Harvard students pose for a photo during visit to a Pakistani city. — Courtesy: Simon J. Levien
Harvard students pose for a photo during visit to a Pakistani city. — Courtesy: Simon J. Levien 

A group of 27 Harvard affiliates visited Pakistan to explore the country’s vibrant culture and develop connection with the South Asian nation during their spring break.

During their week-long “Pakistan Trek”, the Harvard affiliates attended sporting events and meet prominent current and former government officials, The Harvard Crimson reported.

The trip, jointly organised by the Harvard College Pakistani Students Association and the Pakistan Caucus at the Harvard Kennedy School, offered travellers a “unique experience” to “come together to explore Pakistan’s vibrant culture and develop a connection with the South Asian nation,” according to an Instagram post from the group.

Hamaad W Mehal, co-organiser, said the purpose of the trip was to provide Harvard affiliates the chance to interact directly with Pakistanis.

“Pakistanis, in my opinion, are the friendliest, most welcoming, most hospitable people out there. They’ve gotten, I think, unjustly misportrayed, and I think the goal of this trip was to show people that this is a people with a rich culture, a rich history,” Mehal said.

Sadiq K Soofi, another trip organiser and an international student from Pakistan, said that Pakistan is “never really the centre of discussion itself” and is instead often talked about in reference to other events, countries, and issues around the world.

Soofi, who also served as co-chair of the Pakistan Forum, said he hoped that the trip would provide “a more nuanced experience of the country than an academic conference would be able to do on campus at Harvard.”

During the visit, students met prominent Pakistani government officials, including Ayesha A Malik, the first female judge of the country’s Supreme Court, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa and former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.

They also visited nonprofits working on a range of issues from health, education, and climate change.

Quirin von Blomberg, a student at Harvard Kennedy School, said conversing with the chief justice and the “highest members of the state” was “super exciting,” adding that he was “super happy” with the “diverse mix” of stops the group made during the trip.

The group visited Islamabad and Lahore before spending a night at Pindi Umra, a village in Punjab.

Soofi called the visit to Pindi Umra a “very human interaction” with “no formalities, no official programming.”

Mehal said visiting the village was his “favourite part.”

“Just being able to see the village life — see the sunrise, sleep under the stars, watch as cattle were being herded around the village — I think that experience itself was very unique for all of us,” he said.

Before leaving Pakistan, Soofi reflected on a moment during the trip when all male members of the group went to a mosque to pray, something he said “stuck out” to him.

“The trek for me was really about these individual moments that people got to have that I think will stay with them for the rest of their lives,” Soofi added.

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