Sophomores reflect on experiences living in Bangladesh, China, Mexico

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Emily Moss

by Emily Moss
To some, Newton may seem like a suburban community removed from the cosmopolitanism of a larger city. Upon closer examination, however, it becomes clear that there are students and families who move to Newton from across the globe, bringing with them their languages, cultures, and experiences.
Take sophomores Maleeha Haider and Fariha Mahjabin, who are second cousins and are both originally from Dhaka, Bangladesh. While Mahjabin spent her entire childhood there before moving to Newton this year, Haider left the country at the age of 14 with her family and spent a year and a half in Shenzhen, China and three and a half months in Mexico City before coming to this school.
Both students say that their families decided to come to the U.S. primarily for educational purposes, though Haider noted that her family had previously spent time in other parts of the world because her father’s job involved international assignments.
Haider and Mahjabin said that they had mixed feelings about leaving home.
“The hardest goodbye was from Bangladesh to China,” said Haider, adding that “I could surely tie up my belongings and luggage but not people and memories.”
Mahjabin added that she has many fond memories from her old home in Bangladesh but that the thing she misses most is the rain.
“Everyone hates the rain here because it’s so cold and depressing,” said Mahjabin. “But the rain back in Bangladesh, it’s the kind of rain that everyone loves even if it causes three-hour traffic. The kind of rain that makes you want to ignore whatever you are doing and just dance your heart out.” She added, “I wish I could capture the smell in a bottle and bring it with me.”
School experiences
Despite nostalgia for their home country, both students said they have had positive experiences living in other places and attending new schools.
Haider said that she particularly liked the international school she attended in China because of its diverse population of students. She noted that only the children of expatriates studied there, so she had the chance to meet students from 19 different countries.
Haider and Mahjabin also said they were surprised by the large size of this school when they first arrived, and Haider noted that the practice of switching classes throughout the day was unfamiliar to her. However, she said that the student-teacher dynamic here is similar to that in other schools she has attended because “all the teachers are really friendly and open up to you in case you need help.”
Haider added that she likes the wide variety of extracurricular activities available at North.
Neighborhoods
Mahjabin also commented on the differences between urban and suburban environments.
“Newton is too sleepy for me,” said Mahjabin, noting that when she lived in Dhaka, she “woke up to car honks and fell asleep staring at the brightly lit night sky.”
Mahjabin added that as an adult, she will consider moving to Cambridge because she likes the “vibes” there.
“But I might move somewhere warmer because I don’t think I can survive many [New England] winters,” said Mahjabin.
Haider added that she loved living in Shenzhen, China because the city was “young, lively and beautiful” and the buildings and roads were only about 20 years old.
She says that she does not know where she wants to live in the future but that she may “work on international assignments and travel the world” like her father.
Cultural adjustment
In addition to experiencing a variety of home and school environments, Haider and Mahjabin speak several different languages. Both students are fluent in Bengali, Hindi, and English, and Haider says she also speaks a little bit of Chinese, while Mahjabin speaks some Urdu.
“I love speaking four languages because I think every language has its own beauty, and you don’t realize it until you fluently speak it,” said Mahjabin.
Haider, however, noted that she encountered significant language barriers in China and Mexico and that she remembers trying to communicate with a type of “sign language.”
“In the States, it is way more convenient!” said Haider.
Even apart from her fluency in English, Haider said she readily adapted to life in Newton.
“For me, moving to a new place and adjusting to it was not anything new because it was already my third new place to move to,” said Haider.
Mahjabin, similarly, said she has had a relatively smooth transition to life in the U.S. but that her experiences in Bangladesh continue to distinguish her from students who have grown up in Newton.
“North is great,” said Mahjabin, “I didn’t have a problem adjusting, but sometimes I feel like I can’t connect to people as much as I could in Bangladesh because I had a completely different childhood.”
Even so, Mahjabin said she has learned that that life will “never go according to your plans.”
“The day we let go of perfection is the day we actually start enjoying life and start appreciating what we have,” said Mahjabin. “It’s the day we truly start living.”
Takeaways
Haider said that although moving as a teenager can be difficult, having the chance to meet new people and become familiar with new languages and cultures can be very valuable.
She says her advice to other new students at this school is simply to “be yourself.”
“Interact with people, tell them your story and they will actually have the chance to discover you and know how cool you are!” said Haider.
Mahjabin added that moving from one country to another has taught her that “change can be scary,” but that “sometimes you just have to relax and let life take over.”
“You only get to live fully when you stop worrying about life changing,” said Mahjabin.
She added that coming to North has given her the opportunity to meet a diverse population of students.
“You get to have a friend from every religion, continent, and culture,” said Mahjabin. “I never had this in my previous schools, and it’s really awesome.”
Mahjabin has kept a blog about her experiences moving, which can be found at: http://beingmourin.blogspot.com.