Few educational opportunities offer as immersive of an experience as international student exchange programs. The USPCASW has for the past two years hosted a series of cohorts at the University of Utah from Mehran University of Engineering and Technology in Jamshoro, Pakistan. The goal for the student exchange is to train and build up the capacity of a new generation of Pakistani water engineers and technicians. But the experience goes far beyond the classroom.
In the fall of 2017, the program introduced the new “Cultural Diplomat” initiative. This is an effort to encourage students to engage with the local community, and to enrich their overall experience of studying at the U. The Cultural Diplomat is an award given to any student who participates in a sequence of activities designed to provide a well-rounded and self-directed engagement with the local community and environment. These activities are as varied as hiking in the local wilderness areas, attending sporting events and community festivals, visiting art galleries, or volunteering for charitable organizations.
Last fall Faris Ahmed and Mehran Sattar were trailblazers of a sort, becoming the first two students to be awarded the Cultural Diplomat “pin.” This pair of outstanding students took the early initiative, and were inspired by the experience. “We learned a lot through engaging with the community,” reflects Faris. “There is so much interesting history and geography to this region.” Faris and Mehran volunteered building housing for Habitat for Humanity, attended the annual Greek Festival, hiked the trails around Mirror Lake in the Uinta Mountains, and attended an art gallery opening. It all served to broaden the overall experience of studying at the U, and of gaining a more intimate understanding of Utah and its unique geography and culture.
“There is more to this exchange program than the valuable training we are receiving in the classroom,” says Mehran. “Becoming a Cultural Diplomat allowed us to see things from a different perspective. It is important to learn about the art, culture, and history of place to fully experience it.”