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Summer exchange program empowers young women to excel

Kainat Kanwal_300x200

The U.S. Summer Sisters Summer Exchange Program, an initiative of the U.S.-Pakistan Women’s Council, encourages gifted female high school students from Pakistan to imagine more for their future by allowing them to study science, leadership, international affairs, among other topics at university pre-college programs in the United States, including one at American University (AU). Funded by a U.S. State Department grant, Summer Sisters is jointly managed by AU and iEARN Pakistan, a non-profit based in Karachi.

For 2016, Summer Sisters has secured 17 scholarships not only from current partners--AU, Harvard, Smith, Barnard, Babson, George Washington, and the Eleanor Roosevelt Center--but also from new partners--Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, Washington University, and the National Student Leadership Conference.

As word of Summer Sisters has spread in Pakistan, applications have soared. This year, as many as 650 high school girls from across Pakistan applied for the 17 scholarships. Applicants must submit their academic transcripts and numerous essays, achieve high marks on English language testing, and undergo a thorough interview.

In addition to academic study, students have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in their fields outside of the classroom. Kainat Kanwal, who attended the Community of Scholars program at SIS in 2015, participated in an event at the Pakistan Embassy about domestic violence.

"I attended a welcome lunch organized for a female Pakistani Parliamentarian. I am so glad that I did because I learned more about what U.S.-Pakistan Women’s Council and our governments are doing to aid women empowerment,” Kanwal declared. “I spoke on the issue of domestic violence. It was important to me because women in Pakistan are too often deprived of their rights due to the lack of implementation of laws that are supposed to help them. This is a hindrance in the empowerment of not only women but also our nation.”

Receiving the opportunity to speak up about issues facing women in Pakistan is what initially inspired Kanwal to apply to the program.

"I saw Summer Sisters as a chance to learn more about the diversity of American culture," said Kanwal. "I wanted to experience independence and to challenge my leadership and communication skills in what is in my opinion, the best educational system in the world. I wanted to unleash the best in me."

Every morning, Kanwal and her fellow classmates in the Community of Scholars program studied the importance of culture and its diversity in international conflicts in their courses, taught by SIS faculty. They also visited sites throughout Washington, DC, experiencing what it might be like to study and work in the nation’s capital. Last summer, students visited the U.S. Department of State, the World Bank, the Saudi and Canadian embassies, and monuments and museums along the National Mall. They also participated in community service projects at Capital Area Food Bank and St. Luke’s Mission Center. Kanwal said she had an invaluable experience in Summer Sisters--that it was the “best summer of her life.”

"I was introduced to a different world, which sharpened my academic and leadership skills," said Kanwal. "I experienced a positive growth in my personality while I simultaneously acted as though I were a tiny ambassador of my country. I absolutely encourage other juniors to participate in this life changing experience and would be thrilled to guide them on their own journeys through the program."

Learn more about the U.S. Summer Sisters Exchange Program: