Mahzabe Malik, an IREX (International Research and Exchange board) exchange student from Balochistan, Pakistan, said she’s had a lot of surprises since moving to the U.S.
The biggest surprise was how she has never felt out of place or like she didn’t belong.
Traveling over 7,000 miles away from home on a journey halfway across the world, Malik said she was worried at first about the differences in cultures but doesn’t regret anything about her experiences thus far.
“Every day I learn new things, not only in my environment, but in myself,” Malik said.“I haven’t found difficulty in changing myself and have learned so much in my short time here.”
Malik is staying one semester at Wartburg College, serving as a kind of student cultural ambassador to help improve U.S. relations with Pakistan, Helen Leong, Director of International Student Services, said.
Being a student in the IREX exchange program, Malik has several requirements to complete including a presentation on Balochistan. She must experience several things including community service, art and music, holidays, sports, youth concerns and local pride in the Cedar Valley and Waverly area.
To meet her presentation requirement, Malik gave a presentation on her home country March 27 and drew a crowd of 35 people including students, faculty and community members to the Waverly Public Library.
During her presentation, she presented on the geography, history and overall cultural differences and arguments between Balochistan and its neighboring country, Afganistan.
“The purpose of my presentation was to tell people about my home,” Malik said. “Balochistan is neglected and many people have no idea it even exists. My hope is that some people take the needs of my country to heart and want to take action and make a difference.”
Balochistan has experienced an ongoing conflict between the governments of Pakistan and Iran over land and is neglected and underdeveloped.
Considered to be the least developed part of Pakistan, Balochistan’s resources are taken with nothing in return while the government is slowly killing its own people, Malik said.
“I want people to see my crises that exist at home and for them to understand and have more global awareness on what’s going on in the world around them,” Malik said. “I just want to spread the message that we need help.”
For Malik and many other international students at Wartburg, the opportunity to represent their home countries and speak of their personal experiences can be a freeing and joyful experience for them, Leong said.
With the number of international students up to 174 this semester, equaling 10 percent of the student body at Wartburg, Leong said it’s important for all Wartburg students to stay open to new experiences and to take advantage of the opportunity to learn from international students.
“Cultural exchange becomes a valuable part of who we are. Learning about someone else gives us the chance to learn about ourselves in a new way and to truly think about the things we do and why we do them,” Leong said. “Cultural exchange is an important part of developing into the people we are ultimately supposed to become.”
By the end of her semester here, Malik said the one thing she wishes Wartburg students come to realize are the never-ending opportunities they are provided in the U.S.
She hopes that by informing the student body on crisis situations throughout the world, it will give them the chance to learn about the good and the bad and will hopefully spark a desire for them to make change in the world around them, she said.
“In the U.S. you have freedom of speech, religion and assembly but at home I don’t have any of those rights,” Malik said. “Young generations here have the opportunity to really do something and they should use that opportunity to take initiative.”