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Intled community mourns slain Pakistani student in US

Members of the international education community have been offering their condolences and describing the murder of 10 victims including a 17-year old exchange student from Pakistan in a Texas school shooting as “profoundly heartbreaking”.

Exchange student Sabika Sheikh was one of 10 people killed in the Santa Fe High School shooting. Image: facebook/Sabika Sheikh

The student had described her acceptance on to the exchange program as the best thing that had ever happened to her

Sabika Sheikh was studying at Santa Fe High School as part of the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program when she was among those killed by a gunman on May 18.

“It’s profoundly heartbreaking”

According to BBC reports, Sabika’s funeral was among the first to be held, at a mosque in suburban Houston, with more than 3,000 members of the Texas Muslim community attending to pay tribute to the student who had described her acceptance on to the exchange program as the best thing that had ever happened to her.

Her host family described their time with her as “a precious gift,” saying they had even joined Sabika in fasting during Ramadan.

YES program manager Megan Lysaght confirmed Sabika’s death on May 18, and messages of support and condolences flooded across social media in the aftermath of the event.

A spokesperson for The Council on International Educational Exchange told The PIE News that the team was devastated by the horrific shootings and tragic deaths of students and teachers at Santa Fe High School.

CIEE extends its deepest condolences to the families and friends of the victims,” the spokesperson said.

“If my children get a scholarship or any other opportunity to study abroad, I will certainly send them”

Sabika was studying as part of a State Department-sponsored educational exchange program—a program that was devised to promote mutual understanding and respect between communities and nations by facilitating the exchange of ideas and experiences, the spokesperson continued.

“That Sabika was killed while bravely participating in such a valuable peacebuilding and public diplomacy program is profoundly heartbreaking.”

Speaking to the media, Sabika’s father Abdul Aziz highlighted that the incident would not deter him from sending his children abroad in the pursuit of education.

“If my children get a scholarship or any other opportunity to study abroad, I will certainly send them. If we let these incidents deter us it means we are promoting those people who want to stop children from receiving an education.”

There have been more deaths in US school shootings so far in 2018 than there have been deaths in the US military, according to an analysis by the Washington Post.

Earlier this year a report by Intead and FPP EDU Media noted a major jump in students flagging up safety concerns as influencing their study abroad decisions.

It found that in 2016, 23% of students indicated that their sense of personal safety in the destination country was a strong factor in their decision making.

“These international professors and students are not here living in fear”

In 2017, 88% of students said that a strong campus safety program was helpful or very helpful to their decision making.

Speaking to The PIE, CEO of Intead Ben Waxman sent his condolences to the victims and added that he believes the US is still a very safe place for international students.

“When these tragic things happen here in the States, often the media pick up on it and tend to use the story to sell papers and I don’t mean to diminish the tragedy, but it makes it difficult to explain the relative safety of the US,” he said.

“These incidents do occur more frequently in the US than in other countries, but it doesn’t mean our campuses are not safe. It’s easy to feel that, we all feel a level of concern and that’s natural.

“We have our work cut out trying to show what great opportunity there is here, what a fantastic and safe place [the US] is to live and study in.”

Waxman said he would recommend US campuses record a video showing how international professors and students live their lives day to day “having very natural, very American university experiences”.

“These international professors and students are not here living in fear,” he added.

However assistant director of International Admissions at Chatham University in Pittsburg, M Haroon Jamshed told The PIE that while this is unlikely to have a negative effect on the students, parents will “become more cautious”.

“This will add damage to the overall decline,” he added. “Canadian universities taking full advantage of the situation, and they should.”

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