With over 100 countries represented among current students, the University of Kentucky prides itself on maintaining a diverse student body that actively participates in international exchange and collaboration.
IREX, which is an international, nonprofit organization that partners with more than 100 countries around the globe to specialize in global education and development, helps UK bring global experience to campus.
IREX has sponsored two students at UK through the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program with Pakistan. These students have spent the fall semester this year completing undergraduate coursework, engaging with the community, and strengthening their leadership, academic, and career-preparedness skills.
“The goal of the program is to build up young leaders,” Christine Stephens-Bez said, who is the Sponsored Student & Scholar Coordinator within the University of Kentucky’s International Center. “Visiting students go back to their home countries and use their knowledge to be leaders in their communities.”
Seemab Zafar, 22, is one of these Pakistani visiting scholars sponsored by IREX. She studies electrical engineering at the National University of Sciences and Technology in Islamabad, Pakistan, and has spent this semester studying with UK’s College of Engineering.
Q: What made you interested in the IREX sponsorship?
A: “Back in Pakistan, this sponsorship program is a big thing—in my university every year 4 to 5 students always participate in the program. I am the first one from my university to go to the University of Kentucky. I really wanted to apply to get to know about the U.S. culture, and get to know about the education system here so that I can implement it back in Pakistan.”
Q: What has your experience studying in the United States been like so far?
A: “It’s been amazing! Everyday has given me a new experience. I am part of the UK Energy Club—since my major is electrical engineering, I wanted to work with energy efficiency. Then I also joined the Women Empowerment Program where I went on a retreat and learned about various leadership skills. The retreat leaders demonstrated that it’s okay to ask for help even in leadership positions. Other than this they focused on effective communication skills, self-awareness, and looking at the kind of leadership style I have. So I think this program helped me to become a better leader. I really like it here because I have gotten to meet other international students, and my classmates and teachers are really cooperative and supportive.”
Q: What are some of the cultural activities and leadership opportunities you have participated in?
A: “We have to fulfill several different cultural requirements—United States holiday celebration, sport and leisure, art and museum, leadership in action, and a few others. I celebrated Labor Day by attending a street fair, walked through an art fair that was held on UK’s campus, and even had the privilege of meeting Joseph Bouvier who is a Lexington district court judge. He enlightened us with his talks on law practices in the US, and trial procedure and duration. He also took us to his chamber, and then invited us to attend a court trial to see how he listens to a case and makes a verdict. Other than this, I have visited Washington, California and New York! We are also supposed to complete 20 hours of community service so I have volunteered with Ronald McDonald House Charities and FUSION.”
Q: Do you hope to return to the United States once this semester ends?
A: “I want to return to study here! I may apply for a PhD program in either electrical engineering or business administration.”
Q: How have you benefitted from this program?
A: “The Women Empowerment Program has really helped me become more self-aware. Now, I can demonstrate to others how effective communication can help build strong leaders. I really want to motivate other girls to get an education in electrical engineering.”
Q: What do you miss most about Pakistan?
A: “Food! Over here, you guys don’t use many spices.”
Q: What will you miss most about the United States once you return to Pakistan?
A: “Independence. Everyday there is something going on here and I’ll miss that. And then the study environment—back in Pakistan, we usually don’t study in restaurants or Starbucks, we just go to the library. I’ll miss that.”
Zafar will return to Pakistan at the end of this semester, where she plans to continue her studies in electrical engineering at the National University of Sciences and Technology