From Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to Seattle
by Shariq Khan
The South Asia Center at the University of Washington is delighted to be hosting two scholars from Pakistan, Zeb Khan and Syed Wasif Azim, who are visiting for a 6-month period. I had the chance to sit down with Zeb and Wasif on the 28th of September to learn more about them and their research. Here is a snapshot of their work, their background, and their experiences at the University of Washington…
Shariq: Hi Wasif and Zeb! Thank you for taking the time to speak to us! Can you tell us a little about yourself and your careers?
Wasif: Absolutely. So I’m Syed Wasif Azim, and I came to Seattle in mid-July. I’m a PhD student at the University of Peshawar in Pakistan.
Shariq: Lovely! Are you from Peshawar?
Wasif: I’m from Charsadda, which is a town close to Peshawar.
Shariq: What is your research on?
Wasif: My phD proposal is ‘Ethnicity, Conflict and Identity: The Sense Of Belonging among the Pakhtuns of Swat, Pakistan’
Shariq: Very nice. And what about you Zeb? When did you arrive from Pakistan and what is your research on?
Zeb: I got here later than Zeb, in the middle of September. I’m a PhD student at the National University of Science and Technology, in Islamabad. I study at the Center for International Peace and Stability at NUST, and my research proposal is ‘Conflict, Governance and Prospects for Peace in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan: Drawing Lessons from the Insurgency in Nepal.’
Shariq: Great. Did you know each other before coming to Seattle?
Zeb, Wasif: No.
Shariq: Best friends now?
Shariq: Is this your first time in the US?
Zeb: Yes, first time for both of us.
Shariq: What program are you coming through?
Wasif: We’re coming via IRSIP, which stands for International Research Support Initiative Program. It is a program funded by the Higher Education Commission in Pakistan. It’s a very popular program and many students in Pakistan are taking advantage of it now.
Shariq: Kudos to HEC for this. Is it easy to apply to, and to go through the process?
Wasif: Well, not quite. It is a long process and takes a lot of dedication. It took me almost a year to put together the application. Finding a matching supervisor, submitting the application, waiting for approvals, language tests, visas…
Shariq: You must be really set on coming here! Why did you choose the University of Washington?
Wasif: It made the most sense for me. It had a dedicated South Asia Center, and Cabeiri Robinson’s work meshed with my own.
Zeb: For me too. Cabeiri’s research speaks to both of our projects.
Shariq: I understand that this is your first time in the US. How has the experience been?
Wasif: You know it better than us probably! It took me a little while to clear immigration in New York, even to the point I worried a bit that they would send me back, but it worked out in the end. But after that, it’s been the opposite in Seattle.
Shariq: I’m sorry to hear that. Immigration can be difficult for us sometimes. Did you also experience problems, Zeb?
Zeb: Not really. They questioned me for a minute and then I was in. I have relations with Trump, you see…
Shariq: Hah, of course you do! So barring immigration, how has the experience been?
Wasif: It’s been great. Everybody is very cooperative and helpful. Everybody trusts each other. It feels like there is more musalmani (acting like Muslims) here than in Pakistan.
Zeb: I would second that. Everybody has made sure we are comfortable. Keith and Wasif came to pick me up at the airport, which was very kind of them.
Shariq: Have you faced any difficulties since coming?
Wasif: Well, the only thing I was worried about was housing. But something interesting happened—I posted on the online Facebook groups about housing, and a guy from Hyderabad, India happened to message me saying he is also looking for housing. We ended up agreeing to live together. He allowed me to stay with him in his apartment for free for the first two weeks, and then we moved together into a rented apartment. All three of us are great friends now!
Shariq: That is amazing! Isn’t it funny how Indians and Pakistanis end up being great friends once they meet here outside India and Pakistan? That is certainly a key experience for me here in the US.
Zeb: Absolutely. We tend to see that we are culturally and linguistically almost the same once we are abroad, and thus stick together a lot. The political rivalry isn’t a problem anymore.
Shariq: And how has your academic experience been?
Wasif: It has been excellent. Cabeiri has helped me a lot. Even though she is probably extremely busy with work and family, she has always given me high priority. I think even her own students would not be getting such VIP treatment! Natalie Williams from the Sociology Department has also been extremely helpful. Even though she is not ‘officially’ responsible for advising me, she has gone out of her way to do this. She’s read my articles to understand my project even when she herself doesn’t work directly on Pakistan. She’s also had me meet a lot of people.
Zebs: Attending talks and events is another way that we are learning a lot. I just attended a panel on the moral and political obligation to resist torture. I met a professor from the political science department there and instantly became friends. We had a nice, long chat. That is the general way things have been going about.
Shariq: In what ways do you think this exchange will be important to your careers?
Wasif: There are both academic and cultural benefits. HEC is trying for Pakistani scholars to link up with the international community. Here we learn the best modern research techniques and methods, and take them back to Pakistan. Personally, I wanted more exposure to theory and research methodology, which is something not given as much attention in Pakistan in our departments. And I got that here.
Zeb: We learn the importance of fieldwork analysis, get familiarization with the latest software, have access to a great library. It is a researcher’s paradise!
Wasif: We also make sure we attend all kinds of social and academic events. I myself am signed up to receive newsletters from four different departments. So I make sure I don’t miss anything I could learn something from.
Zeb: This program has professional benefits too. Scholars who have spent time abroad are in the ‘good books’ of the Higher Education Commission in Pakistan, so this will be very helpful for us later in our professional lives as well.
Wasif: My work with Cabeiri has positively impacted my own research. Plus, I have acquired new, more professional habits, such as learning to set a target and following through.
Zeb: This is certainly a great initiative and we are certainly thankful to IRSIP and to UW.
Shariq: Is there something that you’d like to make note of about the exchange program that you would like to see changed?
Wasif: Well, there is one important thing, which is that we are not allowed to sit in classes, even informally. This is surely a loss, since we could learn so much if only pedagogically from sitting in a class.
Zeb: This is true. It would greatly improve the program if attending even a class a quarter could be possible at the University of Washington.
Shariq: When do you guys plan to return to Pakistan?
Wasif: I return on the 15th of January. My wife is going to come to join me in December though, and I am looking forward to that. She is a science teacher in Pakistan, and I think this experience will be very beneficial to her.
Zeb: I return by the end of February, so I have some more time to enjoy Seattle and UW.
Shariq: It was wonderful talking to you guys. Thank you for your time, and I wish you all the best for the future.