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First Day 

Pakistan

Chasing the dream of an education in the West

Like many of his peers, Global Student Square contributor Taha Rashid has a goal: To get into college in the United States. 

But it’s easier said than done. Not only must international students applying to U.S. schools grapple with an unfamiliar applications process, according to U.S. News & World Report, most colleges cap their international student enrollment at around 10 percent of the student body, creating fierce competition among overseas students for very few spots.

For Rashid, the high stakes mean he’ll do what it takes, from competing on Pakistan’s scholastic debate circuit to completing the requirements for an international baccalaureate. Here’s what a normal school day looks like for him.

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Above left, top right and bottom right: Every morning, I take a van service to school. I attend Roots International School in Islamabad, about 30 minutes from my house. Roots offers the international baccalaureate program, which is a big plus for me. Like most of my friends, I dream of going to college abroad; completing the IB program gives us an edge in the competitive international admissions process.

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Above: Some of my friends take Islamabad’s Metrobus system to school. Inaugurated in June 2015, the new system was very controversial in terms of its construction cost; the government had to build a new road for the service, which launched only after all 24 stations connecting the cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad were built along with the system’s 68 buses. However, according to Al Jazeera, the government argues that this new system decreases traffic by 30 percent.

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Above: Roots’ main entrance has a security post where two men check students for identification and control who goes in. Thankfully there haven’t been any major security issues, but the guards keep an eye out for unfamiliar faces. Most schools in Pakistan have a guard and a checkpost to control access to the school. 

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Above: My teacher Rashid Qureshi explains how to compute standard deviations in my IB Higher Level mathematics class. 

All of my IB classes follow the same curriculum as is taught all over the world; at the end of the year, we’ll take exams graded on an international standard.

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Above: Anzal Amin works on a math assignment during Qureshi’s class. For most of the school year, students must abide by a uniform dress code of blue tops and khaki bottoms. This year, the school uniform changed and the school has implemented a uniform-free grace period so that students and their families have time to buy the clothes they need. So for a few weeks, my classmates — including Amin — and I can wear whatever we want.

“At the end of the day, I must do not only what’s best for me but also for my family ….

“I will not disappoint.”

For Taha Rashid, the school year began and will likely end with the pressure to perform.

From 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Rashid is a typical high school student. Sports, debate prep and homework lengthen day into evening. Weekends are taken up with debate tournaments, community service, and perhaps catching up on sleep.

But then there’s college. Along with many of his classmates, Rashid hopes to attend a U.S. university. Yet the competition is tough: Virtually all of the 14 seniors in his graduating class at Roots International School in Islamabad hope to attend college overseas, in the United States, the U.K., or Germany.

“Ask any student in my school … and you’d find that the majority would say (they want to go) ‘abroad’,” Rashid says. A typical day finds students “cramming textbooks, studying for SATs and ACTs, writing essays and always blabbering about (the) Common (Application).”

Paying for college is another worry. “Let’s face it, a significant portion of the world can’t even dream” about paying for a U.S. college, says Rashid. “So, obviously, it’s like a bloodbath for who gets the best scholarships and financial aid.”

But money isn’t the only cost of going abroad.

“A part of me is ready to travel and just jump out into the open world, but another part believes that this experience will be an emotional burden,” he says. “I’ve been abroad before, but this time (it will be) different: I won’t see my family for a long time, and that will take getting used to.”

But “at the end of the day, I must do not only what’s best for me but also for my family,” says Rashid. “Focus is primary and I will not disappoint.”

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Above left: The school cafeteria is located on the roof of the school and has a snack bar on one side and a sitting area on the other side with a flat screen television for entertainment. Most of the time students watch cricket but sometimes they watch a music channel that plays both Pakistani and Western hits.

Above right: Many students like chicken shawarma, which is a type of sandwich made from soft pita bread with grilled chicken chunks and an assortment of spices and sauces. The cafe also serves other Pakistani staples like biryani rice, as well as more Western foods such as french fries, donuts and milkshakes.

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Above: Students of all ages like to hang out and play basketball at the school’s courts during breaks or when they don’t have class. Roots has two basketball courts and a soccer field, where students of all grades play together. Cricket and soccer are the most popular professional sports in Pakistan, but many Pakistanis play basketball recreationally.

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Above left: My classmate Farhan Amjad (left) and I (right) compete in scholastic debate, which is huge in Pakistan. We participate in parliamentary-style debates, in which each team is assigned a topic and given one hour to prepare before giving a series of speeches in favor of or against the issue. My friends and I travel to Lahore a lot as tournaments are often hosted there. 

Above right: Amjad (center) prepares a speech while our third teammate Umer Faizan (left) and I (right) give input. 

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Above: I’m looking out over the Fortress Stadium, a major entertainment area in Lahore. From here, I can see the sports stadium, which each year hosts Pakistan’s National Horse and Cattle show, Joyland, the Fortress Stadium’s theme park and a McDonalds. 

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