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Immigration to U.S. gave her
freedom to pursue dreams
May 16, 2014
In her native country, Pakistan, Nida Islam of Warwick wouldn't have been able to accomplish much. Owing to a combination of restrictive cultural and religious norms, Islam said that the path for women is clear: It's possible to get an education, but you won't be doing much with it.
"It's expected that you're going to be a stay-at-home mom and raise a family. It's possible to deviate from that, but it's hard to do so," she said.
Luckily for Islam, her father moved the family to Rhode Island when she was 10 years old, and her future has taken on a different, and promising, shape. Now poised to graduate from the Community College of Rhode Island with an associate degree in General Studies, Islam has attained a 3.94 GPA, is a member of Phi Theta Kappa and Psi Beta honor societies and will graduate with highest honors and as an Honors Program graduate.
When asked if she has been happy here – in the United States as well as at CCRI – the answer comes quickly, and Islam breaks into a wide and smile as she responds in the affirmative. But asked if her transition to life as a newcomer to America was an easy one, she admitted it was anything but.
Though she graduated from Toll Gate High School in Warwick with honors in 2012, she said that her time in high school and middle school wasn't entirely pleasant, marred by the bullying that can be typical of school. "But it's been something that's very worthwhile," she said. "It's very rewarding, and it's been a pleasure."
Ironically, Islam said it was her "frame of reference" that she had as a Pakistani immigrant that got her through the hard times. "Knowing how bad things can actually get, coming from Pakistan where I didn't have anything and coming here where you've got opportunities and my gender is not a limitation on me ... sure, there are tough times growing up, but you realize it's not that bad at all," she said.
In a country where many citizens don't have filtered water or electricity, feminism comes second, Islam said. It's hard to fight for anything else when one's basic needs are not met, she pointed out. Here, she said, she had the freedom to become the person she is today – and to dream about the person she wishes to become.
Eventually, after transferring to a four-year institution to earn her bachelor's degree in English, she would like to earn her master's in English and eventually go into a related field such as publishing or writing. She shows not just an interest in English, but an aptitude for language and communication in general: Islam also speaks her native Urdu, Punjabi, and some Arabic and Spanish.
Islam's maturity and work ethic shine through not just in her words and equanimity, but in her list of academic and personal accomplishments. In addition to maintaining a stellar academic record, she has held two jobs during her time at the college: one at McDonald's and the other working at the library at the Knight Campus in Warwick, where she does everything from data entry to shelving to assisting patrons. She said it was a desire to distinguish herself as an exceptional student in addition to making her parents proud that drove her to juggle her responsibilities with such aplomb.
"My family has been very supportive," she said, adding that her parents very much wanted her and her five siblings to get a good education. She credits her sister, Sidra, who graduated with a master's in computer science from Brown University, with being her hero.
"I definitely look up to her. I allowed the oppressive environment of Pakistan to inhibit my growth for years. But after my sister showed me that there are possibilities, my attitude toward everything became more assertive and goal-oriented."
But there's more on Islam's mind than her own well-being. Although she said it was a "selfish interest," meaning that it enriches her own life, she said she's very much enjoyed the volunteering opportunities that she's had throughout her education and hopes to do more volunteer work in the future.
She credited Professor Donald Fontes with teaching her the value of mentoring others; it was Fontes who helped her complete her college applications. "He taught me the value of not just hoping, but actually working on my goal, and even if I get dejected, I still have to keep working. For me, that's been revolutionary," she said.
As she prepares to step into the next chapter of her life, Islam said that she's nervous, but also excited. Seeing that she has been able to do well at CCRI, she said that she feels prepared to succeed at a four-year college or university. Her hard work has already started to pay off; she has been accepted into Boston University and the University of Rhode Island.
When asked if she has any advice for new CCRI students, she said, "CCRI is something that will give you as much back as you put in." As much as Islam has put in to the college during her time here, she's sure to have gotten a lot back.
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