Growing up in Dhaka, a capital of more than nine million, Mashiur Rahman, never dreamed he would arrive where he is today. He knew American life from his favorite action movies, Rambo and The Terminator–and he certainly never imagined himself living that kind of life. But in his late teens, he looked around at the slim opportunities of Dhaka and realized that leaving would enable him to live a better life.
At 21, Mashiur applied for a visa. “I knew getting a visa would be very difficult,” he says. “Studying in the U.S. is a dream for most kids living in Bangladesh. It’s like winning a million-dollar lottery.” Mashiur had a back-up plan: “Russia,” he says, laughing because he didn’t want to go there at all, but student visas were easy to get.
Luckily, his back-up plan never became a reality. Shortly after applying, Mashiur was, unexpectedly, granted a visa. They youngest of three siblings, he was the first to leave home. His parents, both teachers, were thrilled with his opportunity and threw a party to celebrate, with family and friends bearing gifts of hats, jackets, and gloves.
Eager to begin his new life, Mashiur left Dhaka two short days after receiving his visa. The realization of all he was leaving did not set in until he’d fastened his seatbelt on the plan. “I was strong for my family,” he says. “When I saw the plane take off, I realized I was leaving them, and I started to cry.”
Mashiur left one crowded city only to land in another: New York City.
Fortunately, he had a friend there who agreed to let Mashiur live with him. “At one time, there were seven roommates in a one-bedroom apartment,” he recalls, wincing. “We all worked different shifts, so we took turns sleeping.”
Trying to save money for tuition, Mashiur sold ice cream on the streets. “I rode a bicycle through honking traffic and crazy cab drivers,” he says, grinning. “I through I was going to die many times.” Then he experienced his first snowfall–and thanks to his family’s forethought, he was ready.
Seven months later, Mashiur moved to Cape Girardeau to live with his cousin and attend Southeast Missouri State University. It was here that his life dramatically changed. Knowing that the computer industry was “booming,” he chose computer science as his major, despite “never having touched a computer before.” He had difficulty comprehending test questions– “My English was very bad then”–but credits Dr. Jim Hayes, who allowed him extra time on tests. “If I hadn’t passed that class, I would have had to change my major,” Mashiur explains. “Dr. Hayes helped me.”
The most significant event at SEMO was not schooling, it was meeting Rachel, his wife. They spent one month together before Mashiur graduated. The graduation proved bittersweet: Mashiur achieved his dram and landed a consulting job in New Jersey but it meant leaving Rachel behind. The couple spent a year apart before deciding it was too hard. Mashiur left his job to move to Rachel’s hometown, St. Louis.
Mashiur has been away from Dhaka nine years, but it still stings. “Being away from family is so hard, sometimes I cry,” he admits. Expensive flights keep travel to a minimum; he has only flown home twice, but he does talk to his family weekly on the phone. He is now an avid Ram’s fan–yet he still calls curry his favorite meal.
After taking a deep breath, contemplating all he has shared, Mashiur smiles. “If I had to title my story, I would say it is the American Dream.”
I originally published this piece in a newsletter called Parkview Place.