motherland would have provided the general public with the respect and the basic necessities of life, hardly anybody would want to leave their home in the first place. 

The most frustrated are the young and educated professionals like doctors and engineers, who had to compete against thousands to find a seat in the top medical and engineering universities. They spend four years studying hard, looking forward to their bright future, bringing emotional and financial stability in their lives and homes. Once they graduate the reality strikes. They are the bottom of the barrel in terms of working and living conditions, after they find a ‘respectable’ government jobs. Their jobs require long hours with lots of public trashing, with the ‘pay’ they are too embarrassed to mention to their loved ones. 

No wonder I met so many of the doctors and engineers in the U.S. working and living the life they truly deserve. Many people questioned my decision. But I must say, some people do swim against the tides. They have to, or the world would not get the kinds of people like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mendala etc. Everybody wants to have a decent life for them and their loved ones. I don’t blame them. They have worked hard for it, so they should. 

The recent saga which played out between the Punjab government and the young medical doctors in Punjab was an example of how stupefy our leaders are. They have such a parochial vision that they can’t think beyond the ordinary. As long as they will remain in power, our young and brightest will keep leaving their homeland. It is such a pity for the whole nation. It is worth mentioning that the foreign lands are not hospitable, but compared to the current situation, the foreign countries present a better option. 

The people of Pakistan need to think about it and they have to weigh their options very carefully the next time they get the opportunity to vote. Do they want their children to look for another country to live or they want to make this country a reasonable place to grow? And having seen all these things going around, the people should strive to change this place. Otherwise, the future of this country will become the future of some foreign country. I rest my case.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mangoes and Summer Heat

Summers in Pakistan are grueling. At times, the heat is unbearable. The flies are abundant in the summer here which make a life even tougher. On top of that, to say it politely, the load shedding compounds the heat problems here. 

Also, in the summer, we are blessed with the heavenly fruit of mango in Pakistan. Mangoes are mostly grown in interior Sindh and southern Punjab. The interior Sindh mangoes are called ‘Sindhri”, meaning “belonging to Sindh”. They are the first types to arrive in the market. 

The southern Punjab mangoes are late by a month. There are various varieties which appear phase wise. The first ones from southern Punjab arrive close to mid-June. They are basically generic mangoes and are called ‘desi’ mangoes. They are small in size compared to the other varieties. Next ones to come are ‘Dooseri’ and ‘Anwar Ratol’. ‘Anwar Ratool’ is also small in size but not as small as the desi mangoes, and is very delicious. They are considered as the ‘King of Mangoes’ because of their taste. 

Finally, arrives the sweetest of type of mangoes, called “Chaunsa”. Chaunsa is very juicy and refreshing tasting mango. This is the last of the mango types which arrives late in summer. Amazingly, the hotter the summer, the sweeter the mangoes. That is why southern Punjab produces the sweetest of the mangoes in Pakistan.

There are some who like to eat mangoes in slices. It is better to first wash mangoes with water and either place them in the refrigerator for cooling-off or put in an ice water for a couple of hours. 

Many people also enjoy drinking mango milk shake. As apparent from the name, mangoes are peeled, sliced and mixed with milk and sugar in a blender to prepare a milk shake. Mango ice cream is also an important delicacy enjoyed by the masses here. 

This fruit is also distributed among family and friends as a present. It is highly appreciated in this part of the world to be sent such a sweet gift to the loved ones.  It is also served in parties and some even call them ‘Mango party’. 
Since summer is over-whelming and people are trying to find ways to ‘enjoy’ the hot weather as much as they can, many arrange a bath at a pool or a small canal/ river, prepare food and bring mangoes to spruce up their get together.

All in all, no matter we have blazing summer with its challenges. But with that, we do find ways to keep things calm and relaxing with the blessings which we have been showered.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Studying in the U.S. University - First Week

By now you have arrived in the University of your Choice. Great. If you have already made arrangements in the dorm, you’ll have a place and room to stay and your dining would have been arranged too. And like many other students, if you haven’t, then initially you would have to arrange for a temporary living and in the mean time, you would have to arrange for a permanent room and board. 

I must admit that I also made a mistake of not arranging for my stay anywhere. So when I arrived at my university, I didn’t have any choice but to stay at the dorm. It didn’t take me long to decide that I wanted to live off-campus, so I moved out in first couple of weeks. It is not to say that on-campus living is a bad decision. My younger brother opted for on-campus living throughout his studies. Both on and off-campus living has pros and cons. All is not bad. So you have to decide for yourself what you really want to do. 

A week before the university begins, there is a registration week. You would have to visit your department and an adviser will be assigned to you. He or she will advise your on the selection of course, guidance, provide an ear to hear you out and will be a great help to you throughout your undergrad education. This also depends on availability of time, number of students he or she is advising and your schedule. I was fortunate to have a great adviser who was there to guide me through during my studies. 

One thing to note about studying in the U.S. University is that they expect you to be adult. This means that you have to take responsibility for your actions. This also means that nobody will hold your finger to point you to the right answer to a question. You have to take the lead and make mature decisions. So don’t take your adviser for granted. Normally an adviser is a tenured professor. They have their own work cut out. So use their time wisely. Don’t go over to them and spill out your personal details. They don’t care what you do on your personal time. They are there to help you with decision making about your studies, courses, projects and everything scholarly. So be wise and act mature. 

Sometimes, communicating in English does come in the way of explaining yourself. But American people in general are very patient and open to hear you out. So take your time and learn more about their culture and language to express your thoughts. You will have plenty of time to make friends and speak to them. The more you speak and spend time with the local students, the more you will learn to communicate with them. They will also learn about your culture, religion, way of life etc. This is all part of your learning. You won’t only meet with the American students, but many others from various parts of the world. There will be some that you would be meeting first time in your life. So don’t be shy and open yourself up and make new friends.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Studying in the U.S. University - Traveling to the U.S.

If you are joining in the Fall semester, make sure that you have plenty of warm clothes for the upcoming winter season. Cold places in the winter are bitterly chilly and the warm places do get pretty chilly too. Few years back, even some places in Texas, which is considered to be one of the warmer places, got plenty of snow. So be prepared for that type of winter.

And if you are joining in the Spring semester, do not get confused with the name. There is no ‘Spring’ in January in the U.S. You may be getting ‘home-sick’ sooner rather than later this time of the year. So make sure you have plenty of warm clothes including everything. Some students might think that why take so much stuff and luggage on this long journey. Well, that is also a choice¸ if you want to go that route. It is also a choice¸ if you want to go that route. However, one thing to keep in mind is that there will be other ‘items of business’ that would require your immediate attention, once you join the university. These include reporting at the international office, registration for the classes, meeting the advisor, looking for a place to stay on or off-campus, books and many more. So, you don’t want to ‘go shopping’ right away. Therefore, making long story short, get yourselves plenty of warm clothes.

Arrive early at the airport to get your documents and luggage checked. Make sure you keep your documents close to your heart. As for the money, I would keep travel checks by American Express. That way, I would not have to carry hard cash on me. It is unsafe to travel with big chunks of hard cash on long travels. Either that or once your arrive at your university town and have opened a bank account, have that money transferred to your bank account. This may take a while but it is very safe. 

Once in the plane, get yourself comfortable. If you are flying from Pakistan, he flight is almost 17 hours long with a stop in one of the Europe airports, normally in England. Most of the flights have to land at the John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) in the U.S. If you are joining in the fall semester, you would see the weather similar to Pakistan, but if you are traveling in December, then snow awaits you. However, snow and ice hardly impedes the daily life. So, your travel plan will not be hampered by the ice. 

Once at the J.F.K airport, you will again have to go through the immigration. Your passport will be stamped and may be asked a few questions on the way. If you have the connecting flight from J.F.K, you would only have to be at the required terminal. Not all domestic airlines use J.F.K. airport. So you may have to travel to LaGuardia airport for a connecting flight. 

If you haven’t made any advance traveling arrangements, then you would have to inquire about these flights to your local destination. Either you may choose to travel over to the Greyhound Bus terminal or take the Amtrak train.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Studying in the U.S. University-Visa & Travel

You can keep in touch with your university admissions office via post mail or the email. Email is a better option if you have access to the internet. That way you can research and learn about the university, departments, people, place etc. about that university. 

Once you have received your admission in that particular program, your university international office will send you the I-20 to request for your visa at the U.S. embassy. Back when I was going through this process, my admissions’ office was quite prompt about sending me the required paperwork for me to apply for the U.S. visa. 

Back in good ol’ days, it was pretty simple to apply for the U.S. visa. Anyways, first you would send your application through a designated courier. They would receive your papers and would send back your documents with a specific date and time for you to appear before a visa counselor at the embassy. They would ask you some questions to determine whether you are either a ‘genuine’ or ‘not so genuine’ student. So, let’s just say you were very convincing and charming and the visa counselor believed that you were an authentic student and a great addition to the university program. That is why you have been awarded the U.S. student visa. You get your passport back and now you are ready to make a leap of your lifetime to study in one of the prestigious universities in the U.S. in the program of your interest. How exciting!!

Make sure that you have applied for the visa well in advance of your semester beginning date. That way you would have plenty of time to spend some quality time with your family and also to prepare yourself psychologically and physically. Make sure you are healthy and have taken all the precautions to move overseas. As a word of caution, you don’t want to visit the hospital during studies. It is not only the studies that would suffer, but also the pocket that would take a huge burden. Therefore, you want to be super fit so that you could get yourself acclimated and be able to take the culture shock. 

Time would be flying while you are preparing to leave. Everybody around you would be anticipating you to leave them for a while and showering you with the love that you may or may not have seen before. So enjoy this time and be good to your immediate family, specially your parents. Being a parent, I can now understand how difficult it is to let your loved ones leave knowing that I would not be able to see them for a while. Anyways, there will be some emotional moments. However, you and everybody around you, knows for sure that this would be the best thing for you to obtain your higher education from a well-reputed university. 

By this time, get your travel arrangements ready. These travel arrangements are not only to fly from your home country to the U.S., but also to the place where your university is located. This means one or may be two domestic flights once you have arrived in the U.S. If there are no  flights to that particular town, you may have to research for an alternative like Amtrak train, or even a Greyhound bus service. All of this should be done in advance to be hassle-free. Another important point to know that travel planning  in advance also saves a lot of money rather than buying tickets on the counter.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Studying in the U.S. University-Admissions

Studying in the U.S. for the undergraduate studies is a unique experience. This experience starts way before you land in the U.S. Most of the universities have two semester system: Fall and Spring semesters. Fall semester starts in mid-August and Spring semester begins in January. Most of the universities offer admissions in Fall semester. However, some universities do offer admissions for Spring semester as well.
Next thing is a student should prepare and take TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) in advance to complete the application. Some universities also require SAT results (Scholastic Aptitude Test) as well. A well prepared student can do quite well on the SAT and TOEFL exams. Therefore, preparation is the key for these exams.

A completed university application is required for the admission. These admission applications are generally available on the university admissions’ websites. Therefore, the application should be downloaded and completed. Generally, all the information regarding the student, his/her family, educational background, and some other pertinent information is required on this application. One important thing to note is that all the information which is entered in that application should be true and factual. Nothing should be fabricated to enhance the application. It does not matter which school you studied or who you are related and if you participated in any extracurricular activities. If you are a good student and scored well in the TOEFL and SAT exams, the universities will consider you for admission. 

There is also an application fee which is to be paid in the U.S. dollar along with the application. Your application will not be processed until this fee is paid. This fee ranges anywhere from $30 - $100, depending on the university. 

These things are quite easy and this application can be submitted online. Also, the application fee can also be paid with a debit or credit card. The scores can also be sent online by declaring the university and the department to which you are interested. 

For international admissions, there is another important piece of application which is a financial certification that your sponsor can pay for your education including tuition fee, room and board, etc. during your stay in the U.S. This certification is also an important component for the U.S. visa requirement. 

Once you have submitted your completed application, the university will inform you about receiving your documents. They will probably get in touch with you if they require any more important information from you. 

Make sure that you keep track of the admission deadlines. For Fall semester, the application deadline is normally in December. And for international students, these deadlines are a bit earlier than the domestic students.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Lessons Learnt

When I first arrived in the U.S. back in 1999 for studies, I learned some interesting differences between the two cultures. I wanted to list a few for somebody who is either getting ready to visit the U.S. or just for sake of learning.

Here in Pakistan, we speak and study using British English. The first one that I noticed came from using ‘Gas’ for ‘Petrol’ in Pakistan. Like, I would stop at a ‘Gas Station’ in the U.S. and ‘Petrol Station’ in Pakistan. It means the same thing. Next, I learnt to say ‘Skedule’ for ‘Schedule’ in the U.S. and ‘Shedule’ for ‘Schedule’ in Pakistan. It means the same thing but the pronunciation matters.

Next, if someone says ‘Flower’, it depends on what context they are using this word. But it could either mean ‘Flower’ or ‘Flour’, an important ingredient for nourishment. In Pakistan, we use ‘Flower’ for a plant and pronounce ‘Flour’ as ‘Floor’. We do pronounce ‘Floor’ as ‘Floor’ too. I was once asked by a good friend that if you call ‘Flour’ as ‘Floor’, then how do you differentiate if you are asking for ‘Flour’ or a ‘Floor’? Good question. 

And we do have ‘tea breaks’ in Pakistan but there are no ‘tea breaks’ in the U.S. There are only ‘coffee breaks’. They are one and the same thing but the difference is obvious. They prefer ‘coffee’ over ‘tea. So don’t be asking for any ‘tea breaks’ during a meeting. 

There is also a ‘wife beater’ in the U.S. No, it’s not what it sounds like. It is what we call a ‘vest’. This is worn under a man’s shirt in Pakistan. One of my friends in the U.S. once asked me if I was wearing a ‘wife beater’. Anyways, it is good to learn about different cultures.

On my very first morning in the university I ran into a dorm mate and he asked me ‘What’s Up’? I didn’t quite get it and asked someone later about it. He said ‘What’s Up’ is equivalent of saying ‘How is it going’ or ‘How do you do’. Don’t be saying ‘its sky’ if someone asks you ‘what’s up’. 

When someone is 'Fired' from work, it is terribly awful and a sad thing. 'Getting Fired' does not mean someone's on 'Fire' or 'Hot' or anything like that. It only means that someone has been 'laid off' from the job or 'Let Go' from work. 


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I have a dream

The life is full complexities. But I have a dream that one day, all of us in general, and our country in particular will make these complexities very simple. 

To begin with, I have a dream that our milkman will not add any water to the milk. I know they need to make some living too but why can’t they go for honest earning rather than poison the masses?

 I have a dream that a poor individual, with a family of 5 or 6, who is earning only Rs. 6000 per month, who have an electricity bill worth of Rs. 5000, will be able to pay his bill without going through any more sufferings. 

I have a dream that a fresh graduate from a university, who is very ambitious and wants to make his own mark in this world, will be able to get a fine job of his choice on merit without any family connections and references. 

I have a dream that our society gets out of this protocol mania in this country. No wonder everybody wants to get to the top and they remain at the top whether they are performing or not. That is why nobody from the government resigns or leaves the post with so many accidents and mishaps happening around us. Nobody takes the responsibility of anything here. 

I have a dream that all of our citizens respect and obey the law. Well, this is a difficult one. But the fact is the law is not only for the poor. Everybody is accountable for their actions no matter who you are. 

I have a dream that we make education and learning one of our top priorities in this country. We have huge libraries and learning centers in every city of this country. The rewards are tremendous for the scholars. We make this country one of the learning hubs in the world. We build and develop our own Harvard, MIT, Yale etc right here. We get the best brains of the world right here to excel in their fields.

I have a dream that this is the ultimate peaceful country of the world. Anybody living in this country can feel safe and sound here. Their families, belongings, businesses are safe and protected. Nobody is scared or threatened to live, the way they want to live. 

I have a dream that our country is not always seen as an ‘irritant’ in the world. May be, the world needs to adjust their focus too. Our country is always blamed for things which we have no knowledge off. We are always the ‘scapegoat’. Maybe, they need to examine themselves too, before pointing fingers at us.

Finally, I have a dream that we can make this a world a better place to live for our generations to come. Why do we always have to make things difficult? Let’s just get on with living and spend our time peacefully. Is it too much to ask for? In the end, nothing will matter anyway.