An international affair
Asef Rahman came to Syracuse University as a pre-med student, thinking it’d be a good fit since he has always been good at STEM subjects.
“I took organic chemistry, I hated that class with a burning passion,” said Rahman. During the second semester of his freshman year, he stumbled upon an international relations class in which a speaker talked about the conflicts happening in Yemen, Syria and other Middle Eastern countries. Rahman remembered feeling something.
“I was sitting there, I was like, ‘this really makes me really angry,’” he said.
Fast-forward to now, Rahman is a senior studying international relations with a minor in political science, where he found his passion for cybersecurity and international affairs. “That's what I realized when I came in pre-med, I wanna help people,” he said.
However, international relations doesn’t offer the same job security as STEM studies do. Rahman said that he knows his parents are “still on the edge” about his major.
They moved from Dhaka, Bangladesh to West Roxbury, Massachusetts when Rahman was 14 in July 2010. “For me and my sister, I would say that's the number one reason they came here,” he said, “They really don't want to be here, I can tell.”
All of Rahman’s dad’s side of the family is back in Bangladesh and most of his mom’s relatives are in America, though she herself didn’t know a lick of English.
“I understand that they’re here. They expect like something out of me,” Rahman said, noting he’s somewhat of a workaholic. “I just want to work more, just to kind of give back in a way.”
They later moved to Rockland County, New York, where Rahman attended Nanuet Senior High School. When he took the English placement test, the school said that he did better than most of their students. He credits his perfect English to whom he calls Hasib Sir, his middle school English teacher.
Rahman attended a private school in Dhaka where, every morning, students would have to form straight lines outside and have an assembly. He wore uniforms, shirts always tucked in, and English was taught twice a day.
He hated the school system. “There wasn’t a sense of, ‘you come to school, we’ll help you learn.’ It was ‘you come to school, you better learn,’” he said.
All subjects were taught in English and he would have one Bengali class a day. After school, students had to go to a tutoring center for two to three hours. For Rahman, it was Hasib Sir’s house.
“[There’s] not a lot of space in that country I’m telling you, it’s the size of, like, Long Island,” he said. Bangladesh is roughly 40 times the size of Long Island.
In that country, he found the window to America and the rest of the world, for that matter, through TV. As a child he loved “Indiana Jones,” “Star Wars,” and his personal favorite, “Jurassic Park.” The programs were delayed due to the time difference, so he would stay up deep into the night to watch the shows.
When his American cousins visited him, they brought him the real Kit Kat candy, not the off-brand ones in Dhaka, and they taught him what basketball was.
“I think they (his cousins) really have the biggest impact on why I'm drawn to the Western culture more than my culture,” he said. “It doesn't mean that I'm less Bengali,” he added.
He loves sports more than anything in the world and he loves, perhaps most passionately, Manchester United, a professional soccer club in England. He recalled turning on the TV one night and seeing Manchester United play for the first time. They beat West Ham 5-1 that night.
For that same reason, Rahman loves London and the U.K. He’s visited numerous times and seen Old Trafford, the soccer stadium that is home to Manchester United.
In fact, as a child, Rahman traveled extensively with his family. He remembers seeing the beautiful untouched parts of the Philippines and Singapore, going to Dubai, to Egypt and Morocco, to Germany, Italy, France, Switzerland.
“My mom used to show me pictures of Babylon, when it was somewhat better than how it is now,” he said. His mom was born in Pakistan and grew up in Iraq and Iran, and his grandpa worked in the United Nations.
“So from the start, they had this thing, [that] if we travel, I think we're just gonna become better people,” said Rahman. But he said he hasn’t left the States since he moved here in 2010.
Rahman will graduate a semester later in December. He said he wants to find a job in security or go to graduate school potentially studying criminal law. His goal is to eventually work for the FBI, CIA or NSA, and his childhood dream was to work in the U.N. one day like his grandpa.
“I'm not sold on the future yet, but I’m not one of those people who get distraught,” said Rahman, “I want to put my stamp in the world in a way that is actually helping people.”
There is an entire world of stories on the Syracuse University campus just waiting to be explored. In “Eye on ‘Cuse,” sophomore Jiaman (Maggie) Peng captures a new narrative every week.