Opening Hearts and Minds
Opening Hearts and Minds

Hafza Naaem and Moizza Salahuddin, two students attending college in Pakistan, had the opportunity to study at Creighton University during the 2017 spring semester as part of the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program (Global UGRAD).

The Global UGRAD Program – administered by the U.S.-based nonprofit World Learning on behalf of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs – provides one-semester scholarships to outstanding undergraduate students from around the world for nondegree full-time study in the United States. While in the U.S., these students also participate in community service, professional development and cultural enrichment.

Out of hundreds of applicants, and following rounds of essays and interviews, Naaem and Salahuddin were selected for the program and placed at Creighton based on their academic interests. They began their semester at Creighton in January and say that their time on campus helped them to grow personally and academically.

Naaem arrived from Kinnaird College for Women in Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan, where she was in her third year of studying psychology.

“My father wanted me to be a doctor. It’s instilled in the minds back home,” says Naaem.  “If you have a daughter, it would be good if she becomes a doctor. If you have a son, it would be good if he becomes an engineer.”

Naaem says that, instead, she chose psychology to challenge these societal expectations.

“It’s more important in my society to change mindsets than to become something that people want me to be,” says Naaem. “I wanted to target the roots, instead of bearing the fruits.”

Naaem says what stood out for her at Creighton was the willingness among her professors to provide individual attention to help students understand the academic material, and the University’s emphasis on self-reflection. She specifically cited her development psychopathology class, taught by adjunct professor Debra Schwiesow  .

“The class has inculcated an interest in child psychology in me,” says Naaem. “I now plan to pursue a graduate degree in child psychology.”

Naaem sought opportunities to share her story and culture outside of the classroom. At the Dear World event, held on campus this January, Naaem shared that she was the first person from her village of 50,000 to study abroad on scholarship outside of Pakistan. Dear World is an interactive, award-winning program that explores the subtle and powerful connections among students, faculty and staff on college campuses.

Naaem’s time on campus allowed her to make connections with her peers. She describes Creighton as a community in which people genuinely care for one another. She says she also was astounded to see how receptive people have been to learn about her culture.

“People are interested in your culture and what languages you speak,” says Naaem. “That is something that I don’t see back home because of language barriers. Here, they want to know more about you and make connections.”

Salahuddin came to Creighton from Habib University in Karachi, Pakistan, where she was in her third year of studying social development and policy. This was her second trip to the United States. In the summer of 2016, Salahuddin studied at Stanford.

In collaboration with the Schlegel Center for Service and Justice’s sustainability committee and Barbara Dilly, PhD, associate professor of cultural anthropology, Salahuddin researched how to make food choices at Creighton more sustainable. She collected data and input from students on campus.

“Most students have a deepened understanding of the world’s problems,” says Salahuddin.

Salahuddin’s goal was to help students be more aware of how sustainability issues affect campus; she shared her research with the SCSJ sustainability committee for future leaders to use. She says she hopes her work can have a lasting impact.

“We could do so much if we organized together as a student body and think about the collective good, how we can benefit from our food systems – locally grown food and make it more sustainable,” says Salahuddin.

In addition to her research, Salahuddin shared her experience on Islamic traditions through active participation with the Campus Ministry Interfaith Group. In a presentation for Campus Ministry, she explained the how the Langer, a communal meal shared by all visitors to the Gurdwara, the Sikh place of worship, is also practiced as part of the Muslim faith tradition.

Beth Sampson, faith formation coordinator for Campus Ministry, says that Salahuddin’s time at Creighton was beneficial to both Salahuddin and the Creighton community.

“Her willingness to jump right in allowed her to immerse herself in this unique opportunity and allowed us to learn and grow in new and meaningful ways,” says Sampson. “I am thankful to have had the opportunity to get to know Moizza, and am excited about the future that lies ahead of her as she leaves a lasting impression on Campus Ministry.”

In April, as a culmination of their leadership development and cultural exchange, Naaem and Salahuddin coordinated a lecture on Pakistani wedding traditions, during which the women explained the three-day wedding celebration and Pakistani family structure.

Shama Ali, coordinator of international student and scholar services at Creighton, attended the lecture and says cultural education has an important impact.  

“Global citizenship and intercultural competency start when we are able to bring these students here,” says Ali. “It’s a two-way street, like the presentation, which was just a glimpse into the culture of Pakistan. It gets people thinking. There are similarities in Christian weddings. And you open your mind and your heart to see a different way of doing things.”

Ali says exchange opportunities allow visiting students to learn about American culture firsthand and offer opportunities for goodwill. This can help dispel cultural misperceptions, and provide an avenue for the development of lifelong friendships.

Krista Cupich Wingender, global programs coordinator at Creighton, says Naaem and Salahuddin were “role models of what it means to be an engaged study-abroad student.” She added: “We hope that all of our outgoing Creighton students who study abroad will be as engaged as Hafza and Moizza.”