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I grew up overseas, frequently visited my home country of Bangladesh, and have interacted with a great variety of people – all experiences that have shaped the person I am today. I have traveled to over twenty countries and lived for an extended period of time in three of those; I have assimilated to multiple cultures while maintaining my own identity and learning several languages in the process. My friends and family originate from and live in every corner of the world. I have been fortunate enough to encounter even a small fraction of the infinite places and experiences the world has to offer, and it has immeasurably enriched me.
At the age of six, my father’s job was relocated to Saudi Arabia. I moved far away from my friends, school, and existing life to a country where the spoken language of the populace was completely different. My family lived in the RO1 “compound,” an apartment complex that housed hundreds of other English-speaking families like ourselves, but who came from all over the world. I lived next door to a Pakistani family and across the street from a Lebanese one; my mother often traded recipes with the Jordanians who lived down a few houses from my Ethiopian friends. Every day after school as a child, I rode my bike around the compound and played basketball, baseball, and soccer with my friends. I often ate dinner at their houses as well, each time enjoying a different country’s cuisine. Even though my family has now moved back to America, we still maintain the close friendships we formed.
I attended the Saudi Arabian International School in Riyadh. The hundreds of students at my school, ranging from preschoolers to ninth graders, all lived in similar “compounds,” where every resident was guaranteed to speak a different language from his or her neighbor. The teachers at SAIS-R went to great efforts to include students of every background and belief. When I was in third grade, five or six of the students in my class, including myself, were Muslims fasting during the month of Ramadan. Since fasting in the presence of those who are eating was considered to be a burden, my teacher always accommodated us with alternate activities while the rest of the class went to lunch. In and after school, I also had the opportunity to learn Arabic and French.
At age ten, my father was again relocated, this time to Singapore. I attended another private American school, where I met thousands of students like myself – Americans who had been temporarily shipped to a foreign country. Though at the time I was stubborn and resented having to move again, I later realized how beneficial the experience was for me. Singapore itself is a multicultural nation, populated by people of Chinese, Malaysian, Indian, and European descent. On weekends, I had barbecues and swam with my Chinese friends who lived two floors below me and shared in Diwali festivities with the many Indians who also lived in our apartment complex.
Two summers ago, I spent a few weeks in Bangladesh and interned at a television news station, where I was forced to become fluent in my mother tongue of Bangla. I immersed myself in Bangladeshi culture and got a taste of what life would be like if I lived in Bangladesh instead of America.
During school holidays in my childhood, my family traveled all over Europe, Asia, and even Australia and Egypt. Being constantly displaced from my home has made me an extremely flexible person, open to and understanding of people of all cultures and backgrounds. I believe that my extended exposure to and appreciation for other ways of life will help me to thrive in as multicultural and diverse institution as Rutgers University.
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