Study abroad or not : Double standards of the young and smart

Published: October 4, 2011
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Students exhibit great anti-American sentiment, yet they are lining up to write the SAT.

There is an excellent strategy to make anyone shut up during an anti-American rant, if they are 18 or younger, that is. Right in the middle of their ‘the United States of America (USA) is controlling the International Monetary Fund to turn us into beggars’ or ‘the USA is plotting with India to annihilate us’ speech, look these people straight in the eye, and very calmly say, yeah, that is great…so how was your Scholastic Aptitude Test?

Someone once said that they would stop believing America was great when the immigration and visa lines outside US embassies start decreasing. I would like to add that – I will stop believing the US is so great when the droves of students applying for higher education there start decreasing.

Including right here in the land of Pak.

Want to know exactly how popular American universities are? Try booking a seat right now in any one of the multiple Karachi, Lahore or Islamabad SAT centres – they are all full. The smart ones register months before, the unlucky ones hitch a plane ride to another city – if it has any seats. The students taking the test debate whether California’s beaches are overrated or whether Connecticut is really as cold as it sounds.

These are all perfectly legitimate questions, if it weren’t for the side helping of virulent anti-Americanism.  How on earth did we get here? How do these students reconcile two such obviously divergent viewpoints within their minds?

The answer – they don’t.

Picture this. Two final years students, Shazeb and Sophia, held a ‘US-Pakistan alliance’ debate at their school. The debate was meant to discuss the future of Pakistan’s relationship with the US and suddenly unravelled into a discussion about freemasons and Jews. Both students called it one of the most disturbing scenarios they have ever witnessed. “Imagine 15 kids in a room all spouting off nonsense about RAW, ISI and Afghans, only China came off as perfectly sane,” said Sophia. “The singular most adamantly anti-American person in that room was a first year A-Level student who made a ten minute long speech about how our minds were being corrupted by the west.” She added that the student later came up to her and asked if it was better to take the SAT this year or not.

Look at that line. Remember that line. There, right there, is the ultimate example of hypocrisy. You see – its one thing to say you can’t stand America, to burn effigies or flags and protest every single thing Mullen says to you. It is quite another thing to sing along to the popular crowd and then go home to work on your vocabulary list for the standardised test.

Pak-Cheen may be bhai bhai [Pakistan and China may be brothers], but what about the bhai that actually educates you? Is this the kind of response you reserve for that bhai? Or is this just something private, something you hope the immigration officer won’t pick up when he hands you the visa?

Perhaps the simplest explanation is the least worrying one.

There’s no outward difference in these students, no apparent religiousness – nothing about them screams controversy.

They wear Nike shoes, study in co-ed schools and give foreign exams. The only remarkable thing about them, then, is that they just happen to be occasional haters on Monday, Tuesday and Friday, or really, whenever being anti-American suits them. Ironic? Sure, that is what happens when Pakistani students go off to take the SAT.

Correction: An earlier version of the article incorrectly stated Scholastic Aptitude Test as Standard Aptitude Test. The correction has been made. 

Meiryum Ali

Meiryum Ali

A freshman at an ivy league school who writes a weekly national column in The Express Tribune called "Khayaban-e-Nowhere".

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.