So what do you think about Pakistan?
- Tom Chang, third year student at UBC
My name is Tom Chang. I am a third year Biology major and Nutrition minor student from UBC taking his first trip to a foreign country by himself. I have to say I was surprised when I first arrived in Karachi, I did not encounter any terrorist attacks and I did not have to hide from gun fires. I’m joking just so you know but people do ask these things before and after my trip. Of course there are still a lot of political instability with their government there but if Karachi is as scary as it sounded why would there still be nine million people living in the city? Everyone would have left by now. So with the challenge in mind to debunk the stigmatism against the country. I set out to have one of the best and unforgettable experience of my life. I did so many things I would have never imagined myself to do: crashed a wedding, rode on the top of the bus, rode a camel, roam a foreign city at night in a taxi without knowing the language, admitted myself to a foreign hospital, got three days of diarrhea, and lost weight; however, it was exactly these experiences that shaped who I am now, and I would not trade anything for them.
The real challenge wasn’t hiding from attacks but enduring hunger. I did not even know what Ramadan was before I decided to go to Pakistan. Basically, during this time period one will refrain from smoking, eating and drinking from dawn to dusk to experience what it is like to live in poverty. Since Pakistan is an Islamic country, all the restaurants would be close during the day to uphold the principles. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me was that the restaurants do offer deliveries and there was even an app for that. For the first week or so, my brunch consisted of soy milk with cereal.
Not only that, the city also regularly shut down electricity to conserve power; therefore, we sometimes have to sleep in our own sweat in 35 degree Celsius or above. To make matter worse, our apartment ran out of running water. So for five days, we took showers and flush our toilets by scooping water from the water we burrowed from our neighbor and the Aiesecers.
There was more though, I was told beforehand that it is very normal to get the diarrhea as it happens to 90% of all interns. I was also told that it usually lasts from two days up to a week! Sure enough, after a week of my stay there, while still trying to adjust to my new life in Karachi, I got my ceremonial diarrhea. Thankfully, mine only lasted for three days.
I did not yet mentioned that two days before my departure, my internship was cancelled because the staff who is supposed to be my translator at the NGO I was supposed to work at backed out. While the Aiesecers were working hard to negotiate with the new NGO, I sat at home most of the time by myself as the other intern was out for work. Stupidly, I forgot to unlock my phone plus the intern apartment’s wifi barely worked. So the first two weeks of my stay was quite chaotic!! Until the highlight of my trip finally came. I unknowingly ingested marijuana. Out of paranoia, I admitted myself to a hospital without telling the Aiesecers. Everyone was searching for me while I lay in the hospital. That was a really crazy adventure to tell but a long story to be told another time.
To be honest, most of these things are out of the ordinary, it just so happens that everything happened at the same time in the beginning of my stay. My point is, this could happen anywhere to anyone but the lesson to be learned is that no matter how dire the situation, only you can change the situation by how you think.
Fortunately, after Ramadan everything went on a turning point as more interns came, we got a brand new intern apartment, and I finally got my internship volunteering at Karachi Vocational Training Centre. KVTC is an NGO which strives to change the stigmatism against mentally challenged people by providing vocational trainings to its students so that after graduation, they will be able to provide for themselves and become valuable contributors to the society. My role at KVTC was to help improve their hostel’s weekly meal plan and gave a presentation on mental-disability-related nutrition to the staff and teachers of the school. I was fortunately enough to apply what I learned in school as I know not a lot of interns get this chance. It greatly reaffirmed my decision to pursue a career in health and nutrition. I am really grateful for the Aiesecers for finding me such a suitable internship.
Although out of Ramadan I lost four kilograms but I gained so much more. I made friends from all over the world like Columbia, China, Turkey, Slovenia, Hongkong, Germany, Malaysia and last but not least Pakistan. No matter how messed up my living conditions were, how I arrived without an internship, how hungry I was during Ramadan or how marijuana gave me the worst paranoia, the humorous and heartfelt moments spent with AIESECers and our fellow interns kept me going and kept me. The challenges that we went through together strengthened our bond. In the end, I gained life-long friends whom I can called family.
In conclusion, without this internship, I wouldn’t be able to see the real side of Pakistan, compared to the biased image created by the overseas media; I wouldn’t be able to work with the hardworking people of KVTC or meet the wonderful people of AIESEC in Karachi; and, last but not least, I wouldn’t get to meet with the best people from all over the world in our new and cute little intern apartment. I had a blast and will definitely cherish this internship for the rest of my life. So, if you ask me “What do you think about Pakistan?” My answer to the question would be “I would definitely visit it again!”