Ali Shahid, 22, a University of Georgia student from Pakistan, speaks to the Gwinnett Rotary Club on Tuesday about his experiences in the United States this school year, and how he’s tried to improve the perception of each country with their citizens. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)
DULUTH — He’s going to miss the Waffle Houses, and especially the hashbrowns, smothered and covered.
Ali Shahid, 22, a University of Georgia student who was the Gwinnett Rotary’s honoree in the Georgia Rotary Student Program, is a native of Pakistan and shared some of his experiences with the club on Tuesday during its regular meeting at The 1818 Club in Duluth.
Shahid recently finished his junior year at UGA and will return to Pakistan in early June to run a mother-child healthcare center that had 5,100 patients in its first six months of operation. Shahid’s main goal is to eradicate polio, which has resurfaced in Pakistan where government resources are being diverted to the campaign to find more vaccinations.
“I want to make this a project for myself, and the center I will be running,” he said.
Shahid said he plans to use all types of media to enhance the campaign to eradicate polio.
Shahid smiled and laughed when he shared stories about culture that was new to him, such as attending UGA football games, tailgating at an Atlanta Braves game, skydiving from 14,000 feet and dressing like a redneck, “without judgement.”
Wayne Sikes hosted Shahid during the year and introduced him on Tuesday as a son and, “the most effective student I’ve seen in many years.”
Shahid attended UGA this school year and studied accounting, marketing and finance. He will leave the United States with a better understanding of its culture.
“I came here with a very different perspective of America, especially the Southern part,” Shahid said, and noted that the U.S. has an 80 percent disapproval rating in Pakistan. “I will always remain in a Georgia state of mind.”
When he returns to Pakistan, Shahid said he would bring the message that people in the U.S. are not the kind of people that most in Pakistan believe they are. Likewise, he shared that people in the U.S. largely have a false impression of Pakistan, and that it’s a country of people who love peace, and have the same respect for the sanctity of life. In both cases, the minority opinion is often wrongly presented as the majority.
“This means so much to the human to human connection you’ve been trying to make over the last several years,” he said. “There are some people who aren’t happy about me being over here, but they’re a minority.”
For his efforts, Shahid also was awarded the Will Watt Memorial Award, which is given to a student who promotes international understanding, goodwill and peace.
Shahid plans to finish his college career at Lahore University of Management and Sciences, and said his academic experience at UGA was similar to Lahore, which he called the Harvard University of Pakistan.
Terry Gordon, a member of the Gwinnett Rotary and state chairman of the Georgia Rotary Student Program, said Shahid was one of 47 students from 23 countries who participated in the scholarship program this school year, which paid for their tuition, room and board and food. The students become adopted members of a Georgia “host family,” but live on-campus at the school they attend.
“This is really what GRSP is about, taking home what you learned here,” Gordon said. “We’ll see this young man again, he’s great.”
Shahid plans to develop a similar program with the Rotary in Pakistan.
“We’re going to keep sending Pakinstanis over to you, just so you know how awesome we are,” Shahid said.