Niyonta Nahia Chowdhury '15
Tell us a little about your international journey.
I'm from Bangladesh. I was born into the capital city blue and slimy and premature and was fashioned by it into what I am (and what I am not) today. This pretty little mad city is called Dhaka.
I haven't traveled across international borders too many times and whenever I did it was usually tourism based and for less than a month's stay. The only two times I actually lived abroad was when I was 7 and 10, in Japan and the States respectively; my dad was a visiting professor both times, first in Waseda University in Tokyo and later in Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
What made you want to attend college in the U.S.? What, if any, concerns/challenges/opportunities did this present?
The U.S. hosts some of the best colleges and universities in the world and provides liberal arts based education, which I think is the finest approach and form of instruction. I was schooled in the British system of education all my life, and while I appreciate its style a lot, I find it somewhat handicapped with rigidity and boundaries compared to the vast latitude of liberal arts studies.
The biggest concern, I would say, was whether or not I would be able to live up to my carefully crafted hopes and dreams about how I would like my life to play out, once I start off on the path to building the grand blueprint of the rest of my presence in the world.
The biggest challenge, for me, was living away from my mom. I'm still surprised that I'm actually managing it. Another challenge, this one of less importance, but nevertheless significant, was parting from my close friends and constructing a new social life from scratch.
As for opportunities, well there's obviously a lot of those and they are supposed to override the challenges and concerns since I did ultimately choose to come here. Most basically (and most clichédly), a new place = a new beginning. More specifically, it presents the opportunity to really explore my intellectual and artistic potential, the opportunity to meet people from different walks of life and cultures, and of course, and this is, needless to say, the biggest one, the opportunity to see squirrels, play with snow, and eat McDonald's chicken.
How did you learn about Sarah Lawrence College?
I would like to claim I have a very interesting and personal story regarding this, but it's simply that I one day stumbled across SLC in a list of recommended colleges at the American Center when I was first contemplating applying to the US.
What made you choose to attend SLC?
It's SLC. The fact that it's SLC. Okay, more specifically, that it's a system and universe of its own, that it's so delightfully quirky and independent, that it's so prestigious and powerful, that I won't be tied down to a traditional "major," that it's writing based, independent work based, conference based and extensive discourse based, that there's a good measure of emphasis on the arts (specially performing arts), that there's… Umm the list won't really end, so I better just stop here.
What are your areas of concentration?
Theater, computer science, neuropsychology, film writing, and music. I have no idea how I'm going to make that list shorter in the next three years. That's like expecting me to slice off bits of my soul and be happy with the remaining fragments. That said, I think it's going to be Theater and Computer Science.
What was your first-year transition to life at SLC like?
I'm a first year-student, so I'm still in that transition. Settling down on campus would not have been half as easy as it was had it not been for the help and support I received from the amazing administrators and my amazing professors here. Especially Shirley Be. She's the best! My don and other professors—Brom Anderson (Philosophy), Doug MacHugh (Theatre), Rima Vesely-Flad (Public Policy), and Ernest Abuba (Theatre)—they're all unbelievably remarkable people.
How would you describe your experience at SLC so far?
In one word I would describe it as intense. In a few more: magically insane and enchantingly stimulating.
What is the community like at SLC?
The SLC community is definitely extremely diverse—in terms of practically everything. The only thing that we seem to have in common with each other is that we're all so different from each other. However, while the fact that I'm the first and only Bangladeshi here is fun and exciting in itself, it also makes me really sad to think that I won't be able to celebrate any Bengali cultural events on campus. There's Ekushey February (21st February), which is our mother language day and more recently international mother language day, 26 March (Independence Day), 7 May (our national poet's birthday), 24 May (Rabindranath Tagore's birthday), 16 December (Victory Day), etc. My favourite is Pohela Boishakh, which is the Bengali New Year and is on 14th April and is always incredible-beautiful-outrageous.
How about the local community—have you spent a lot of time in the surrounding area? How about New York City?
I haven't spent much time at all in the surrounding area (I'm too lazy) and the only times I've been to NYC is when I had to pass through Grand Central Station or Harlem to get to Queens! I go into Long Island City every week for a service learning program for one of my courses and, well, the section of Long Island City where the organization I work for is, is practically a miniature Bangladesh. I was extremely surprised the first time I went there. The blocks are filled with Bengali stores, malls, restaurants, and pharmacies. So that's almost as exciting as a trip to Disney World—to be able to read names, ads, and banners on shops in my language on my way to work in New York.
SLC values international students because they bring to campus the richness and excitement of a global perspective. Can you give us some examples of how your perspective has made a difference in classroom discussions, etc.?
Well, I haven't exactly brought any astounding scholarly cultural insight to the table so far. But I think I do make a difference in my classes, however big or small. For example, although I'm personally a mixed-breed agnostic-atheist-pantheist, I come from a Muslim family and therefore am able to represent the Islamic point of view as much as my own "agnocapantheistic" view in my Philosophy class, which is otherwise mostly Christian. Also, and this is the one I love the most, I'm the only international student in my Theater class and notably stand out from the other actors in my style, appearance, and performance.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Signing autographs for wild fans and texting people from my DotKnot, a hydrogen powered smartphone that runs on software I programmed and engineered, while walking my Doberman down his favorite road, whatever that is. Either that or sitting in a miserably dark room and reading the previous sentence, on the SLC Web site, and giggling through tears of manic depression.
What advice do you have for international students who are considering SLC?
Go for it. It's the coolest place ever. Better than Narnia, Heaven, Hogwarts, or Trayastriṃśa.