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Education, discrimination, and revival of the American dream

  • Published at 12:52 am June 30th, 2019
Education, discrimination, and revival of the American dream

The couple now want to materialize the American dream in the ‘land of opportunity’ as America is often called

Rhyhan Ahmed—an Information Technology (IT) professional in Charlotte, North Carolina, and his wife Sylvia Ahmed, hope that someday their 10-month old son will have a great childhood in America.

Both Bangladeshis recently got permanent residence in the US.  Born in the US, their son is already an American citizen. 

The couple now want to materialize the American dream in the “land of opportunity” as America is often called.

Their life in the US began four years ago, when Rhyhan went to study Information Science at a private university in Iowa, after graduating from a university in Dhaka. 

Upon completing his Master’s degree, he joined an IT firm in North Carolina two years ago, that sponsored him for his permanent residence permit.

“I am so happy with my current position and I think I took the right decision by coming here a few years ago,” said Rhyhan. 

Another Bangladeshi, Sharif Rahman, 29, came to the US in 2009. After graduating from Stony Brook University in New York, he also got a call from Apple and later approval from US authorities to stay in the country permanently.

Although Sharif struggled through college, he managed to finish his degree and land a job at Apple. He has since moved to another Fortune 500 company.

Recently, he brought his wife to Austin, Texas, where Sharif bought a house to settle down. 

These stories attract Bangladeshi students. Encouraged by these more or less success stories, most of them want to pursue higher education at top US universities.

In search of education and opportunity

Every year, over 7,000 students go to the US from Bangladesh for higher education, to acquire new skills, and good jobs. 

South Asian countries have seen a sharp increase in student enrollment at US universities over the past two decades. In 2017-2018, Bangladesh was ranked among the top 25 countries that send international students to study in America. 

Bangladesh now ranks ninth in the world for the number of students studying at the graduate level in the US, according to the US embassy in Dhaka.

An annual survey released by the US-based Institute of International Education (IIE) showed that in 2017-18, 7,496 Bangladeshi students went to US for higher studies, a sharp 4.9 percentage point increase, beating the international average of a 1.5 percentage point increase.

"I think people can avail better job opportunities here in the US than in Bangladesh," said Khadimul Islam, a former University of Mississippi graduate student. 

However, the number of international students entering American colleges and universities has fallen for the second year in a row amid efforts by the Trump administration to tighten restrictions on foreigners studying in the country, according to a recent IIE survey.

The post-9/11 American dream

Following the 9/11 attacks, the situation for Bangladeshi students changed drastically compared to what it had been two decades ago.

On a summer afternoon in 2002, Syed Choudhury was rushing to finish his security check and boarding at Dulles International Airport. He was scared he would miss the Virgin Air flight from Dulles to Heathrow for a connecting flight from there to Dhaka.

Syed opted to return home as he had been facing threats from neighbours and sometimes, total strangers, immediately after the 9/11 attacks. He had also lost two part-time jobs in Washington DC as the tourism sector took a heavy hit after the attacks. 

Recounting his story on the day of the attack, Syed said:“ We were devastated. We did not know what was happening, much like many Americans. We were enraged by this attack as well. But once the dust settled gradually, we became 'them.'

“Some of my Punjabi friends in New York were attacked, just because they wore turbans 'similar' to Osama Bin Laden," Syed said, adding that he decided to return to Bangladesh, terrified by his awful experiences in the aftermath of the attack. 

According to Syed, he was one of the many international students who had to leave the US after 9/11. Many Muslim students and his fellow countrymen followed suit in the wake of the attack. 

However, America has since regained its popularity with Bangladeshi students who want to pursue higher studies and join the workforce of the world’s largest economy.

Resurging popularity of American education

According to a  UNESCO study, the US is the second most popular destination for Bangladeshi students aiming for higher studies in foreign countries. 

The study, "Global Flow of Tertiary-Level Students," states that about 6,490 students leave Bangladesh for higher education at American universities every year. 

Now, Bangladesh with a 22% increase in student enrollment at US academic institutions, is among the top five countries from where students go to study in the US. 

Donna Chappell, administrative coordinator at the University of Mississippi Office of International Programs says that enrollment of Bangladeshi students has risen in the last couple of years. 

Official data shows that in 2016, the total number of Bangladeshi students at the university was 17.  In 2017 it rose to 22, and now in the Spring semester of 2019, it stands at 30. 

Bangladeshi authorities also see this as a positive sign.

Former chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC),  Prof Abdul Mannan, said Bangladesh is happy for students attending American universities.

“Getting admission and studying at universities abroad is proving our students’ capacity and talent,” he said.

He also called for a bilateral agreement on student exchange programs, between the US and Bangladesh governments.

Prof Nazrul Islam, another former UGC chairman, explained that the reason for this rise in students leaving the country might be due to a lack of capacity at Bangladeshi universities.

“We have a number of good universities in Bangladesh with limited seats and resources. Many students leave the country for lack of opportunities here,” he said.

Abdullah Al Amin, a PhD engineering student at the New Jersey Institute of Technology said: “No other country provides such facilities for post graduate students.”

He added that diversity on American university campuses could also be another factor. 

Universities in the US are the most popular higher education destinations in the world. 

According to the QS World University Rankings, 13 of the top 20 universities in the world are in the US.