University of Vermont

University Communications

UVM Hosts Pakistani Scholars

Release Date: 07-20-2007

Author: Jon C. Reidel
Phone: 802-656-8206 Fax: (802) 656-3203

Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss is fielding questions from 17 students from Pakistan who are at UVM for the month of July as part of an international program funded by the U.S. State Department. They want to know the answers to questions that seem basic on the surface, but that aren’t necessarily easily answered.

What’s the difference between a Progressive (Kiss’ party), a Democrat and a Republican? What issues do those parties disagree on? Why does your city bus service end at 7 p.m.? What would you attribute the good state of the city to? How do you decide on how to spend the city budget? Has peace been a problem in Burlington?

Following the 60-minute question and answer session, students thank Kiss and express their amazement at the accessibility to government officials. They will meet a number of other local, state and federal officials as well as representatives from the offices of U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders. “This never happens in Pakistan,” says one student. “The access to government officials here is amazing.”

This is just one of many observations made by students since learning about the area under the program’s theme of “Exploring the Uniqueness of Vermont within American Society.” Ned McMahon, research associate professor in Community Development and Applied Economics (CDAE) and academic coordinator for the program, designed the curriculum with an emphasis on Vermont’s environmental and economic sustainability; the state’s respectful and tolerant political culture including a strong tradition of democracy and citizen engagement at the local level; and a general sense of individual rights and responsibilities.

“These students are Fulbright Scholars and are very intelligent and very excited to be here,” said McMahon, who hopes to attract similar international programs to the university’s International Summer Institute. “They have different interests (law, medicine, journalism, computer science and others), so they have specific areas they want to learn about, but some broader themes such as poverty and politics are common interests. In turn, we’re learning a lot about Pakistan and providing additional international exposure to UVM, which clearly is something we need to do more of.”

The U.S. State Department sponsored the international program because it believes that bridges can be built with other countries by exposing future leaders to American culture. Countries were chosen that are in transition and that the U.S. sees as important to cultivating future relationships. At the end of the five weeks, the Pakistani delegation, chosen from a pool of more than 1,000 applicants, will meet with delegates from 10 other countries including, China, Nigeria and Ecuador, in Washington D.C. to give presentations.

“The idea is to increase mutual understanding between Pakistan and the U.S.,” said Jennifer Phillips, program officer with U.S. State’s Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, while checking in on the UVM program. “From a foreign policy perspective, we think it will improve relations and break down barriers and misconceptions. I really think they are having a life-changing experience here.”

The relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan is seen as particularly important due to its location in the Middle East and because of recent bombings around Pakistan that have claimed the lives of more than 100 people just since the students arrived at UVM. Students spoke to members of the Burlington Sunrise Rotary Club at Waterman Manor about Pakistan culture and politics. They reacted positively to the announcement that their nation’s chief justice was unexpectedly reinstated by the Supreme Court in a case that has fueled national protests and posed a serious challenge to President Pervez Musharraf.

“We’ve had a lot of problems in Pakistan lately,” said Samir Butt during his talk to Rotary members. “We hope that it does not last. You cannot have a Democracy with one man in charge. It's basically a Democratic form of government that will get us there."

Continuing Education, which applied on behalf of the university to become a host institution, asked McMahon to create the curriculum. He divided it into the following seven categories: leadership training; orientation to American history and culture; sustainability leadership; focus on food; U.S. and Vermont politics; community organizing; the World Debate Institute; and the presidential primary season as seen through a visit to New Hampshire.

Faculty members were asked to help in each of these areas. Professor Alfred “Tuna” Snider, mentor of UVM debaters for 20 years, conducted a debate workshop; Jay Moore, lecturer in history, spoke on American history and culture; Chip Sawyer, an outreach professional with UVM’s Center for Rural Studies, spoke on the center’s work and rural issues facing Vermont; and Kathleen McNamara of the Community University Partnerships and Service-Learning discussed the university’s commitment to service learning.

Students attended a concert at Redstone by bluegrass/celtic fusion band The Duhks; watched the David Mamet film “State and Main;” watched a production by Bread and Puppet Theater; took a trip to Boston; and went shopping on Church Street. “I liked Radio Bean,” said 19-year-old Mustafa Haroon. “I can’t believe how friendly everyone has been to us. Not everyone is so friendly in Pakistan. I have friends who lived in the U.S. and said they were treated very well, but you never know what to expect given the current international climate.”