Friday, August 19, 2011

Return of the native

Students from here have been going abroad for higher education for many decades. Today, however, the number seems higher than ever before. A pleasant surprise is reserved for those who decide to return to Pakistan. This is baffling. They have their reasons for doing so.

Finance is one of the major hurdles in education abroad and it determines their educational aftermath. Broadly, all around the world, there are two categories of foreign students — the self-financed (including loan seekers) and the scholarship or financial-aid holders. Generally, the self-financed candidates try to stick around for more experience and training, primarily because they can afford it and get visa extensions. On scholarship, it becomes trickier to get a work permit and arrange more finance. However, the total number of Pakistani students going to study abroad is unknown and so is the number of students returning to continue their career here.
The recession may be one reason for the students’ return. Fewer students now get financial aid because the university budgets and donations have decreased. Unemployment rates in the West have not improved recently and it is natural that they focus on hiring natives and refrain from appointing foreign students.
However, Amna, a Masters in International Development from Italy, disagrees. “Certain jobs are recession-proof. In technical majors, engineering, finance and medicine, employment is often available but the visa status isn’t updated. This often happens in the US.”
Amna admits that she too returned because her scholarship ended and would have stayed on given the chance because her field requires international exposure.
Some Pakistani academics obviously find it easier to gain employment here in Pakistan. However, some fields have seen a boom, like the Pakistani media. Print is well-known for paying very little and Pakistan Television (PTV) never had the opportunities private channels promise now. Foreign trained human resource usually has the expertise unavailable otherwise. Most channels upgrade their manpower by workshops and training sessions. Furthermore, the pay scale is very promising, on-job training and opportunities to rise up through the ranks are also plenty. People from majors like engineering, pure sciences and finance have been switching to a broadcasting career. However, the work hours are odd, lengthy and job security is almost non-existent.
“Re-adjusting to Pakistan was thorny,” says Sonia Rehman, a Columbia post-graduate in Print Journalism, 2010. “There was no job in my area of study and freelancing paid little. For the first three months after returning, I was clueless. Even now I am working on a project that has little to do with my area of study.”
She insists that the organisations that send students should also help them attain employment later or at least give them a synopsis on re-adjustment in the Pakistani workforce.
However, majority of the people still return to Pakistan for the very basic reasons. One that parents are uncomfortable about having their child settle down abroad, usually because of the distance and foreign culture. Another is that family members require caretaking. And that they miss Pakistan — the food, the family, the friends, the culture and the society.
The newly-found ‘Islamophobia’ and the consequent difficulty in upgrading visa status have made it even harder for people to stay back.
“I returned because I had graduated and gained professional experience, too,” says Muhammad Malik, a Brown University graduate and a Clarke University MBA who returned to Pakistan in 2008. “My mother was living here alone, and I persistently felt the US was not home.”
The ride was not professionally smooth either. “Pakistani companies are bureaucratic and have many management layers. Getting things done is harder. In the US, you feel you are working with people. Here you feel you are working for them.”
This piece was first published in the News on Sunday

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