Pakistan Exchange Promotes Diversity and Acceptance

In 2021, Farah Habib, Associate Professor of English, began working on an anthology collection of literature written by Pakistani writers in English. She embarked on this journey to research her family’s connection to the Partition Period, a turbulent time in history when India liberated itself from British colonial power and formed the country of Pakistan. She also cultivated global connections and promoted cultural awareness and diversity at Bristol Community College.

Farah Habib

Farah Habib

She connected with the American Institute of Pakistan Studies and wrote a grant that enabled her to travel to Pakistan for a 10-day trip, participating in professional development workshops with the goal of promoting the study of Pakistan as a country and culture. She had not been back to her homeland in more than two decades.

“I thought it was important to reconnect with my heritage after the passing of my parents,” says Habib. “This project was an anchor that allowed me to explore my roots and make sense of those family stories that I can pass down.”

She developed relationships with faculty there that inspired her to develop a cultural exchange program in 2023.

“I wrote a grant with Professor Paul Edleman from Sauk Valley Community College in Illinois that enabled us to put together a cultural exchange program called APEX (American Pakistan Educational Exchange),” she said.

Grant funding allowed them to invite seven students and three faculty members from Kinnaird College for Women in Fall 2023. Located in Lahore, Pakistan, and founded during the colonial period in 1913, the college is noted for producing several lauded authors.

The APEX program focuses on the mutual exchange of cultures between Pakistan and the United States. For the Pakistani students, the visit was their first to the U.S., and many of them had never traveled on an airplane before. While here, students and faculty participated in academic course workshops and collaborated on projects, which included an oral presentation on the topic of mental health and women. In addition to their time at Bristol, they traveled to Sauk Valley Community College and Harvard and Brown Universities. The group also joined Bristol’s Fine Arts department on a bus trip to New York City, where they perused art museums at Museum Mile.

The experience engendered dialogue about diversity and acceptance. “It was a pleasure seeing how the students connected with each other just by spending time with Bristol students and eating lunch,” says Habib. “The project was the epitome of cultural diversity because it exposed both groups of students to cultural immersion, and it was a unique opportunity to meet people from a foreign country where their paths would never have crossed.”

There were many positive outcomes from the program. Students from the Fine Arts department are still in contact with the students from Pakistan and have met virtually since the event. Since then, a group of faculty and the dean of Arts and Humanities from Bristol traveled to Pakistan in February 2024.

The inception of the project aligns with Bristol’s mission of academic innovation and equity. “It was an incredible accomplishment because the program fostered positive communication and critical thinking by challenging people’s stereotypes,” said Habib.

"When you can demystify a country such as Pakistan, which is sometimes ostracized because of its history, you can promote understanding and foster a realization that as humans, we have more similarities than differences."

Pakistani exchange students with members of Bristol