Asian University for Women
Close your eyes. Forget whatever you know about a typical college. Close your eyes and travel to a 9-story building somewhere in the city of Chittagong in Bangladesh with me. It is called Asian University for Women(AUW)-Access Academy. Imagine over a hundred or so young women (19-25) who have come to this 9-story building from all over Asia to learn. They all live and study in this building. Some of their teachers live in this building, too. The Admissions office, classrooms, health clinic, Access Academy office and the library are all in this building. We are now at the door of AUW-Access Academy. We enter. Like most apartment complexes in cities, there is a front desk and a receptionist. She is a young girl who is both a cleaning lady and a receptionist. She knows enough English to greet you.
As you go up the stairs, you begin to see many young women who go up and down the stairs. Everyone is busy doing something: running to the computer lab to finish an argumentative essay, going to the library to study for an exam, meeting with a teacher, going to the cafeteria, going to the roof to hang the clothes that they have just washed, going to the Karate class and many different activities. They all wear colofrul clothes. They see you and very quickly they identify you as a “newcomer”. They smile and greet you politely: “Hello, Miss. How are you?” I have never seen these many beautiful smiles all at once. They are from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Cambodia and they are awaiting more peers from a few more countries in Asia next year.
I am here to interview some of the women at the Asian University for Women-Access Academy. At first, I thought of what I have to do here more like one of the “projects” that I have been assigned to do this summer. By project I mean an interesting activity that has a starting point and that will result in a written document. Very soon, however, I realized that my time here is truly more than just a project and it is really an experience that I will never forget throughout my life.
I live in the same dormitory as the students (but in a nicer room). At first, I was not all that happy about my living situation mainly because I did not know anybody and at nights I felt lonely and I thought I would make the students uncomfortable by appearing in their spaces. I did not like the food and I was scared to be alone in a big area all by myself. Above all of this, I am scared of cockroaches and bugs which really impacted my mood during first few nights here.
Gradually, I started to interact and speak with the students and without even realizing it I ended up making many friends here. It is only a week since I have arrived in Bangladesh and I already have made friends from 6 different countries in Asia. In the evening, we sometimes hang out and joke around. We talk about their futures, their worries, dreams, determination to succeed, their desire to establish a family one day, their families and how much they miss being with them. We talk for hours and hours. They sing for me and talk about their feelings, sad and happy thoughts. They ask about my life and how it was to move from Iran to the United States. They want to know how I got into a good university and what they should do to become even more successful than they already are. They are thirsty to know more about the world. When I told them I was in Argentina and Mexico for a few months they asked me to tell them all that I remember from those two countries. They just want to know, know, know...
Some of them have had hard lives and amazing life stories at this young age. They have different personalities and dreams. They come from different background and different families. But, now they are like family members for one another. Some of them are far away from their parents and siblings and have not seen their family for the past one year and a half. They have made the decision to come all the way to Bangladesh in order to get a unique education; something that is very uncommon for women their age in their localities. Of course, they dearly miss their homes and families. But, they have found profound ways to survive here. They love their teachers and each other. Undoubtedly, there are sometimes quarrel, but they know very well how to resolve the situation quickly and all by themselves. During their time they have created a family of their own with about 120 other young women who are here only to excel and learn about themselves and the world.
I am amazed by their patience, intelligence, kindness, their ability to dream big dreams and to run toward those dreams despite all the hardships and barriers. I close my eyes and imagine some of them in year 2015. They will be working at NGOs, helping their communities and the world, travelling in the world, speaking in conferences and writing about their opinions and experiences and simply making a difference in the world.
This is only the beginning of their stories. Some of these young, intelligent and beautiful women desire nothing less than running the world. I am convinced that together (and along with other hardworking determined youth in the world) they will, in fact, run the world. They are restless for the day when they are at the peak of their careers and lives. I try to remind them that the process of hiking all the way to the top is just as beautiful as the moment of victory. With their beautiful eyes that are full of energy, they try to hide their restlessness and smile. Each one of them is a true heroin and what I love about them is that they know that they are exceptional.
It is hard to describe how much I am learning from them about life, patience, determination and not losing hope.They have no idea that they are teaching me a new lesson every time they speak with me. As they go to bed every night and dream about their future, I put my head on the pillow and think about all the hardships that they have had to go through to get to where they are.