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Starting college is the first time that many students will be away from their homes, their friends, and their families for months at a time. It is a transition that can cause homesickness and a sense of isolation. One thing that can make this adjustment even more difficult, is when college is not just in a different city or state, but in a completely foreign country. This week, my guest is Tahmeed Hafeez, a senior at Brown University. He grew up in Bangladesh, yet he has been attending school abroad for the past eight years.
Hafeez: “In the beginning, it was quite difficult because you don’t really get to see your friends that you’ve seen all your life, or your home.”
He moved away from home when he was just 15 to attend high school in Italy. He is the oldest of three brothers, all of whom followed in his footsteps and are attending schools across the globe.
Hafeez: “My mom from day one has been like ‘This is the biggest mistake of my life, what have I done? Like why did you have to go abroad?’”
He slowly grew accustomed to life in Italy, but when it was time to come to college in the United States, he had no clue what to expect.
Hafeez: “I had an idea about the U.S., now in hindsight, I had no idea about America. Most of my knowledge used to be usually from movies, where you see that people have house parties, or even in college like fraternities and people partying all the time…Usually, when I’m going to a party I have to think, ‘Wait how much work do I have, can I afford to go out?’”
The social climate in America was also vastly different from what he had anticipated.
Hafeez: “One of the big things that I had no idea about before I came to the U.S. itself is sometimes the social tension you feel that you only feel when you’re physically here, and you never get it through say movies, or music, or just talking to people who’ve been to America…When you’re outside, you don’t really know exactly what it is or how polarized things can be.”
No time was the social tension more palpable than during Hafeez’s freshmen year, in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. He had multiple encounters where he was the target of overt racism.
Hafeez: “There was a pickup truck full of men who stopped by, they were using racial slurs at me…Once you’re here, you kind of live in a bubble of Brown University, and that’s not necessarily representative of everyone in the U.S.”
Overall, however, he loves being in at Brown and in the U.S., yet he finds himself stuck in a middle ground where he is unsure of who he really is and where he truly belongs.
Hafeez: “It’s kind of a cliché thing to say if you’re an international student, ‘Oh you’re too foreign for home and you’re too foreign for abroad also.’ You start to doubt what side of you is the real you because I’m one way here and I’m one way there and which way am I really me?”
After graduation, he finds himself met with uncertainty. If he doesn’t find a job within three months of graduating, he has to leave America.
Hafeez: “I have no idea where I’ll be a year from now. I might be home, I might be in Europe, I might be in America. It definitely hinders how you plan your relationships, simply because I also don’t have much of a choice in where I go.”