Vladislav Tolokontsev, Artem Pogrebnoy, and Chris Voitsekhovich from Russia visited Karachi, a few months back, as exchange students. They studied at the Institute of Business Management, as resided within its premises in Korangi Creek.
Since this 4-month journey was coming to an end, Vladislav had a few thing to say about Pakistan, specifically Karachi.
His post, on Facebook, read:
“Hey, guys! It’s been already 4 months since I came to Pakistan and I’m leaving this amazing country in a week. I decided to share with you some of my thoughts about my experience here.
The most frequent question I had to answer was “Why did you choose Pakistan?”. My response has always been the same “Actually we had a lot of options for an exchange program to any European country. However, I have traveled through Europe so many times and it honestly would have been so boring for me to spend another half a year there. On the other hand, Pakistan sounded very mysterious and to some extent very exotic to me. That’s why I chose to explore it and to get to know its people and culture.” We do not usually get to know a lot about Pakistan from the media and there are still so many stereotypes in people’s minds. This made me feel very curious about Pakistan and I can surely say that Pakistan is a wonderful country with a great culture. I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity to have spent one semester here and to all people who have made my experience so amazing and unforgettable.
My observations are based on my personal experience over my time spent here and may not be true for all Pakistani people.
We’ve been attending the Institute of Business Management in Karachi, which is second best business school in one of the largest world’s cities. At first we took 6 courses including Strategic Management, Entrepreneurship and Small Ventures, Consumer Behavior, Business Finance, Entrepreneurial Leadership and Professional Speech (though we dropped two of them after a week due to different circumstances – we dropped Professional Speech as our expectations about the course did not meet the reality and we dropped Entrepreneurial Leadership as it turned out to be not transferable for us).
In general, studies are same everywhere but there are some things that were absolutely different for me:
1) If you have more than 4 absences in a course due to any reason, you get an F automatically and you have to retake the course.
2) You are not allowed to drink and eat during classes (on many rooms there is a sign saying “Do not enter the room with drinks and food”).
3) You have to ask for a permission to go to the bathroom (and there is a separate bathroom for faculties which students are not allowed to use).
4) Students almost never use laptops during classes.
5) One teacher gave each student a particular number according to which a student had to take a specific seat in the room (I don’t have any clue what it was done for…)
6) Students have a lot of respect for a teacher and do not usually argue with him or her.
7) You are not allowed to leave university until 2 PM
8) You are not allowed to wear shorts on campus.
Though we were lucky with our professors who were very kind, responsive, helpful and friendly to us. They all speak English fluently just rarely switching to Urdu. Our teachers were very experienced, professional and educated so it was a pleasure for us to be taught by them.
We’ve been living on the university campus which is located in the district of Korangi (the industrial area of Karachi city). There are many friendly security men armed with guns. The classrooms are clean, equipped with PCs, projectors, speakers and air conditioning.
The university area looks very clean and green inside, the buildings are relatively new and modern, but there is an enormous amount of mosquito, flies, cockroaches, ants……and a nalla behind the fence (an open sewerage system) that stinks extremely bad especially when it gets +40 degrees. That’s why we could never open a window in our room and had to use air conditioning 24/7. There are 3 of us sharing a comfortable room but sometimes we have no access to tap water from 6 PM to 6 AM.
We were provided with free food from IOBM cafeteria but we stopped eating there after I was admitted to the hospital and then we started to cook for ourselves every day. There is a small kitchen on our floor (populated by many kinds of insects) where we could cook our food. As we have always felt disgusted to cook something there, we have been cooking something very simple like pasta with either sausages or tuna fish every day for 4 months (I’ll probably never eat macaroni again). The other day a cleaner saw that I did not finish my sausage which I left on a plate and he decided to save it…… 2 days later I opened a built-in closet and found my sausage in there (I think it will not surprise you that many insects found this leftover extremely sweet…). There is a washing machine back from the 60s’ which is manual…
During our first month, we were constantly eating only Pakistani food until the day I was admitted to the hospital due to strong food poisoning (apparently it was Lassi – a sour milk based beverage). Pakistani food is SUPER TASTY but EXTREMELY SPICY and heavy. We are not used to this kind of food at all, which is why it has been a real challenge for our stomachs. Since then, we have been going to different European restaurants in the city, the amount of which is quite excessive (almost every cuisine is available). But even in European restaurants, they add spices to almost every dish!!! We have always asked our waitresses to make sure that our dish is not going to contain any spices (several times I had to ask the staff to replace my dish for three times as my mouth was burning just after trying my meal). The Pakistani do not eat a lot of vegetables that is why if you are a vegetarian, it is going to be quite challenging to find a restaurant that provides meals for you.
Pakistan seems to have extremely low prices on everything. However, there are still some things that are overpriced (especially imported goods).
Taxi (30 mins drive) = $3,00
Dinner at European restaurant = $20,00 – $40,00 per person
Dinner at Pakistani restaurant = $7,00 – $15,00 per person
Street food dinner (a lot of food) = $5,00 – $10,00 per person
Pack of local Marlboro = $1,50
A tea or a coffee at the most popular chai place = $0,60 – $1,00
Fresh juice or a smoothie = $1,00 – $2,00
A haircut at a popular place = $5,00
Cheese at supermarket = $8,00 per 200g
Juice = $4,00 for a pack
The city of Karachi is one of the largest cities in the world with a population of more than 20 million people, so it is obvious that the city is very loud and crowded. The average temperature here in spring is +35 degrees. There is no public transportation at all though the taxi fares are extremely low as I have mentioned above you pay just $3,00 for a 30-minute drive. The city infrastructure is very complicated to understand, at least for a foreigner. There is a lot of traffic and public places are overcrowded. In Pakistan, if you want to receive a driver’s license you just have to go to a traffic police office and pay a fee of $30 (no driving school or exams are required). There are a lot of beggars on the streets, mostly selling different unnecessary stuff, clean your car windows while you are waiting for a green light or just ask you for money. It was also surprising that there are so many transgender people on the highways coming to your car, leaning on it and telling how beautiful you are (expecting some money from you). There are several big shopping malls, though many famous brands are not present there. There is a central beach but we have been warned that it would not be the best idea to swim there because water is very polluted. (I expected to come here and go swimming every day but in fact, I could only swim once when we went to Kund Malir beach in Balochistan). There are plenty of different restaurants in the city. There are some historical places that are really beautiful – for example, Mazar-e-Quaid. The street food culture is very popular but after food poisoning, we decided not to put our stomachs at risk trying the different street food. (the idea of spending another day at hospital did not sound very appealing).
We have also visited a local market where you could get a fresh chicken (they just take a living chicken and cut its head off in front of you).
There are a lot of other markets in the city where you can easily get fresh fruits, vegetables and meat.
For us, it is normal to have dinner drinking a glass of nice wine or a bottle of beer, but what about alcohol consumption in Pakistan?
As it is an Islamic country, alcohol is prohibited in the whole country, though there are some places where you can easily purchase it. There are so-called “wine shops” in the city where you can get a local beer can (of not very good quality) for $3,00 or a bottle of local whiskey for $15,00. It is also not very hard to find imported alcohol but the prices are way higher than in Duty-Free. For example, you can get 10 cans of Heineken beer for $120,00 (what is a bit expensive). The majority of the population in Pakistan is Muslim, which is why people do not consume alcohol here (though there are still many people who do). When you go to a fancy restaurant, you can always see families or friends having dinner with a bottle of alcohol covered in a tissue.
Every Pakistani family which is considered to be either a middle-class family or an upper-class family employs a personal driver (or several drivers), personal guards and household helpers. (the average salary of a driver, who is available 24/7, is $120 per month, many of them come from afar and sometimes get a chance to see their families just once a year). Some Pakistani admit that there is no real need to employ a personal guard but it is sort of cultural thing.
The Pakistani are mostly very traditional in terms of relationships. Guys tend to stay in the parents’ house and girls tend to move to their husband’s house once they get married. Guys cannot just come to a girl and ask for her number (as we’ve been told they can get slapped for doing so). If a guy wants to date a girl, it would require a lot of efforts. They can’t just go to each others’ homes for a movie because it can be misinterpreted by their families. It is also pretty common, that a couple firstly has sex only after they get married. Families in Pakistan are extended meaning children live with their parents even after marriage. (I’ve always wanted to leave my parents house ASAP in order to live independently, but many people here do not want to live separately) Though the culture is patriarchal, women can do whatever they want to do, but a man is still the one who makes important decisions. It is also not common that a woman earns more than a man. Pakistan is also very conservative in terms of LGBT communities. Most people that I have spoken to either does not take the existence of gays and lesbians seriously or they acknowledge the existence but admit that life for them in Pakistan would be extremely difficult due to the hardships that they would endure in everyday life. Not to mention the fact that even the act of coming out to them may result in being kicked out of their house.
Before coming here, we had been told that we would be allowed to leave the university anytime we want to and go wherever we would like to. But in reality, it turned out to be different. We could leave the campus only if any of the students picked us up and dropped us back (what is very inconvenient as all our friends live pretty far from the university). The university told us that we were not allowed to go out alone as we could be kidnapped, killed or raped (sounds pretty scary nah?), though I have always felt safe being in any part of the city (except Korangi market because it’s a really scary place). There are a lot of policemen in the downtown armed with guns (at the beginning they scared me but now they make me feel safer).
People and Culture
The Pakistani are extremely friendly and hospitable people who are always ready to help you. It is very nice to see people smiling in the streets. We have made a lot of friends over here, and I’m sure with some of them we will stay in touch for a long time. I am extremely grateful to some of my friends who were always there for me and did not let us die of being bored and stuck on campus. However, there are some cultural differences that were unusual for me at first.
Inshallah (if Allah wills) – the most frequent phrase the Pakistani say. I think actually it describes people’s behavior and mindset in many ways. When you ask someone “Do you want to go have dinner tomorrow” and a person replies “Yes, let’s go inshallah” then it surely means NO. In my opinion, people try to put responsibility on some external factors in order to avoid saying no.
We’ve also been promised to do so many things, to go to so many new places by almost every guy we get to know. Actually every new person we met promised us a lot of things to do………..but most of their promises never came true. I think for people it is important to show their respect using words but it rarely leads to any actions.
Pakistani are super unpunctual. Sometimes we had to wait for our friends for 3 hours just sitting somewhere.
If you arrange a meeting with someone and you appoint a particular place and time, it does not mean that this meeting is going to happen.
Pakistani culture is very high-context as things are not usually being said directly. So far it has been the most difficult part for us. We are used to say things straightforward – for example, when I want to go out I ask “Can I go out to the city center?” and I get the response “Yes, you can, though it is not the best idea”. I understand it like “Yes, I can go, but I have to be very careful” but what was actually meant was “No, you can’t because it may be dangerous”. It’s just one of the examples that caused many misunderstandings and conflicts with the university administration.
Pakistani country life
Thanks to our amazing friend Younis we had a great opportunity to visit a real Pakistani village that is located close to the city of Mir Pur Khas (300km north of Karachi). Pakistani rural life reminds me of feudalism in a way, as there is a landlord who gives land to poor people where they can live in exchange for agricultural work. These people live in the houses built of clay having no access to showers or bathrooms. For these basic human needs, people have to use a river. Mostly these people are illiterate with some not even knowing their birthday. Kids start working at the age of 4. Some of them do not have the chance to attend school. (what is very sad and something that I consider to be unacceptable).
Despite this, it is a place full of beautiful untouched nature such as the deserts, fields.
Thank you, Pakistan for being so hospitable.
Thanks to all our friends here who were always here for us.”
Despite issues like water and hygiene, seems like the exchange students loved their visit to Pakistan, and why not, after all, Pakistanis are so hospitable.