For many people, the opportunity to study abroad is a lifelong dream. For others, it happens more incidentally than they may have anticipated. Regardless of the events that lead up to it, people have their own unique experiences and anecdotes when it comes to pursuing their higher studies in a foreign country.
Samin Zaman is a 22-year-old CSE undergraduate student at the University of Central Florida (UCF) in the US. Currently, in his last year of college, Samin lives in his dorm at UCF, juggling both his academics as well as his part-time job on campus. But according to him, while things might appear to be going right for him, this stability did not just happen overnight.
Samin left Bangladesh in 2019 to pursue his undergraduate degree in computer science in Florida. He says, “When I first came here it felt really lonely. Almost everyone at my college was welcoming and warm, but I couldn't help but feel alone. I had never lived away from home before that.”
According to Samin, he had always been an organised person but having to cook and clean after himself was not an easy task. However, he believes that having to learn how to take care of himself gave him a sense of responsibility and independence that he now appreciates. He recalls that learning how to cook was one of the things that helped him to make new friends at college. He recalls: "I remember when I first moved here, one of the things I missed the most was the food from back home. So, I bought one of those multipurpose cookers and I'd call my mom to help me learn how to cook daily meals."
He added that his then-roommate was intrigued by the Bangalee food he used to cook for himself and so he would often offer his roommate as well as some of the others in his dormitory the food he cooked. Samin also recalls an incident during his first year in the US when it was not possible for him to visit Bangladesh during the holidays in December and one of his friends at the university offered him to visit his home for Christmas. Having a more introverted personality, Samin appreciated gestures of kindness such as this that his friends had extended towards him to help him achieve a better sense of belonging.
Things, however, did take a turn due to the pandemic when they had to do their classes online. He says it was a difficult time for all international students living there at the time, but he lived in an apartment near the campus that he shared with a couple of his other friends.
Just like Samin, many other Bangalee students studying in the US had to face numerous obstacles during the pandemic. Haseeb Chowdhury is a 19-year-old Journalism student at George Mason University in Virginia. He first moved to the US in January of 2020. "The timing could not have been any worse. It was a dream come true for me to be able to go to America for my studies. However, right after my classes began the pandemic started and we all had to move out of our dorms and shift to online classes."
Unlike Samin, Haseeb did not have enough time to get a job because of the lockdowns being imposed right after he moved there. Fortunately for him, he knew a few other students from Bangladesh at his university who also did not have a place to live anymore. He ended up sharing an apartment with three others for the rest of the pandemic. He says, "In a way, it really helped me, the first month after moving there I was really starting to feel homesick. Living with other people meant I didn't have enough time to think about home too much."
Haseeb considers himself more an outgoing and extroverted person. He believes that this helped him to adapt to the changes he had to face after he moved there. But he added that covering his own expenses was a challenge he could not have handled alone if his family had not helped out at first. But once the lockdowns ended and he got a job and learnt how to manage his finances better he no longer found himself constantly being under stress.
It was difficult to make friends, especially at a time when the classes were being conducted online and not on campus. But Haseeb still managed to find people with common interests who were taking the same classes as himself in his university's photography club he had joined. According to Haseeb, "It's not easy to fit into an unknown place, I still miss home. But I am always grateful for the opportunity that I had, so I try to approach things positively and have fun whenever I can."
Both Haseeb and Samin, like thousands of other Bangladeshi students, have found a second home of sorts for themselves, in a country that is miles away from home. Things have started to get better in the post-pandemic times. Apparently every time they visit Bangladesh Haseeb still feels as though he is missing out on a big part of his family and friends' lives but both Samin and Haseeb are also grateful for the opportunity of being able to pursue their dreams.
The writer is a third-year BBA student at IBA-DU.