Study abroad is too valuable an experience to be just the privilege of self-perpetuating elite: in terms of transforming lives, it most benefits those students who have had the least access and exposure to the wider world.
By Nazarul Islam
Like several of my life alumni of international education programs, I need to acknowledge and share with my students, the transformative effects of study abroad. I have assisted young people in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal to benefit from Training Programs I had offered through a British Foundation— in their respective countries.
In a short year, this bold program had gathered wings. The success lay with the students who would complete their courses, and the essential requirements. Prospective candidates would be transferred to undergraduate programs at the participating institutions located in US, UK and Australia.
A quarter century ago, I was directing this program, which aimed to benefit under privileged students, who had dreamed of studying overseas institutions. Faced with handicaps, they were unable to apply to overseas Universities. The Foundation program broke the taboo.
Ultimately, this opportunity had changed the lives of nearly 1,000 bona fide’ students in the three countries of the subcontinent.
I grew up in Dhaka, of what then the principal city and the Second capital of Pakistan. This was relatively, an insular city in the deltaic land of Eastern Bengal—a city boiling inside in its struggle for autonomy and self-governance. And, before I would realize—the region had exploded with demands for independence, followed by a brutal War of Liberation. All this had changed life in the country, for good. The collapse of local institutions, gave me barely enough time to bail out, in order to survive. Other needs like higher education would follow, at another time!
In my rush, I chose to migrate to Karachi, in a new and truncated country of Pakistan. In this bustling port city, I found the political and intellectual horizons to be quite stifling—by all standards, I had lived and loved to embrace learning in Dhaka. Later, I was able to develop my comfort bubble, and traveled to China, the United Kingdom, and Russia and Australia. I interned in the UK (London and Market Harborough). In Perth, Australia, I pursued my higher education and obtained a Master’s degree in Education Management.
These experiences completely transformed my views about education—ripping apart my perceptions on globalism, overseas education, from exceptionalism to the nature of history. I found the chaotic dynamism of Malaysia, and Karachi to be a refreshing change from the atmosphere of fear and paranoia that gripped the world around me.
Traveling by bus, from Beijing to the Great Wall, then through western China, I witnessed the colossal scale of the country’s infrastructural and urban development and conversed with people my age who had risen from poverty and taught themselves English. The future seemed to be there. The openness, optimism, and energy of these societies vividly contrasted with the world I had known in the Central Valley.
My overseas experience put me on a distinctly global educational and career path. It also showed me why democratizing study abroad is so necessary. Study abroad is too valuable an experience to be just the privilege of self-perpetuating elite: in terms of transforming lives, it most benefits those students who have had the least access and exposure to the wider world.
Unlike many of my peers at WCIMT, Perth I was lucky to have parents who instilled in me a curiosity about global affairs, attend an elite college, and not require the financial and logistical assistance for study abroad outlined in the US by the Lincoln Commission. I knew many students from my hometown, Dhaka who merited the overseas opportunities I had enjoyed.
They, too, deserved the chance to see the world and broaden their horizons.
About the Author
The Bengal-born writer Nazarul Islam is a senior educationist based in USA. He writes for Sindh Courier and the newspapers of Bangladesh, India and America. He is author of a recently published book ‘Chasing Hope’ – a compilation of his 119 articles.