Southeast Welcomes Students from Tunisia, Pakistan UGRAD Programs


Southeast Missouri State University is pleased to welcome six new international students to campus as part of the U.S. Department of State’s Tunisia Undergraduate Scholarship Program (Tunisia UGRAD) and the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program in Pakistan (Global UGRAD-Pakistan).

“Diversification of the student population adds value to the education students receive here at Southeast. Person to person cultural exchanges build relationships, promote understanding and enrich the campus experiences for everyone,” said Dr. Kevin Timlin, executive director of International Education and Services. “These students will bring a lot to the classrooms, residence halls and community.”

The students arrived at Southeast in mid-August. They live in the Towers Complex and attend classes on campus. The group from Pakistan will study at Southeast through mid-December. The Tunisian students will remain at Southeast through mid-May.

As part of the larger Thomas Jefferson Scholarship Program, Tunisia UGRAD builds the workforce capacity of a diverse group of youth leaders from across all regions of Tunisia. The program provides participants with a deeper understanding of American culture and new globally-applicable skills and expertise to help them contribute to the economic growth and development of their country. Through year-long programs of study in the United States, Tunisia UGRAD students gain academic knowledge in their field of study. By interacting with Americans through community service work and on-campus engagement, students develop a broad and nuanced understanding of U.S. values, become citizen ambassadors and create sustainable links between Tunisian and American communities to increase cross-cultural understanding.

To gain practical hands-on experience in their fields of study, Tunisia UGRAD students participate in online career preparation and undertake professional internships in the community. Thomas Jefferson Scholars return to Tunisia with the knowledge, skills and abilities to be leaders and innovators in their fields and contribute positively to Tunisia’s development.

Global UGRAD-Pakistan builds the capacity of a diverse group of youth leaders from underserved populations across Pakistan. Through semester-long U.S.-based training and practical experience in leadership positions, community engagement and in their professional fields, undergraduate students gain the skills needed to implement long-term civic and economic changes in their communities, building stability through increased local capacity and cross-cultural understanding. U.S. and Pakistani students increase their understanding of each other’s culture and values, supporting people-to-people diplomacy for a more stable future.

UGRAD-Pakistan students complete coursework in their fields of study and in an American studies topic. Students further enhance their critical study skills and gain the opportunity for academic success through academic skill-building courses or mentors. Students also contribute a minimum of 20 hours of volunteer work to their host communities and give presentations on Pakistan’s history and traditions at their host institution or in off-campus settings.

“These students are exceptional. The UGRAD programs select the highest caliber students,” said Timlin. “They are some of the best and brightest from these countries.”

The students are Firas Aouinet, Nada Bouker and Houyem Rais of Tunisia, and Usman Ahmed Abid, Hajra Javed and Safa Tabinda Khan of Pakistan. They say they are excited about the opportunities to gain professional experience, learn about the American perspective in work and life and share information on their countries and cultures.

“We work on soft skills in our universities, but not on professional skills, really,” said Bouker. “I’m looking forward to the internships and community service.”

The students also share Rais’ goal to gain skills and make personal and professional connections.

The students note that American social and economic systems are vastly different from that of Tunisia or Pakistan. They are also aware of the differences among various regions of the United States and plan to visit other cities while at Southeast.

Usman said a mutual understanding of perspectives is important, and he hopes to visit several cities to experience the culture and diversity within the United States.

Aouinet is looking forward to learning more about journalism and American sports, particularly football.

“Our lives are very different at home,” Javed explained. “This program allows us to be more independent. Once you’re settled in and start a routine, it is not as difficult. There are a lot of people here who are willing to help us here, too.”

Khan encourages U.S. students take advantage of the program and experience Pakistan.

“It is an excellent opportunity to get a cultural and historical perspective (of a country),” she said. “We would love to talk with people and answer questions about the program and our country and address any misconceptions.”

Both programs are highly competitive. According to Houyem, only 32 students were chosen to participate from a field of over 800 for Tunisia UGRAD.

Kahn said UGRAD-Pakistan selected 109 students from approximately 30,000 applicants.

The Tunisia UGRAD and UGRAD-Pakistan programs are sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S government and administered by the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX). For more information about Tunisia UGRAD, visit For more information about UGRAD-Pakistan, visit

The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs builds relations between the people of the United States and the people of other countries through academic, cultural, sports, professional and private exchanges, as well as public-private partnerships and mentoring programs. For more information, visit or contact

IREX is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to building a more just, prosperous and inclusive world by empowering youth, cultivating leaders, strengthening institutions and extending access to quality education and information. For more information, visit or contact or


**Top Photo Caption: From left are Houyem Rais, Safa Tabinda Kahn, Usman Ahmed Abid, Hajra Javed, Firas Aouinet and Nada Bouker.