Dr Derk and Susan Bakker – Educating beyond boarders

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The saying, ‘Travelling is the antidote of ignorance’, fits the duo of Dr Derk and Ms Susan Bakker. They arrived in Pakistan less than a year ago and are working at Forman Christian College University.

Dr Derk Bakker comes from the Netherlands and Ms Susan is from Australia. The couple met when Ms Susan was on a trip to the Netherlands and Dr Derk was then working in a youth hostel. Dr Derk is an expert in the field of agriculture research and has a broad experience in the field with both the private and government sectors. Susan on the other hand has an experience with teaching and training women.

They have combined two key components of their lives that now define them; enjoying different cultures and contributing to societies with their knowledge and experience in a much better way compared to how they were able to do it back in Australia, where they had settled post marriage with their kids.

While the duo was considering their options, someone in their church mentioned FC College and how it would fit what they were looking to do. However, despite having visited the country in the past it was not something they were considering at that point. Ms Susan ended up in Karachi, at the age of 22 on one of her backpacking trips and ended up staying for five days as she had missed her flight. Dr Derk on the other hand had visited the country twice when he was working with the Australian department of agriculture and got to visit Islamabad and Lahore.

When their social circle came to know that they were considering moving to Pakistan, they got the typical reaction of the Western world, a mixture of horror and caution. The fact that during the same period there were attacks on the Christian minority in Pakistan didn’t help the perception.

“This didn’t bother us much despite having it in our minds because one can get in harm’s way in all sorts of circumstances. Given our belief that God is the keeper of life, we made the decision of moving.”

Dr Derk is now part of the Faculty of the Department of Environmental Sciences, as he saw an overlap between his agriculture background and how it fits the country’s priorities.

“This is not a subject where you get rich unless you get a bit entrepreneurial. So the students that do take up this field are the ones who are motivated and have a broader mindset and want to contribute towards their communities.”

What came as a pleasant surprise is that the couple refused to act as experts on Pakistan, its society and issues unlike many who don’t have an in-depth knowledge of the place. They shared that understanding a country, its cultures and issues takes time and for now they can share their observations but won’t act as experts as they are still in the primary stage of understanding their new environment.

However, given his previous interactions when he was working with the Australian government, Dr Derk shared his observation on a couple of negative aspects. One involves the majority not taking the responsibility at various levels, from that of an individual level to government level. It happens at all levels in a very subtle way and has consequences at all levels of society. Another is the lack of questions for things going on in the society to avoid back lashes.

“I may be wrong but this is what I observed and it is sad how a large section of the society is held ransom to a vocal minority. But that is something that the society needs to tackle.”

Talking about breaking stereotypes the couple shared that, the idea that because a few places are conflict zones, thinking that the world needs to disregard the whole country is wrong.

“Even though the mainstream media mostly highlights negative things about Pakistan, one thing that you always get to hear about the people of the country is that they are very hospitable and friendly and we have many similar experience to reaffirm this.”

The family culture is something that fascinated the couple. Comparing it with Australia, they were amazed how close knitted the families are and how they are willing to accommodate each other. A simple example being that of a house where no matter the number of people, they will adjust to live together. Something that is not thinkable in Australia and people prefer their own space. The concept of arranged marriages too intrigues them. One thing that they really liked about the culture is the care and respect that is given to the elders in the society.

Language is a key aspect of any society and given that they plan to stay here for a while, they have decided to learn Urdu. Ms Susan has taken it as a primary activity for now and is a fast learner. Dr Derk’s work keeps him occupied but he dedicates a good portion of his free time to it. Her Urdu handwriting can put many from the younger generation to shame!

We hope to see their story unfold and will touch base with them again in future to know how they bonded with Pakistan.


Interview by Hammad Anwar & Mariam Ayub | Written by Fatima Arif

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