Meshal Ashraf Cheema is a rising star from the School of Media and Mass Communication at Beacon-house National University. She has remained one of the most active students in both curricular and extracurricular activities. She went to Germany for a semester on an exchange program. The following is how she shares her story with the world.
“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.
– Ibn Batuta
Well, now that I think about it, I would agree to this. Ibn Batuta is totally right. Traveling is magic and not everyone is able to experience it in their lives. Fortunately for me, I got the opportunity to travel when I got accepted into an exchange program in Ilmenau, Germany, this year. While at Ilemenau, I got to travel to several other European countries as well. This included France, Belgium, Czech Republic and the Netherlands. However, to that we will return in a later post. First, let us talk about getting to Ilmenau.
When I applied to the exchange program I was a student at Beaconhouse National University in Lahore. At the time I was 100% sure I would not be accepted at all. Though, I applied anyway. Now I can say that I was totally misinformed about myself!
On a warm, sunny day during summer vacations, I was informed that I had been selected for the exchange program and that soon I would be studying at Technische Universitat Ilmenau in Germany. Initially, I couldn’t believe my luck. Though when I managed to wrap my head around the news I felt confused and shocked. What was I going to do, I thought, how was I going to survive in Germany all alone. I called my parents. They were extremely happy for me and said they wanted me to go for this program. Later, however, when some of my relatives got to know about this they started criticizing my decision by their typical fashion, saying:
“Ohhh… so you’re going all alone being a girl? How are you going to manage things by yourself? In our culture, girls who belong to respectful families don’t travel alone until they get married!”
My parents, of course, didn’t bother. They would have none of it. They ignored everything people said, remained hopeful and kept on encouraging me to take this bold step for my bright future.
Well, so, I finally came to Germany for the exchange program. On my first day, when I went to my dormitory room I was so happy to see the place. It was so beautiful! It was just like a fairy tale with a mountainous, snowy town and a rainy valley.
Be that as it may, at the same time, I was really worried about how things were going to work, and how I was going to survive in a snowy, cold weather. You see, I had never before experienced such weather in my life. Also, being the elder daughter of the family I had a responsibility of fulfilling the hopes of my parents – especially because in the absence of a boy, my parents treat me as their son. Anyway, I decided to take things one thing at a time.
The first thing, of course, was food! The funny part was that I didn’t even know how to cook! Damn, you can’t survive on Maggi noodles and boiled eggs, obviously! So, I had to start learning cooking – but, of course, I didn’t want to! Amazing thing luck is! Soon, I met some great people from Pakistan who were also studying at the same college. They helped me a lot during that time. They would cook for me and we began to have our meals together – and just like that it all worked out. I never had to cook at all! Eventually, I managed to find some good Turkish restaurants which served great food. “Halaal chicken” life was on track after finding such restaurants.
Slowly, things started getting settling down but, at the same time, I began badly missing my home. I had never never lived alone and it was tough. I was a pampered child and although, I guess, I still am one, I learnt a lot about myself and about living alone.
Soon after, I joined Radio HSF in Technische Universitat (TU). Radio HSF was a student run radio channel and I got a 90 minute slot of air time! I began hosting a show where I began interviewing international guests from different countries around the world. Not only did I find something that helped me compensate by working, I also learnt a lot. I can, now, proudly brag of being an RJ who has been on international airwaves!
Eventually, I made a lot of German friends after I joined an on-campus student organization at TU which went by its acronym ‘ISWI’. These were great people and made living in Ilmenau whole lot easier. I would strongly suggest joining student organizations to other Pakistani students who are going abroad.
Within a few days after I discovered that I had fallen in love with Ilmenau itself. Ilemnau is a small university town in the lap of rolling, snowy hills. The town shuts down after 8.00 P.M. but did that bother me? Nope. I was captivated. The place was a dreamland. Mountains, valleys, rain that fell beautifully all day. I had the most wonderful 6 months of my life!
Well, then, that was my experience of an exchange program in Germany. I feel I’ve experienced a lifetime within a single semester. In the end, my suggestion to everyone out there will be this: Please never miss a chance of going abroad in your life! Especially, girls if you ever get a chance of traveling/studying abroad don’t miss that because of cultural pressures. Fight for your rights because this will give you a lifetime experience and will make you a strong independent woman in society.
I will end with this quote by Mary Anne Radmacher, with which I can really relate:
“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”
What I had briefly alluded was that while there I also got a chance to travel to different European countries. This time, I thought, I would tell the story of my travels through pictures! Hold your breath!
Well then, after settling into my German experience, I began to exploit every opportunity I got to travel. My first trip took me to the Czech capital of Prague. After getting there, the first thing I could think of to say was: “Woah! What a beautiful place!” Prague was just like a dream.
I had seen this place in movies and I was extremely excited to see that place in real life. I was accompanied by two of my friends and we booked a hostel to live. There, we met two students who hosted us all the while we were there. These students were super amazing. They would cook pancakes for us for breakfast without us having ask them for any!
Prague was a magical place. It had something in it that one felt as one walked around the town. I can’t think of a very good to describe it – but the feeling sent butterflies fluttering through one’s gut. Plus, unlike the sleepy town of Ilmenau in Germany where I was living and studying, Prague was alive – one could really say that the city never slept.
I visited the Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, many museums, and took a long street walk. The walk seemed to take me back to the 1900s with old streets and historical buildings where ever one looked. This was only supplemented by the guards at the Prague Castle – just like in the movies they stood totally stiff, unmoving. I tried many tricks to make them move or say something, but in vain. It was amazing that they didn’t even smile!
Of course, the guards weren’t the only odd thing about Prague. I was taking a selfie when some completely random people came running, screaming “Photu! Photu!” and photo-bombed my picture! LOL. True story. Though, they were nice people. They belonged to different countries and we became friends!
Next, I went to Berlin, the capital of Germany. One can almost say the Berlin is exactly like New York in America, but without the tall buildings. Berlin is an absolutely gorgeous city. The city has its own vibe which is quick in making you fall in love with itself. For me, quite a fascinating thing was to be living in 2016 but still having the experience of the Cold War era. This is so because you can still see the original Berlin Wall; or you can visit places like Alaxandarplatz or the city’s many museums, and they brim with a Cold War feel.
All in all, I think, if I was given the choice of staying in Germany forever I would definitely choose Berlin to live in!
Anyway, over time I got to travel to several other German cities, including Munich, Frankfurt, Nuremberg, Dorsten, Duisburg, Dusseldorf and Wesel.
My third trip took me Paris, the love capital of the world! I don’t feel I need to tell a lot about this city. Suffice to say, it was a dream to visit Paris and now I can proudly say that I have lived my dream! What beats that?
Ernest Hemingway says that:’If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.’
That’s exactly how I feel. Really, you have to feel it to live it. There’s nothing that I can say any more about Paris. Paris is a dreamland!
Finally, I got to go to Abu Dhabi in 2016 as well! I went there for Globecom Conference where I represented Emerson College, Boston, USA. It was an international conference and students from 16 countries participated in it. I got to make many new friends from all around the globe and learnt new things about many different cultures.
After the experience, I really think Pakistani students should apply to international conferences and go to them. They are a great place to network, meet new people and learn a great many new things.