In this edition of International Humans of Brown, Ali Mir from Bangladesh sat down with Calista Shang ‘20 to share his experiences at Brown, difficulties adjusting to a new environment, and more. Ali is concentrating in Computer Science, is a jack of all trades, and is somebody who lives his life with the glass half full. His smile lights up any room he walks into, and he is enthusiastic and encouraging in everything he does, which is a lot. Read on to find out more about how this talented senior has changed over the past four years, obstacles he faced on campus, and his advice for incoming freshmen!
Where are you from?
What languages do you speak?
I grew up speaking Bangla and English. I studied Spanish for six years. I attended an international school that really prided itself on open mindedness and global citizenship, so I studied Spanish elementary through high school. Both of my parents and siblings speak Urdu, so I can understand a bit of Urdu as well as a little bit of Hindi. I also studied Arabic at Brown, because when I arrived I heard that Brown had an incredible language department. I actually planned on studying International Relations when I first came to Brown, as it was always in my mind growing up. I switched to Computer Science though, because I took CS15 at the recommendation of my brother and fell in love with it.
What student groups have you been involved in at Brown?
I’m involved in Brown Space Engineering (BSE), in which I helped build the ground software for a satellite launched in July 2018. I’m also involved in Hack@Brown’s organizing team and was an active member of club volleyball. Throughout the years I’ve also been part of groups such as the Bengali Student’s Club, Brown Entrepreneurship Program, Nav Talent, Blockchain@Brown and Sigma Chi.
I’ve put most of my time into BSE, and it was definitely the most rewarding. I have always loved space and astrophysics. I even wanted to be an aerospace engineer when I was little. I remember when I was a kid, my brother and I watched the remake of Cosmos with Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and I was fascinated. My friend gave me a copy of the original book by Carl Sagan and I raced through it. . I loved thinking about what was out there and how small we really are. I thought joining BSE would be a great way to merge my academic interests in computer science with my childhood dream and hobbies. It is incredibly rewarding to be able to have something that we built flying over us. One of my favorite memories was going down to Virginia to watch the rocket carrying our satellite launch from a NASA facility. I will always remember how in awe I was at liftoff.
Why did you decide to study in the US?
Both of my siblings studied in America, and I went to an American international school. It’s always been the trajectory I was on. My dad spent a lot of his life in San Francisco, and I have a lot of family here. It seemed to be the natural move, and I’ve always loved the openness of American colleges. I liked the opportunity to walk in and not know what I wanted to study. I wouldn’t be studying computer science if it weren’t for that openness.
How have your four years here been different from what you have expected?
I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I’d been to the States a lot. Both my siblings went to George Washington University, but I still couldn’t have expected any of this. I didn’t even know what I wanted to study. I’ve learned so much, and even though I didn’t have any expectations, I knew deep down that I would have a good time. Brown makes it easy to do the things you love.
What did you find to be the most difficult things to get used to?
I think this is a pretty common thing with most international students but definitely the weather. I’d never seen snow before coming to Brown, and I didn’t own any winter clothing. When I arrived, my mom had no clue what to pack for me or what advice to give me. Neither of us had a clue about any of that.
It was unreal seeing my first snowfall. I remember it was in February 2016, and I was in my room in Keeney Quad doing homework. All of a sudden, I hear screams throughout the dorm, and I look at my email and see that classes are cancelled. It was my first ever snow day. I was so excited. I remember falling asleep and waking up to see that everything was white. It was surreal. I went and woke up all of my friends. We went on a walk, and I remember distinctly being the only person in a big pile of snow making a snow angel while everyone laughed and watched
One of the tougher things was being so far from my family. Not only is it hard to go home, but it’s also hard to talk to my family because of the time difference. I’d wake up and my mom would always be asleep. Thankfully, we have a big family group chat, and I try to call my mom at least once a week. It’s hard though, with schoolwork and the time difference. Sometimes, I won’t get a response until really late at night.
I try to go back home every six months, but there was one summer I didn’t have enough time to since I was working the whole time. I didn’t really realize how much time had gone by until I went home the next winter, and I hadn’t seen any family for a year. It hit me when I got home and saw how much older all of my little cousins got. I don’t want to do that ever again.
What food/dish do you miss from home?
Funnily enough, in Bangladesh, there is a KFC and it’s three stories tall. It’s huge, and they make their food with a Bangladeshi twist. The chicken is a little spicier and is made with different flavoring. In high school, my friends and I would always go after class. I think I sort of attach a sense of nostalgia with Bangladeshi KFC.
What is an Americanism you have picked up in the past four years?
I already had a lot coming into college from American friends that I had in high school and American media I’d seen growing up. One thing that I still haven’t gotten used to, though, is how early Americans eat and go out. In Asia, we’d eat so late, around 10:30 p.m. We’d go out around 11:30 or 11:45, and here, people eat and go out at like 8:30. My international friends and I still haven’t adjusted, and sometimes we’ll call each other around 1:00 a.m. asking to hang out.
What do you wish you knew as an incoming freshman?
I wish I knew that college was just one massive balancing act. I’ve always been interested in a lot of things, and I overcommitted myself freshman year with classes, friends, and extracurriculars. It was difficult doing it all, and now, I’ve whittled things down to what I’m really passionate about. It’s important to remember that there are only so many hours in a day and that you’ll be sacrificing sleep for everything you do. Not only is it important to succeed in school but also to enjoy college.
How has living here changed how you act/interact at home?
I feel like my life is kind of here now. Bangladesh isn’t really home for me anymore. When I go back, it feels more like a vacation. In high school, I would go out all the time and hang out with friends, but now when I go home, I just rest and relax. So much goes on at Brown and I love doing so many things, but I don’t have much to do at home anymore. All of my friends have moved away. Only one other person goes back out of my 13 really good friends from high school.
Bangladesh is a pretty homogenous place in regards to religion, race and culture. Coming to college and being in America really opened my eyes to a lot of issues that I simply did not understand before. Going back with these thoughts and this knowledge is kind of cool. It’s interesting to talk with my family about these things, especially if they haven’t been to the States.
What is one thing you are going to miss about Brown? Best memory?
I’m going to miss being ten minutes away from all of my friends. Thinking about graduation in a month is slightly terrifying. It’s nice to go on Find My Friends and see all of my friends within a one mile radius. I can hop on a Jump Bike and grab a bite with someone within ten minutes.
As more and more people start to figure things out though, I realize that everyone is going to be spread out around the world, and it’s tough dealing with that. I’m never going to have these same experiences again. I’m also going to miss the feeling that I’m always learning from late night discussions with my roommates and peers. I know I won’t stop growing after college, but it’s just so easy here.
If I had to paint one ideal picture of Brown, it would be walking up the Main Green on a sunny day in spring and seeing so many of my friends sitting on the grass. I’d have class in ten minutes, but I’d suddenly decide to skip so that I could surround myself with people I love and with happiness.
What is your favorite spot in Providence?
My favorite spot is the bench behind Sayles Hall in Ruth Simmons Quad. I don’t really remember why, but I do remember that in freshman year, I sat here once after a month and a half of classes and realized how happy I was. I enjoyed keeping busy and meeting so many amazing people. I really do love Brown. It’s also a great people watching spot.
Understanding the Middle East: 1800s to the Present with Professor Sreemati Mitter. It is an introductory course on the history of the modern Middle East from the 1800s to the present. I loved the class so much because the professor was such an engaging lecturer. Professor Mitter was probably the best professor I’ve had at Brown. She brought so much energy and emotion to the class that her enthusiasm was infectious. I’m used to sitting in math classes and thinking that “I don’t really care about this stuff”, but looking around in Mitter’s class, I could see that everyone was always so engaged. She even met with all of us individually in office hours for us to introduce ourselves. She asked me where I was from, and I was surprised that she could speak Bengali. It was awe-inspiring to converse in Bengali with someone I really admired.
Favourite dining hall?
I love the Ratty. I know that’s an unpopular opinion, but there are not a lot of food options in Bangladesh. I remember coming into the Ratty my freshman year, I was so excited. They had Lucky Charms on tap! It was unreal. When I was younger, every time I visited the States, I’d always want Lucky Charms, and I’d take three boxes back home with me. It was quite the rare commodity. I love rolling into the Ratty on any number of days, expecting to sit there for 20-30 minutes, and end up having hour long crazy conversations with people I run into.
Advice for younger students? Younger self?
Time goes by so fast, and it’s so easy to forget that. Don’t stress about the little things like, “Oh my goodness, I did so poorly on this homework” or “I missed a class.” Those are always tough but finishing off your four years with moments like that do not matter. I cherish the little experiences I’ve had at Brown most. There will always be good days, and there will always be bad days. My favorite times at Brown have been sitting on a bench with friends or grabbing a coffee or studying on the 9th floor of the SciLi with friends, getting absolutely no work done. When I think back on my Brown experience, those are the things I’ll remember and miss the most.