The violent attack on Burundi national Yannick Nihangaza has sent a wave of shock through the global classrooms of the ‘Oxford of the East’, as Pune likes to call itself.
“It is a tragic incident, and it has left a lot of us extremely affected,” 25 year old Auguste, also from Burundi and a Masters student of Computer Applications at a reputed international university in Pune, said. Having experienced racial discrimination in the city he has chosen to live in for three years (see box), for Auguste it is about looking at the positives. “It depends on how you take it,” he said. “Discrimination is open at times, like when you want to rent a flat. They won’t give it to a black guy, but [will give it] readily to a white guy,” he states. However, the city is warm and welcoming “in general.”
A Pune University official stated that the city is host to almost 40 per cent of foreign students who come to India for higher education. At Symbiosis International University, there were more than 3,000 foreign students last year, a majority of them from Afro-Asian countries.
Why Pune is the most popular destination is best summarised by a 30-year old Iranian student, who did not wish to be named, “Freedom is the best when it is affordable,” she said.
The quality of education is good, living is cheaper compared to Mumbai and Delhi and the city is “just right, with a balance of culture and cosmopolitan outlook,” she said. “It is a safe place for women,” she certifies, having left Pune in 2004 after studying for two years in Wadia College, only to return in 2009 to study Interior Designing. “I know I could be myself here,” she said.
Echoing her is 28-year old Ismael Keita Nabi from the Ivory Coast, a third year student of BCA at Symbiosis, who has lived in Pune since 2008. “I came here to learn, to live on my own. The society can be a little tough but it is about becoming a man,” he says. However, he would like to see the people of Pune “open up more to foreign students.” “It is like the whole economy around education is open for foreigners, but the mindset is still a little closed,” he adds.