Missing Yet Another Birthday

I enjoy sharing my experiences in America with all of you. You get an inside view of my life. Sometimes it has to do with school, with my adventures with friends and family, and sometimes the recounting of a purchase like a new mountain bike. My life is like any other. It is mundane at times and exciting at others. When I meet new people, I enjoy my time here most of all. I have learned to adapt to the culture, more and more every day. It surprised me that I bought the bike for my sister’s birthday. She is back home and I am missing yet another celebration. She will receive the surprise package in the mail and I hope it will add to her special day. I miss her so much and giving her something that I own myself makes us a bit closer as siblings.

I wanted to give her the bike as I had mentioned mine several times in emails and letters. Yes, I do write actual long-hand texts. She responded to my bike riding stories and I know I had the perfect gift. I don’t think she had a good bike as a child, and now as an adult it was about time. It was with pleasure that I send the birthday gift.

I got a good mountain bike designed for women at On Road and Mountain for the best in functionality, comfort, and performance. The measurements of a woman’s bike are unique to their proportions so you know you will be sitting tall and reaching the pedals. It is amazing what a few inches here and there can do. Women have long complained about stiff seats and handlebars that were too far away. Sometimes they are adjustable, but I don’t want to mess around with a wrench before I go on a ride. It’s not that it’s hard, but just not necessary. If you buy the right bike in the first place, you will never have to fuss with it when you are in a hurry.

My sister send photos of her on her new bike and she extolled its many virtues. She can go anywhere—hit the trails for fun with friends or stay on the road into town. At home, people often ride in packs for amusement and safety. They go on outings like we do in the U.S. Sometimes, on a nice day, it is time for a group picnic. We discuss the spot and vote so that the majority wins. It really doesn’t matter as there are a lot of great places back home and for me in America. Sooner or later, we hit all the spots. I like a scenic outing where I can take distant shots to post on Facebook and Instagram. Here I am again, I say. What is that city in the background? What is that pasture filled with cows? What about you? Have I tempted you to start riding? It’s great exercise and will tone you right up.

Slowly Assimilating

As time goes by, I feel more at home in my new country. I have loved the experience of living in a different culture so far from home and trying to slowly assimilate. It wasn’t easy at first but so many nice people have helped me cope with strange and new customs. They have gone out of their way. I owe them all a debt of gratitude and wish I could repay them each and every one. I am planning a dinner gathering for which I will make many of the specialty dishes of my home country. For most, this will be their first experience with the cuisine. I will make it extra grand and have many choices for people to make according to their taste.

Meanwhile, I am trying to fit in as best I can and not stand out. The way you dress, your hairstyle, your manner of speech, and your accessories make a difference in your public image. I figure why not be in style as much as possible to look like everyone else. It is not that I want to be a copycat and not remain a free thinker. It is just that some things get noticed if they are odd. The first thing that comes to my mind is a new watch. I notice people’s timepieces immediately. I say all this because I have selected a very cool g-shock watch that is like no other. It will be fun to wear and look at while it will make me feel more at home in my host country. Wait till you hear about it.

I love the fashionable and sporty look of the Baby-G collection. This is my preference. It is a digital watch with a clear resin jelly strap and it has full functionality. It looks casual but high-style at the same time. It is almost transparent. It will be a one of a kind for me. I have never had this kind of accessory before—just a mundane ladies watch with no particular stand-out designer features. Pretty boring. The g-shock watch product description gives all the details. It has a round resin case, a silver digital dial, quartz movement, water resistance to 200 meters (not that I am going swimming in it or diving), EL backlighting, world time 29 time zones and 30 cities (so I know what time it is at home), five daily alarms, one snooze alarm, and last but not least a stopwatch and countdown timer. Nothing has been left out of this beauty.

At my dinner party, I proudly wore the watch on my wrist and as I was wearing a sleeveless dress, it was highly visible. I received numerous gasps of appreciation and words like “you are so cool” said in fun. Little did I know that g-shock watches are all the rage, but I had the foresight to get that clear resin construction. The dinner was a huge success and of course, not because of the watch. The food was just fantastic.

Has to be a Better Way

I remember seeing a TV ad some time ago for an expensive watch. They wanted to stress that it was waterproof. People do value that benefit these days. It wasn’t good enough just to say that it was. They had to prove it. Visual images remain in the viewers’ minds longer and have a greater impact on their decision to buy something. So the commercial showed the watch being dropped in a swimming pool by a clumsy sunbather. It made the point. They could have just had the swimmer wear it, of course, but that would not have been as shocking. The shock passed when the camera zeroed in on the watch blissfully ticking away.

I think one of my professors saw this ad because all of a sudden we were assigned to conduct a study on waterproofing phones. We had six of the top, and most expensive, models and at some point we were going to film dropping them into an above ground pool in the vicinity. We would imitate that old commercial. We would show the phones working, slip them in the water, and then show the aftermath. We expected the phones to be like new after their dunking, but it didn’t happen. It turned out that one of the six would not operate as before. This was very unexpected. Most cell phones these days are waterproof unless they are a very old model.

We learned a sort of a lesson, and not just about waterproofing. We learned that expectations can be sometimes not be met. We then had to write copy for our little study and film and explain why being waterproof is important. How often are people near the ocean or a pool. How likely are they to fumble with their hands and drop the phone? One student mentioned that a person with a phone could be near a rain puddle and trip, sending it to a watery death. Maybe just being out in the rain would cause problems. Okay. I accept this possibility but doubted that rain would impair functionality.

We sent our study to the six phone companies hoping they would appreciate our efforts. They responded that this kind of student research is valuable and could lead to improvements in upcoming models. Using an above ground pool in someone’s backyard appealed to their need for a picturesque visual statement. And two weeks later we received a couple of packages. There was a new mobile phone for each of us.

Being a student doesn’t always have many perks like this. We were thrilled. We liked knowing that our study was not just classwork, but that it had meaning. Similar studies take place in the digital world I am sure. Maybe someday one of us would lead research of a similar kind. This shows that going to class can be very practical and have import for one’s future. We all hoped that ours would be bright and successful. The study symbolized where life could take us.

Making Practical Choices

School is my priority. After all, that’s why I am here. It occupies most of my time. There isn’t much free time left for socializing, but I squeeze it in. It is important to learn about another country through close contact with the people. You observe their customs and what is important to this person or that. When people know I am foreign, they offer information that I would otherwise not be privy to. Having a roommate is one of the best ways to get to know someone. We do most everything together which includes cleaning the room. It is not our favorite chore but with two of us, it gets done fast.

Somehow the carpet always seems dirty and we got the idea of purchasing a small lightweight vacuum that won’t take up much room, which we don’t have. It will be easy to transport if we move or someone wants to borrow it. Just because it is small, doesn’t mean it isn’t powerful. They build these mini size vacuums with powerful motors. The rug looks better all the time. With all the people coming and going in and out of our room, it gets a beating. People eat sitting on the floor so just imagine a spilled bag of potato chips or some wet tea bags. We want a clean environment which I can’t say about other residents of our dorm, but we do care. A quick going over the carpet once a week takes care of random debris. We shared the expense so it wasn’t a burden and it will be useful for years to come.

I am loath to loan the vacuum to others in fear that it might disappear. It is a very handy thing to have and someone might conveniently forget they have borrowed it. It operates like a dream. All you have to do is empty the little bag inside every month or so. You don’t have to replace it with new ones as it is made out of a sturdy fabric. It is designed to last. The vacuum comes with a small hose and some attachments you can use to clean furniture, window shades, and pillows. This about takes care of the entire contents of the room. We might get more efficient with our cleaning now that we have the vacuum.

You can pick it up with ease as it weighs next to nothing. We keep it under the bed so it can be pulled out at a moment’s notice if some sloppy visitor drops laundry soap or dirty sneakers. If they do, they get the evil eye and this behavior will not happen again. After all, as much as we like the vac, we don’t want to spend our lives cleaning. We allow a half hour on Saturday as our time and no more. It is nice to have a clean room and we made a practical choice with the lightweight vacuum. Even if you own a big one, get this small unit and see how it takes care of nooks and crannies.

Taking a Day Off

I have always wanted to go to the beach but it didn’t seem like it would be much fun by myself.

So I was pretty pleased when some friends suggested taking a day off. How exciting. I asked what I could bring. It seems that there are a lot of things you have to take with you. It seems like a bit of a bother but if each person were assigned to an item, it would work out. My job was to rent a great beach chair so I could sit comfortably and study. My friends know that I hit the books every chance I can get so they thought the chair would be appropriate. Some of my friends suggested an umbrella for shade as long as we had a strong fellow to carry it and set it up. It is cumbersome but well worth it on a very hot and sunny day.

In addition to the beach chair, I offered to make sandwiches. Someone had a cooler and we could store them there for the day along with cold beverages. I agreed to meet him at his house before we set out on our outing so I could fill the cooler. I also had packages of snacks and cookies as it was no doubt going to be a very long day. Everyone was reminded to apply sunscreen and to bring plenty of back up. Getting burned is something new to me and I didn’t like the description. Maybe the umbrella idea was a sound one after all. You are particularly prone to sunburn when you spend a lot of time in the water. And we go to the beach to enjoy the water after all. I bought the best sunscreen I could find and borrowed a floppy beach had to protect my face. It seems that everyone had the same idea. There were some pretty crazy hats.

The beach day was a roaring success and we all had a great time. Everyone enjoyed the sandwiches and said they preferred them to boring hot dogs. We all had music playing on our iPhones which lent an air of gaiety to the outing. We talked for hours and someone had brought a board game. We took turns playing and the time passed quickly. As the sun was going down, we started to pack up all of our items and get them in the van. The umbrella took up most of the space and next the beach chair. I was certainly grateful for it and felt guilty that I was the only one to enjoy it. Others seemed to like to bake in the sun on colorful over-sized towels. We shook the sand from the towels and our clothing and marched barefoot across the warm sand. It was our last moment of beach heaven. I hope we return soon. I find that I do like the beach more than I thought and I didn’t even get a little burned. If you come prepared, you will be fine.

My Room is Making me Sick!

The first technological advancement I wish to discuss is an air purifier because this appliance has virtually transformed by room. My room was making me sick! Can you imagine that in this modern era? And it was due to the mold that was growing from excess moisture in the atmosphere. You could see it clearly: smudges of grayish black goo that get into your lungs if you breather it in. It is a real health hazard. It is hard to remove. I know this because we once had a flood at home and had to borrow heaters to run day and night to dry up the mold. There is an easier way for small quantities. A quality air purifier is designed to rid the air of pollen, bacteria, odors, smoke, allergens, germs, and mold, so it was the first order of business for me upon moving into my new room. While I didn’t yet have allergies, the mold could be leading the way.

It was comforting to know that you can improve indoor air quality for less than a hundred dollars. It is all about keen filtering systems that are rated for efficiency. It has to do with the percentage of airborne mold particles that are removed by the purifier with each air passage. Not feeling so will for a while, I opted for top quality and portability so I can move the device from room to room. You only need a small one to take care of one modest size sleeping room. It is easy to operate and clean; you only change the filter now and then. It is a good thing I was able to find a small air purifier when studying abroad and one that would work with the existing electrical system.

When you look at mold growing indoors, you take it as a sign of lack of cleanliness. It is hard to eradicate and harder yet to imagine it lining your lungs. People can get really sick if it lurks inside walls and you can’t get at it. Since mold is a fact of life in some humid climates, you can air out your room to keep it dry and above all employ the air purifier the first chance you can get. I noticed an immediate improvement after a few days and I pray the appliance will run smoothly and never break down.

The Kindness of Others

I am continually surprised by how nice people are that I meet. Strangers will talk to you at the bus stop, in the supermarket, or at the movies. When lives intersect, there seems to be some kind of common ground. I love the interaction and I have learned a lot about local attitudes and customs. I have made friends in unexpected ways. I had no idea that this was the warm reception I was going to get in this country. Each day is an opportunity for an encounter. I try to initiate them for my part so it isn’t always one sided. You never feel lonely with this kind of social opportunities.

Of course there are the students in the classroom, the dorm, and the library. Wherever I look there are people to meet. I remember getting in a conversation with a young student in the book store because we were both trying to buy a text and there was only one left. Guess what. She relinquished it to me. Then there was the young man in the library who saw I was struggling with some words I couldn’t translate. He offered to explain their meaning in English so I could understand. At a ball game, a nice kid exchanged seats with me so I could see better. He explained the plays as he could tell I was new at this sport. These are the kinds of things that happen to you inadvertently when you aren’t even looking for them. It always raises my spirits and makes me happy that I chose this school. I love the surrounding environment as it includes non-students alike. It is a real community.

Another occasion I have to mention happened when I was riding my bike around campus and I suddenly got a flat. I was in a fix and didn’t have a clue what to do. I didn’t want to walk the bike such as it was all the way back to the dorm, which might have been a quarter mile. I leaned next to the bicycle in a quandary when a fellow student came by and noticed the dilemma. He opened the trunk of his car and pulled out the air compressor he keeps for emergencies. How lucky was that! He re-inflated the tire in no time flat and I could be on my way. But not before we exchanged phone numbers and a proper thank you on my part. I wanted to return the favor and take him some homemade cookies and cakes. I am not a bad baker. I was rescued by an air compressor and I wasn’t even sure what it was. I dutifully paid a visit and delivered the goodies. We had a nice long conversation over tea, my beverage of choice. I think this was the start of a nice friendship and it began in such an odd way. I call it happenstance or blind luck. While I meet many people, this one stood out as being special.

Studying Abroad as an Advantage

Studying Abroad as an Advantage

One thing I like about being here is being exposed to the technology and lifestyle of somewhere else. That is not to say that I am partying every night, but it is interesting to see how people here interact with one another and what they do for fun. Bangladesh has made significant strides to become more middle-class and we are making progress every day. But here, in a more advanced country, I have the chance to learn and adapt to the world that I want to see in Bangladesh. I see the things people do and what they buy and I think about how I can apply these things back home. By simply playing around with a friend’s phone or checking out pages on the internet, I am learning the technology and gaining experience just by interacting with it. Through my studies, I will know the best way to handle developing communication infrastructure because I will have models to study and tailor to meet the needs of not just Bangladesh now but the Bangladesh of a future that I can only dream of. I do not have to start from scratch. I will have everything I need for success by the time I leave here.

There is so much to learn here. I remind myself that I come from a country where a recent technological advance was having women travel from village to village with mobiles and a list of phone numbers with valuable information in case people needed to make calls to find something out. This may seem silly to people here, but it was a fantastic way to handle the poverty and isolation that long have been a detriment to progress for my people. Using the knowledge of my country’s limitations and strengths while applying all the information I am learning here, I should be able to find a workable solution to almost any problem that arises.

While I am here, I am also learning the power of networking. My fellow students here come from all over the world. We will all hopefully go on to great jobs at companies both large and small. The people I am in contact with on a daily basis will be valuable resources when I need to reach out for products, advice, donations, or information. I speak to them of my country often, and they tell me about their hopes and dreams also. I am laying the foundation for allies, and also making lifelong (and long distance) friends.

I am so glad that I was chosen for this opportunity. It was not so long ago that a girl such as myself would not have been able to study abroad this way. It was a large source of pride to my parents and my village when I was accepted into this program. One day I will make my whole country proud and reward the faith that they have placed on me.

Not Being a Child of the Internet Age

It is hard to be so far from home, especially as most other students here can readily keep in touch with their family and friends. There are a few other students from Bangladesh here along with me, and some of our classmates have started calling us “The Brain Trust” because we always seem to be studying. Maybe it is easier for us because we have less distractions, or maybe it is because there is a greater importance to our success here than just landing a good job when we graduate. But what is not easier for us is communicating with our families. I write letters to my family and by the time I receive one back, the information can be weeks old. We get to talk to each other on the phone once a month—it is too expensive to do more often, and the time difference also makes it a challenge. One of the other students has broadband at his home, and he emails with his family. My parents sometimes go to internet cafes to email with me but they do not get to go often enough. I may send them a message to ask a question but by the time they reply I could have just written it in a letter. Also, what we consider broadband back home is a very slow moving pace here, and it can be less frustrating to mail a letter. It is difficult or impossible to use VoIP or videochat, something that people here can do on mobiles. There have been times, too, where sites have been blocked for supposed “national safety” reasons, and it is usually social media sites that are blocked.

I will be able to go home for the summer but not any of the shorter breaks that we get here. I stay at the school and work instead, as do the other members of “The Brain Trust.” This is not such a bad thing, as I have more access to some of the faculty and staff and they seem more than willing to help me learn the things I want to know. I also spend a lot of time in the computer lab here, just figuring out how to use computers faster and increase my typing speed. I like to try searching for things with various search engines, learning which strings of words are most efficient to get me relevant results, and which search engines give the most relevant results. With the money I earn over the next break, I should have enough saved to buy myself a laptop computer and I am very excited. My roommate explained that I could buy one on credit but I was afraid to—if I don’t do well in school and have to go back, it would be difficult to keep sending money here to pay my bill. So I will wait and use the computers in the lab until then. Besides, most students have their own personal computer so it is not like the lab is crowded. Usually it is like a small gathering of countries there and it feels a bit like home now.

Alternative Heat Sources

I am living simply in a dorm without a thermostat. I just intuit the number—making a guess–according to how I feel. Sometimes I am comfortable and sometimes I am not. You have to adapt when living abroad in certain climates. I am used to knowing the temperature so it is strange to merely guess. In any case, I want to be able to control my living space in any way I can. This takes some ingenuity.

Since I cannot adjust or set the desired temperature like a modern system, I am thinking about getting a small room sized humidifier. These can be anything from a small console model to a larger floor unit. I think the modest size will do. It is economical and doesn’t take up much room. I want to be able to inject some moisture into the air, in the form of steam or fine mist, when it gets really dry and I am having trouble sleeping. Labored breathing can result from an arid environment. You can get sore throats and dry hacking coughs. I would put it away during the wet months when things get soggy and humid. What a contrast!

You can get a digital humidistat for precise control, but I would be happy getting in the ballpark of my comfort level. I would love to control airborne dust. In addition to these roles, humidifiers can go a long a way to warm up the air with moisture and thus they can be seen as an alternative heat source. This appliance is a multi-tasker par excellence.

Dry air makes for a colder winter where I am living at present. It goes right through you. Without a thermostat, I am at the mercy of whatever heat is being supplied. Thus, having a warm-mist option on an otherwise cool-mist humidifier is a big win. If I had a big budget I would opt for the Dyson hygienic mist humidifier, but it is a whopping five hundred dollars. This is the principle that I am looking for. It is billed as the “tool for all seasons” cool mist in the summer and warm in the winter. It filters impurities for 18 long hours at a time and it even has a sleep timer. What I wouldn’t give to have this device. It has intelligent climate control at your fingertips. I love their promotional material.

While I am out and about most of the day, it is at night that the air quality becomes a real issue. As much as I want to adapt like a well-seasoned traveler, sometimes it is hard. You don’t want to admit it, but you don’t want to go too native. While you can’t always take the comforts of home along with you, a humidifier of any type would be something truly special to buy. A product that can make sleeping easier in any room is worth its weight in gold: in the case of the Dyson, a $500 ingot.

The Dyson gets rave reviews making it so tempting to consider.

The Value in Sharing Information

Value in Sharing Information

Information can be a valuable commodity. This fact is true on a small or large scale, too. For example, if I am hungry and I want to know the dining hall hours, this is information that is truly valuable to me. If I am getting dressed in the morning and do not want to get wet, I might check the weather to find out what the likelihood of rain is going to be. In the same way, countries can keep each other informed of critical things like disease outbreaks or the results of an election.

I have seen disaster footage where the people who need help are afraid or unable to move out of the affected area, but the people who are willing to help can’t get IN for whatever reason. With no information travelling between the two teams, the relief workers sit idle and unsure of what the victims need while the suffering are in misery, wondering when aid is going to arrive. It is important to establish a network to keep information flowing in and out of an area like that. Whether it be something as simple as someone running to alert others after a building collapse, or the use of wide-reaching technology to disseminate information, as in the aftermath of the Paris shootings when people used social media like Twitter to alert others of safe havens. The ability to get the word out quickly may save lives.

But what happens to those who do not have access to that information? How do they know where a safe place to hide is or if dangerous weather is headed directly for them? Sadly, right now, the answer is that many people will miss out on that valuable information and may suffer greatly because of it.  This is a huge injustice.

Personally, I feel that people with access to this type of information have an obligation to pass it on, especially if it could be life-saving. However, this is an idealist vision. The people with the information still need the ability to reach those in need. If those of us with the knowledge of an event are equipped with mobile phones, but all a remote village has are radios, we will not do them any good.  If I hand out disease prevention pamphlets in a village where most people cannot read, again, I am not truly helping.

I am learning in my studies that a broader network is ideal—that people will need more than one source for their information so that if any one thing goes wrong, they are still able to receive critical information in a timely way. A mobile network and long-range radio antennae can help reach people in more than one way and will provide a backup if one or the other is disabled for some reason. It might be an incredible challenge when I go back home to establish even one network for information to reach all the areas of Bangladesh that are currently “in the dark.” But it will definitely be worth trying, and the more I learn now, the better equipped I will be to rise to the occasion when I return.

What Inspires Me

It does amaze me about all the options I have here. People can ask google questions and it answers them. Everyone has a mobile phone that can go on the internet. They would rather text than talk to each other, and they take pictures of their food and post it online. I am a little jealous that they take these things so much for granted. I do tell myself that they honestly think that everyone lives this way, that it truly is as easy as a few swipes of the finger and people all over the world get what they want.  Then I remember that I am here for exactly this reason: to learn how to bring access to these types of information and the ability to communicate beyond small villages to my people. I do not know if we are ready for #instafood pictures, but some aspects would be an amazing help.

For example, my roommate planned to go camping for a weekend. Before she left, she used her computer to check the weather for the weekend and she also downloaded an app that had maps of the campgrounds so that she would not get lost. The longer I am here, the less surprised I am at this ease of access, but it is still fascinating to me. Some people in Bangladesh are not so lucky. They have no access to up-to-date maps or weather reports on demand. Some areas rely on weak radio signals to receive their information about the outside world and that can be difficult, too. Analog antennae are being phased out in a lot of the rest of the world—they even have satellite radios in their cars here! The sound from a digital receiver is much clearer, and when villagers are listening for things like weather reports or other danger that might be headed their way, the clearer the message, the better. Mobile phones here have a GPS feature that can warn you if there is dangerous lightning or flooding in your area and gives you enough time to escape. This is incredibly important in small rural areas where people may have to go long distances to reach safety. I want to figure out a way to reliably give people in remote areas that ability, too.

I am glad that the people here take technology like this for granted because they know more about it and can teach me. I am glad also because it means that it is widespread here and they have never been without it. If it can be widespread here, it can be widespread at home, too. I need to be one of the people who brings it back with me when I return home.

The Logistics of Progress

It is not enough to be here and learn. I have to be able to apply this knowledge directly toward improving communication problems back home in Bangladesh. I am slowly discovering the scale of the work I have ahead of me. It is not simply going home, looking at mobile coverage areas like they do here and say, “Okay, let’s upgrade these towers, put a few towers here and here, run fiber optic cables here, and then the problem will be solved.” I wish it were, and that the people will rejoice and all will be well.  But if it were that easy, that but then I might not in college right now, studying and learning to be part of a large team of people determined to make things better. Or maybe I would be in school, just closer to home. No way to be sure.

As for my example above, you can’t simply upgrade or add towers because expanding signals only increases the potential reach of mobile signals, and there may not even be anything to work with in some places. We will be starting network capabilities from scratch in more rural parts of Bangladesh. But it needs to be done, so yes there will be the adding of towers. However, then we come to the next problem: many people do not have mobile phones or internet capable computers and other devices—we have only had internet for a decade. And many of them do not have these things not simply because they wouldn’t work but because they do not have the money to purchase items such as these even if they had the capabilities to use them. But say we are able to build up the communications infrastructure and we receive large donations of mobile phones and cheap tablets from other, well-developed countries as they upgrade their own electronics.  We could distribute them, depending on how many we received, to each person, or several responsible people in the area, or install them in “business centers” where everyone would have access to them. We could do this in a way that would be fair and promote progress to all.

However, there is still a problem. People won’t know how to use them.

Some of these electronic devices are remarkably complicated and are intimidating to learn. Others are relatively easy and intuitive. Either way, the potential good we are trying to do can still be wasted. Villagers will need to be shown how to make calls and how to go online. This will take more time, money, and energy. It also causes another issue: we don’t want there to be fraudulent tricksters preying on these novice villagers online. Websites will have to be created with directories: useful telephone numbers and various other pieces of valuable information that can be trusted and fact-checked before given out to the public. And that means talking to villagers and finding out the kinds of information they think they need and the resources they would want to contact.

I do feel that I have an advantage, though. By understanding these kinds of problems that I will be facing, I have time now to try and come up with solutions. That is a great head start.