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McNeese Selected to Participate in U.S. Global Student Exchange - Friday, April 5, 2019

McNeese State University is hosting two Pakistani students this spring semester as part of the U.S. Department of State’s Global Undergraduate Exchange Program in Pakistan.

McNeese is the only university in Louisiana selected to host students through the program, according to McNeese’s Director of International Programs Preble Giltz Girard.

"This is a tremendous honor for McNeese and is a testament to the quality of our programs, our student support services and our tremendously warm and welcoming community that values diversity,” Girard says.

"While these students will only be with us for one semester, they have already made an indelible impression on campus and will be great ambassadors for McNeese and all of Southwest Louisiana when they return home in May,” she adds.

Created by the department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in 2010, the program is aimed at promoting better understanding of the United States abroad. Engineering majors Hira Mahmood, of Rawalpindi, and Muhammad Aleem, of Islamabad, have not only been tasked with continuing their studies, but also learning more about the cultures and values of the U.S. and Louisiana to share with their communities when they return.

"As cultural ambassadors, we get the chance to act as a bridge between the two countries and also show the beauty of Pakistani culture to Americans,” Mahmood says.

Competition for a space in the program is fierce: eligible students must be Pakistani citizens, 25 years or younger, currently enrolled in a college or university, proficient in English and display high academic achievement and strong leadership qualities. Of the 30,000 students that apply, only about 200 are selected to participate.

Based on a lengthy interview process and their paths of academic study, Mahmood and Aleem were assigned to McNeese, though neither student was familiar with Louisiana before they arrived.

"I knew Louisiana was a state,” Aleem says, "But I didn’t know the state abbreviations. So when I first got my letter, I saw ‘McNeese State University, LA.’ I thought – I’m going to Los Angeles!”

Both students were quickly embraced by the McNeese and Southwest Louisiana community and found that, in many ways, there wasn’t as great a difference between the cultures as they were expecting.

"When we came to the United States, we were told about U.S. culture and how it’s different from our own culture,” Aleem says. "For example, in Pakistan, whenever we meet someone, even a stranger, we always hug each other. The people in Washington, D.C., told us Americans don’t hug – the most you can do is shake hands. They even gave us a tutorial on how to shake hands. But when I came to Louisiana, the first thing people did was hug me!”

Both say that their education at McNeese has been very different than what they’re used to in Pakistan.

"Academically, McNeese has been brilliant,” Aleem says. "Over here, professors are very practical and assign us hands-on projects instead of exams. I really enjoy my classes, and because McNeese has a small student body, you receive more personal time with your professors. They can personally address your questions and help you explore your interests. For example, an engineering professor changed our class syllabus when the class expressed the need to learn more about certain software. His priority was to make sure we had what we needed to succeed.”

Mahmood concurs. "The professors are great. When I needed help, I was amazed – the class was over, but they stayed to help break down concepts so they were easily understandable for me. They’re so helpful and encouraging to students.”

While studying at McNeese, the students have also had the chance to travel extensively throughout the U.S. to get a broad idea of how American culture differs from place to place. The students have traveled everywhere from Chicago to Disneyland and extensively through Louisiana. They also had the chance to participate in a very Louisiana tradition: Mardi Gras.

With the semester nearly over, Aleem wants to eventually return to McNeese to pursue a graduate degree, while Mahmood plans to help establish facilities in Pakistan where women and girls can pursue their education. Both students say that they are excited about returning home to fulfill their roles as cultural ambassadors and spread what they’ve learned about the U.S., Southwest Louisiana, and McNeese to their home country.


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