by Hasan Hameed
‘Can you please tell us where the M-2 is?’ I asked a girl as I entered LUMS.
‘Ask a guy’, she responded angrily.
It was only many weeks later when it dawned upon me that M-2 was the male dorm. By then, asking for directions had become something of a norm, for every building looked exactly the same: a mass of red surrounded by a sea of green. Confusing though it was, the built environment had a special air about it: vast, green fields; red-bricked buildings coated green with creepers; narrow paths shadowed by trees on either side, their branches bending inwards to form archways—within days of arriving, I had fallen in love with the campus.
I soon found other things to like. Hostellites could come in whenever, and there was no dress-code for students. Such policies ensured a (relatively) much greater degree of freedom compared to IBA and most other universities in Pakistan. And then there was the cafeteria, the Pepsi Dining Centre, where one option each of chicken, sabzi, or daal was available at every meal, as was fresh salad and dahi, all at the most reasonable of rates. It was the warmth of the HSS faculty, however, that really made me feel at home. Senior year is perhaps the worst time to come on an exchange, abandoning the familiarity of your home institute just when grad school applications and senior year projects hang ominously. But the HSS faculty in general and my instructors in particular were welcoming and friendly, pushing me to think harder about both my academic projects and my career plans. I remain deeply indebted—personally and intellectually—to their kindness.
I was equally inspired by the richness of the academic culture at large. Almost every other day the Dean’s office organized a talk by some reputed scholar, and many of the foreign scholars such as Dr Margrit Pernau and Dr Akbar Hyder stayed on or near campus to give students a chance to meet with them in person. Literature, poetry and languages were greatly promoted through weekly seminars and other events, complemented by an impressive Urdu, Persian and Arabic collection in the library. While the LUMS library has been fortunate to receive the enormous Khalid Ishaq Collection, the immaculate way in which it has been catalogued and the well-trained and accommodating staff are equally important in making the library a buzzing center for research.
Unfortunately, most of my class-fellows were not as participative as those at IBA. The appalling way Class Participation points are generally marked, with fixed points for every session, in addition to the divisive relative grading system could be potential reasons for the lack of dialogue between students. Another reason could be the absence of a core curriculum that would ensure that all students receive a shared grounding across a range of disciplines. Beyond the classroom, however, student life was a dynamic affair, and it was heartening to watch students
that would ensure that all students receive a shared grounding across a range of disciplines. Beyond the classroom, however, student life was a dynamic affair, and it was heartening to watch students unequivocally call out the administration for its shortcomings, their vocal criticisms of authority unimaginable at a place like IBA.
I felt that student life was marked by wide-spread anxiety and depression with many students struggling to adjust in a space where there is almost as much pressure to ‘party hard’ as there is to ‘study hard’. In the long run we must think critically about the deeper values and aspirations that underlie these problems. At a personal level, becoming a little more sensitive to the people around oneself by going up to that freshman eating alone in PDC and knocking on your neighbors’ doors just to say salam and enquire about their day might be some of the little steps that go a long way in combating the increasing alienation among some students and transforming it into the empowering, life-changing experience that is a university education.
Hasan Hameed, a senior in the Social Sciences and Liberal Arts department at IBA Karachi, was an exchange student during the Fall Semester 2017 at MGSHSS, LUMS
This article was first published in the MGSHSS newsletter, 'Guftugu'.