We recently spoke to Dr. Razia Sultana, an accomplished academic, who shared her thoughts on the Fulbright Program, her professional trajectory, and so much more…
What led you to apply for the Fulbright Program?
Fulbright is a prestigious and competitive scholarship program and candidates across the world vie to be selected. Educational institutions in the U.S. are simply the best and those who aspire to excel in their respective fields attempt to gain admission to these universities. I am one of those fortunate people who not only dreamt of this scholarship but won it, too.
Moreover, Fulbright has a cultural component alongside an educational one. I was equally interested in learning firsthand about the culture and way of life in the U.S., which I luckily was able to do through this program.
How was your academic experience as a post-doc at New York University (NYU)?
It was wonderful to be a part of NYU’s Center on International Cooperation. On this campus, I learned the true meaning of the saying ‘knowledge increases with sharing’. All my senior colleagues were so generous with their books and journals and really enriched my understanding of my field, Modern History and Politics of Afghanistan. My collaborator, Dr. Barnett R. Rubin, was so cooperative that he allowed me to use his collection of books for an entire year. I returned them when I was coming back to Pakistan.
I attended many seminars, talks and conferences and all these certainly deepened my understanding of the ‘Afghan problem’ from multiple perspectives – this understanding serves me to this day.
I also had the chance to meet renowned experts in the field, such as Mr. Lakhtar Barahimi who was the chief negotiator for the restoration of peace and stability in Afghanistan during the late 90s.
Can you share a memory that stands out in your Fulbright journey?
There are several experiences that I cherish from my time in New York. I really enjoyed the city’s diversity of cultures, variety of food, and beauty of festivals. As I was interested in truly immersing myself in the culture, I found three host families through Metro International, an organization that provided a platform for networking and collaborations to new scholarship winners. I would visit my host families on alternate weekends and my frequent interaction with them changed my stereotypical notions about family life in America. I came to know them as warm, hospitable, and caring – just as how we see ourselves in Pakistan! They treated me as a part of their families.
Also, as I’ve said before, my experiences at NYU broadened by horizons immensely. Because of them, I was able to see the big picture and learn to love humanity, to comprehend the importance of giving back to society. As the Vice Chancellor of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Women University, Peshawar, I am currently doing precisely that.
Any advice for returning candidates who want to become positive agents of change like yourself?
My advice for returnees is to observe keenly and learn attentively while you are studying in any U.S. university. Then, when you come back, it’s your responsibility to introduce those treasures of knowledge and best practices to your home institutions. You must strive to create a conducive academic environment in which new ideas can be nurtured and young minds can explore new horizons in their respective fields.
Along with that, do contribute to society through voluntary work. For example, if you are a teacher, devote some time and energy to a student who cannot afford your services but can, with your help, reach their full potential. If you are a medical professional, provide medical assistance to patients who cannot afford a doctor’s fee or medicine. This is my essence of life now – and I hope you will try to live by it as well.