It is fascinating to see how people from all walks of life and hundreds of places around the world ended up in dear old Champaign-Urbana. Today, I bring you the story of Nubras Samayeen- a PhD student in architecture and proud mother of two. She was born and brought up in a Muslim yet liberal family in Dhaka (capital of Bangladesh). Her mother, who lives with the family in America now, loves flowers, cooking, and sewing, providing Samayeen with an advanced aesthetic sense. Her father, on the other hand, was a civil engineer and very keen on structure and construction. Furthermore, growing up in a city like Dhaka, she grew fond of studying urbanism, urban culture and heritage. Subsequently, at the age of 12, with combined inspiration from her parents, Samayeen decided to be an architect.
At the age of 18, she wanted to be free and study abroad. Samayeen felt that if she could study in the US, she would not only have access to vast educational opportunities, but she would also be able to do things like horse-back riding, learning the piano, ballet, and swimming, which are not easily accessible or doable for females in Dhaka. In the back of her mind, she also desired the glitter of western world. Samayeen’s family felt differently and did not want her to leave the family that early. She therefore pursued her undergraduate education in Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET).
As one of the most revered universities of Bangladesh, BUET required immensely competitive university entrance exams. A fun fact is that quite a few of our esteemed faculty members are BUET alumni, one of whom is Taher Saif, our Associate Head for Graduate Programs and Research in the Mechanical Science and Engineering Department. Samayeen recalls, “I stood 10 hours in the admission exam among couple of thousands who appeared in the selective method. I just needed to prove myself to my family, but that did not help to convince my family to send me off. I ended up studying in BUET for seven years for a five year curriculum since there were session jams (caused by political unrest and academic issues).” At the end of an agonizing seven years, Samayeen was further tempted to leave Dhaka. She wanted a better life and freedom in profession, and therefore proceeded to apply for schools in the US.
She pursued a Masters in Architecture program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, through scholarships. It may come to no surprise for international students that Samayeen suffered an identity crisis and also missed Dhaka and her family greatly. The depression, accompanied by culture shocks, were feelings she was completely unprepared for. The enthusiasm she had for exploring the world as a teenager seemed to have faded away and she ended up going for a study abroad program in Prague. This trip turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it steered her focus towards Urban Design. She ended up completing a second master’s degree at Michigan in Urban Design.
Samayeen subsequently worked in a number of architecture and planning institutes in New York City, and Washington D.C. In 2009, she lost her job due to the economic recession. Being on the H1 B Visa, she was among the first to be cut, and being an international applicant gave potential employers reason enough not to further the application. Eventually, Samayeen decided against a 9-5 architecture job and decided to pursue academia. After a couple of stints teaching architecture, which ended when her work permit expired, Samayeen married and moved to Toronto. Even though life became seemingly less stressful regarding her immigration status, Samayeen felt incomplete without a job or studies to keep her mind going. In 2013, she had her first daughter. During this time, she actively applied for various PhD programs in architecture in the United States, and was subsequently admitted to UIUC with a school scholarship in 2014.With her 9 month old daughter, she then started her PhD career in Urbana-Champaign.
Now, Samayeen loves her life in Urbana. As she puts it, “it is a small town, but yet has accessibility to all resources and knowledge.” There is a great Bangladeshi community, and due to the small scale, everyone can meet more frequently than would be possible in a big city. UIUC has several Bangladeshi student organizations that keeps one rooted to tradition. Samayeen says, “The UIUC faculty is also great. I am very lucky to be trained under them. The school also opens to South Asian avenues. The Center of South Asia offers so much more. The library has South Asian section, which is all I need to be updated and be happy. Urbana is also a good place to bring up children.”
Samayeen has had a colorful life prior to her journey in Urbana. Her mother and two daughters live with her, and she is extremely involved with the Bangaldeshi events on campus. One might say that her time in Urbana is merely a fleeting moment in the journey of her life, but the strong Bangladeshi community here in the cornfields has given this traveler a sense of home.