Finding Home

Finding Home

International students face different choices as they consider life after Colby

By Gerry Boyle '78 | Photos by Fred Field

neha zaigham
Neha Zaigham ’08 shares an embrace with her mother, Ayesha Zaigham, left, and her grandmother Shamshad Parveen, who came to Colby from Lahore, Pakistan, for commencement in May.
For other international students who are considering returning home, the move may bring a more jarring cultural transition.

Sanval Nasim ’08 said recent political changes make it more likely that he will return to Pakistan. But Nasim, who has been studying abroad for six years, wonders how he and other Western-educated students like him will fit in a place where conservative religion has become a dominant cultural force.

“My lifestyle is very different from what is acceptable in Lahore,” he said. “Going out and having a glass of beer is not what is socially acceptable at home.”

Nasim said he hoped social mores could be changed. But some customs are in Pakistan to stay, said Neha Zaigham ’08, who also is from Lahore. If Zaigham returns home, she will be expected to live at home with her parents until she is married.

“That’s a very alien concept for my friends who are from the West,” said Zaigham. “And you know, before I left, I may have never questioned that fact. I would have lived there under my parents’ roof until I was married off or something. Never thought twice about it. You live in this independent environment [here] and you’re absolutely responsible for everything you’re doing. Having to go back to that [expectation] is very difficult. As a woman I cannot completely disregard it and say, ‘I’m going to go back and I’m going to live on my own.’”

But living arrangements are not the only, or even the most pressing, social issue for Zaigham. She spent a summer working for an organization that works to increase awareness of contraception to women in Pakistan. In impoverished communities outside Lahore, many women came to the NGO workers for advice—but these women were afraid to tell their husbands, Zaigham said. “Living here, where it’s so open and these things are encouraged,” she said, made her acutely aware of the situation women face in her home country.

International students who return home even for visits often confront glaring inequities in healthcare and living standards. Some are torn between needs in their own country and the opportunity to work abroad to help support family at home.

Brian Wadugu ’09, a biochemistry and mathematics major, has his sights set on medical school. But he wasn’t sure of that until he went home to Tanzania for Jan Plan to work in a medical clinic.

The clinic was in the village of Sota, five kilometers from Wadugu’s home in the larger town of Shirati, in northern Tanzania close to Lake Victoria. Wadugu, who hadn’t been home in two and half years, assisted a group of American doctors doing a house-to-house survey. He also translated for the doctor who ran the local clinic as she met with patients.

Wadugu found that soon he often could diagnose ailments, including malaria, on his own.

“That made me want to be a doctor,” he said.

But where? In the United States with the promise of a sizeable income? Or in Tanzania, where many physicians earn a government-mandated salary of less than $400 per month?

As the intermediary between doctor and patient, Wadugu was the person to deliver news of test results. And at least twice a day for three weeks, he informed patients they were HIV positive. Sometimes he told parents, because the HIV-positive patient was their child.

“Most of them, you see extreme sadness in their face,” Wadugu said. “Once you tell them, that they do have HIV/AIDS, they would look depressed. We would tell them about the [antiviral medication], that brings them back.”

His decision was made.

“Since I left [Tanzania], I’ve been thinking of working at home,” Wadugu said. “But I didn’t know what it was like to be a doctor at home. In my heart, I wanted to go home but I didn’t know what I was getting into. Going home told me it truly was what I wanted to do. … I think they need my help more than if I were to be a doctor here. I think I’ll be more useful if I become a doctor at home.”

In Tanzania Wadugu is introduced this way: “This is Brian. He’s studying in the United States.” Like residents of many developing countries, many Tanzanians dream of studying in or emigrating to America, he said.

If he returns home to work, Wadugu likely will be asked over and over: Why?
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