Surviving and thriving as an international student
by Tauseef Ahad
When I started my university at 17 years of age as an International Student in Malaysia, I started off from scratch. No one here knew me. The culture, people, studying environment, language – everything was new to me. What made it worse was my nationality – I am a Bangladeshi.
Bangladeshis are often frowned upon in Malaysia - as the poorest people of my beloved country come to Malaysia to chase their dreams, work hard and earn money by becoming construction workers. These people then try to make a living through business and other opportunities. However, many people in Malaysia are scared of Bangladeshis, fearing that they may be thugs or trying to create chaos. From the double checking during immigration when I first set my feet in Malaysia, to the suspicious frowns when I go to a shop, to the rude behavior from many people I met in my journey once they heard I was from Bangladesh – I was not prepared to deal with all this at such a tender age. Coming from an Asian background, academics have always been extremely valued in my family. It’s almost like I was born to be an Engineer, a Doctor or a Lawyer – my society would not accept any other profession as a strong future. My whole childhood was a rat race of who can score highest, even if it has to be by a quarter or half marks. All my parents wanted was for me to get the highest academic score in Malaysia, then start a job, earn money and get married – the most secure future a person can hold.
However, when I started my journey as an International Student, I slowly started to realize that the life that had been drawn in front of me all along, the life that I had been leading over the last 17 years, was really not the life that I wanted. While running behind success and marks and trying to be the best in competition, I have silently overlooked the child slavery that is so prevalent in my country. I have overlooked the domestic violence that went on in my neighborhood families, I blinded myself from the dangerous superstitions that families around me followed in the name of culture. I noticed that the youth in my country really want to do a lot, they want to contribute for the underprivileged people around them. They want to educate the uneducated, they want to work for the orphans, the refugees, the unemployed. They wanted to be entrepreneurs. But just like me, their ideas were killed to the core, only to make sure they keep on chasing the rat-race we have in our society to ensure the perfect job and the perfect marriage. If we did not follow that, what would society say?
So, I started to broaden my views. I started to understand the stories of the people around me. I decided to do something for these people. I started to realize that the simplest of people have the most amazing stories.
I started off small, from my University. Of course, I was not a Malaysian, so I did not know how anything worked here. I was just another young boy with big dreams, trying to cope with a totally new culture. I started to learn leadership from the Student Council, started to learn research from the Research Program (and was blessed enough to go to Japan and work with top-notch researchers). I organized one of the largest Career Fairs in Malaysia. I started to realize what I really like and what I want to do in life, who I want to contribute for. I started to realize that I am a really good organizer, I am very passionate about Diplomacy and Public Policy and I have an entrepreneurial spirit.
I started to find obstacles on the way. Family and relatives started questioning, what is the use of all this? What is the use of even studying in Malaysia? My lecturers started to question, if you are an Engineer then why are you working on social development work? My friends started to believe that I had gone off the rails, there was no future for me and I was just wasting my time. But they never noticed the big picture.
For me, it was never about the 9-5 job. It was never about the money. I did not want a life that made me become selfish and think about myself only. I never did a degree just to get a job and forget about everything around me.
It was always about impact. How can I be of help to someone? How can I help the people who are really in need? How can I learn about diplomacy and entrepreneurship to the very best of my capability and then go back someday and implement my ideas in my beloved country? How can I improve the lives of the underprivileged in Malaysia, through social work, through helping the people who need it the most? I have seen many of my friends wanting the same thing. But they never brave enough to stand up. They were scared of their society. They were scared of being a Bangladeshi in Malaysia. They were scared about what their parents and relatives would say.They were scared of not getting a job or not doing “well” in life. For me, it was always about breaking these barriers and being the most helpful in other peoples’ lives. I’m not sure how much I have succeeded in it, but I can promise this – I have tried my very best in the last four years and will continue to try.