I Heart Madrid

For the past one week,

– I have been staying with a Spanish family in their grand house in Madrid. My host mother is the ‘cool mom’, who lives with her two daughters. She makes delicious food, feeds me all the time (like all other moms in the world), and bought me a present for ‘Cabalgata de Reyes’. It’s a tradition in Spain that they give one another presents after 12 days of Christmas to commemorate ‘the three wise men’, who brought baby Jesus presents 12 days after he was born. She also skyped with my mother to let how know that my mother has an awesome daughter. 😀

– I have been roaming in the streets and gazillions of grand plazas of Madrid. P1050251

– I have been tasting the deliciousness that’s authentic Spanish food: tapas, paella, arancinis, tortillas de patatas (Seriously, they eat potatos with everything! How they are not fat is beyond me!).

– I have been taking the Madrid metros everywhere. I am in looooveeee with the metro here! You just need a map and have NO way of getting lost! The metro connects every corner of the city and I have an unlimited monthly pass to freely fly around. 🙂 I even take the metro to my school, which is a pretty different experience for me. Cause normally at MIT, I’d wake up literally 10 minutes before my first class and run. Here I wake up when it’s still kinda dark, take proper breakfast, wait at the metro station, and listen to the street musicians play ‘la guitarra’ and other instruments. Here I am completing the level 2 of Spanish. So far my favorite Spanish phrase is ‘Mi caballero de armadura brillante’, which means ‘My knight in shining armor’ haha.

– I have been practicing my baby talk in Spanish with hipsters that are the Madeleños. Seriously! ALL of them are good-looking, ALL of them are well-dressed, ALL of them smell good, ALL of them are super super friendly! Yesterday my friend and I were looking for the way to an open market. We asked this elderly couple for directions and ended up chatting with them for fifteen minutes while they walked us all the way to the market. As it turned out, they visited New York and San Francisco several times and loved both places.

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– And I have been enjoying the exotic beauty that is Europe.

I have always wanted to take a month long vacation, travel through a few European countries by Eurail, and live my DDLJ dream- well minus the whole ‘Raj fiasco’. This visit is only intensifying this wish. Some day, some day, insha Allah. 😀

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Last weekend almost all of us from MIT took a bus to Segovia, a small, pretty, and touristic town near Madrid. And guess what awaited us there?

THE CASTLE THAT INSPIRED DISNEY’S SLEEPING BEAUTY!

And as expected, the castle was so so so gorgeous. Seriously, I don’t know how I’d keep my sanity if I were a Princess and lived in a castle like that. The ceiling of every room had different, gorgeous patterns of gold. In the end, we climbed up 152 stairs to the top of the castle-tower and had a great great view of the whole town. After an hour of ‘If-I-Was-A-Princess’ fantasies, we also saw the cathedral in Segovia and the all-too-famous Roman aqueduct. The day trip ended with a scrumptious cup of ‘chocolate caliente’.

Here comes the Disney castle, followed by the Cathedral, followed by the Aqueduct!
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Yeah, so this is pretty much what I have been doing since I left my favorite campus on a cold January morning- marveling at the Español beauty and slowly picking up their language. Next weekend, we are planning to visit a few other towns close to Madrid. Excited!

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Let’s be nice and kind!

I have gone out quite a lot of times in the last few days. And something that never caught my eyes before did so this time. SO many random people, I saw on random streets, were exasperated and enraged for no apparent reason. And what is more disturbing is that their way of expressing the inner anger was ferocious. I saw men slapping rickshaw pullers; I saw rickshaw pullers swearing at passengers; I saw a husband calling his wife ill names; I saw beggars cursing men and women because they refused to give alms- COME ON!!! Where has respect for fellow human beings gone to? Every person you are yelling at, every person you are raising your ‘mighty’ arms on, every person you are judging and criticizing- YOU could be in his/ her shoes. And your life hasn’t ended; God still has time to put you in there. Also, how hard is it to be polite while making demands? SO many people try to handle situations by complaining and by brute force, that I feel compelled to question my own way of treating things with calm words. In this society where everybody is rude, maybe I am deceiving myself. Because when a rickshaw puller will ask twice the justified amount of fare from me, I won’t be able to shun him down and he will take my lack of abusive words to be my weakness.

Honestly, this frustrates me to no end. Two days ago I heard a man, living in the flat above us, throwing a series of vulgar swear words at somebody just because his tea, apparently, was too sweet for his taste. Just because you are the ‘man’ in the house and just because somebody works for you do not give you the right to say those things to a human being. I wanted to march in and knock some sense into him. But then who will guarantee that he won’t be mean towards me as well? I don’t know where this crude temper of our people comes from. Maybe because the society is geared to feeding the powerful, people want to feel commanding and use and misuse the authority that they think they have over others. Or maybe this is how people vent the pent up frustration from their toil through daily grind. All I know is, if you get angry at people who have done you no real harm, you are wrong. Every individual is his/ her own sanctuary. If you cannot respect the independence, the individuality, the uniqueness, you are a failed person. There can be NO good reason to speak ill of others, to physically hurt others, and to misjudge others. Being good-mannered doesn’t cost much, but makes the world such a better, more peaceful place.

Today is the day of Eid-Ul-Fitr and maybe, just maybe, we can take home the lesson of respecting others that our Prophet (Sm) set throughout his whole life. Let’s be good natured, let’s speak soft words, let’s not unleash the beast that lives inside us, and let’s try to appreciate others. That being said, I wish you a very happy Eid.

PS: With too much pessimism and cynicism around, I am really really grateful to people around me, who exude kindness. You know who you are! 🙂

Little moments called life

Maybe that is what heaven is like, very earthly.”- Read this on a friend’s blog:

http://iamradi.blogspot.com/2012/07/remember-moment.html

Please take a moment to read it: Very inspiring and SO true. We run after big houses, nice cars, a secure job, a picture-perfect family, hoping that all these would bring us happiness. On the way, we see struggle and after reaching the destination, we doubt if this is what we had wanted in the first place. Destination is happiness- Yes, I agree. But the path is no less. Happiness is the small fleeting moments in between the hard ones- a cup of tea on a rainy day, a song on the way to work, a phone call from a friend and such. All we have to do is to take some time to acknowledge and appreciate.

Haha, I am down with fever and my mom brought me a glass of juice. As I sipped on it and looked at my mom’s face, I realized that was one of those moments. Thank God, they exist in my life.
A lot of things happened in these past few days, that I have been too sick to blog about.

Happy things:

– Federer won his 17th Grand Slam Title. Oh! I love it when people get up after falling down.

– I spent a day with this year’s Bangladesh IMO Team. I got to hear their stories from Argentina and have lunch with them. These kids make me hopeful. 🙂

– Ramadan is here! In this holy month, let’s learn to improve ourselves continuously, keep from bad habits, and love and respect fellow human beings.

Sad things:

– I came to know about Harshada, who as a 2nd year Duke med school student suffered from pontine stroke and spent nine months of complete paralysis. The only muscles she could move was her eyeballs. This is how hard life can strike you down. Well, the incredible part of her story is that she fought against it, and she fought hard. One of her latest blog updates says she can walk with a special walker. Props to you, Harshada. You go ahead, woman!

If any of you want to read her story:

http://hrajani.blogspot.com/

– Only last night, Humayun Ahmed left this world. He was an author who made every Bangladeshi teenager cry and laugh with characters in his novels. Your shall be missed, writer. You shall be missed.

So yeah, this is pretty much what I have been doing lately- following various blogs. Hoping to get well soon and start preparing for my MCATs. Uffff September is too close!

Congratulations, Bangladesh Math Team!

Last night I was sick and morose from the mysterious fever that has been bugging me for a few days. And then! Came along a piece of news that worked as a super-duper tonic and in a second I was jumping up and down on my bed. And…wait for it…wait for it…

BANGLADESH TEAM HAS WON THEIR FIRST EVER SILVER MEDAL AT IMO !!!! 😀

(What better place to get Argentum from- than Argentina? :))

We have got 1 silver medal, 2 bronze medals,  2 honorable mentions, and 74 points in total- Bangladesh Team’s best performance so far.

Lots and lots of congratulations, boys. You bring the countrymen huge joy.

So Bangladesh started participating in this biggest competition for high school students worldwide in 2005. Since then we have been on a steady rise. In 2006 we got our first honorable mention, in 2009 we got our first Bronze, in 2012 we got our first Silver. Haha, seems like we have taken a three year leaping project. The biggest achievement of this project, I’d say, is that high school students in the small nooks of the country are getting into mathematics. At the beginning of Bangladesh Math Olympiad, our deputy leader, Munir Hasan Sir had to go to houses and convince parents to let their children participate. And last year, kids cried to be registered for regional olympiads with limited holding capacity. Today around 22,000 high school students take part in the preliminary rounds of Bangladesh Math Olympiad at various locations all around the country. The olympiad surpasses the realm of a competition, and becomes a festival of young people instead. Students and parents aggregate, spend a day of mathematics with renowned mathematicians. They say no to lies, memorization, and drugs. They take an oath to love their country and be good in heart. Indeed, Bangladesh Math Olympiad has turned to nothing less than a social entrepreneurship venture as described by Ryszard Praszkier in his book Social Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice. Some challenges still remain though- Girls are lagging a little behind. Female participation has never been that great and in recent years it has been particularly waning. Apart from a couple of female participants, others did not have satisfactory performances in last year’s competition. We have to rectify this- slowly but surely. We have already started with arranging special training camps for girls, but have a long way to go.

What is Bangladesh Math Olympiad to me, you ask. Everybody around me knows that math olympiad has made a huge part of me. Apart from teaching me the very obvious thing- mathematics, it has taught me to dream, to fight, to love, to hope, to try, to persevere. With math olympiad, I have fallen down several times. Damn! I have fallen down hard. I have failed tests (which was a BIG shock for me back at that time), I have gotten absolute zeros, and the sky seemed to break in pieces and fall on my head. But with my family and the math olympiad team’s support I tried and tried. Thank you, Bangladesh Math Olympiad, thank you very much. I owe you myself. And I owe you the beautiful bonds I have made with beautiful people in  these past five years.

On this day I remember the incredible journey I had and am still having with Bangladesh Math Olympiad. And two people I cannot but talk about. Actually I can write books on them.

First, the leader of Bangladesh IMO Team, and one of the best people I have ever come across- Dr. Mahbub Majumdar. Despite having degrees from places like MIT, Stanford U, and Cambridge U, he likes living in Bangladesh and teaching high school kids mathematics and ways to lead a good life. This is me with him in July, 2009.

Second, the deputy leader and another amazing person- Munir Hasan. It is his organization capabilities and drive that has brought Bangladesh Math Olympiad to where it is today. A picture again!- Blurred, but one of my favorites. 🙂

So yeah, Bangladesh Math Olympiad is full of awesome people- university professors, high school kids, their parents, high school teachers, and a highly active group of volunteers. I feel SO lucky to be a part of this family and hope to remain a part of this forever if God wills.

A big big congratulations to our team again. Take care, come home safely, and we will celebrate insha Allah.

All about being homesick

“Home is where your mum is” – Facebook status of a friend, haha. And a damn true one.

Mum and home-I miss when I am at MIT. Don’t get me wrong. Living in a dorm at MIT, surrounded by great, interesting people, is a lot of fun. I regularly cake people on their birthdays, start singing randomly in hallways, make impromptu trips to beaches at midnight, chug mocha frappuccinos while solving problem sets, organize DJ shows, try belly-dancing with roommate and end up in a laughing heap on the floor, and so on- You can guess, I get to try every craziness there is. Not to mention that, here researchers make magic happen every minute. So most of the time, I can successfully ignore that fact that, I live some 12,500 kilometers away from home, aka my mother. [Note to you, before coming to MIT, I have never lived away from my mum, and everything I did- I absolutely had to recount to her, with fine details.] The other times, when I fail to ignore this, I am homesick.

Last year, I was homesick when,

– I fell down the stairs and tore a leg muscle
– My laptop died
– I had to dig through a huge trashcan for my final lab report which I had mistaken as trash and got rid of the previous night
– I had no idea what was going on in my macroeconomics class
– Bangladesh was hosting the ICC World Cup and my facebook newsfeed was flooding with news of how great they were being as hosts
– I saw pictures of my friends home, celebrating ‘pohela boishakh’ (Bengali New Year)
– I had to eat not-so-good food and thought about all the deliciousness that my mother made
– And other random occasions

So yeah, homesickness never leaves; no matter however great MIT makes me feel. But I have a greater list- of things that keep me calm and anchored:

– My religion! – The faith that I am not alone, even when I see nobody around me.
– Friends, as crazy as I, if not more. Being hosed by MIT can get entertaining, when done with people. What friends do for me, you ask. They listen to me while I rant (DEENIIIIIIIII, I wuvv you!), they rant to me (Haha, ISHFAQ), they make strong Arab coffee for me when I need to stay awake (ASSMAAAAA!!! I wuvv you too!), they iron my clothes for Eid (ARFAAAA!!! I wuvv you three! and I have missed you last semester!), they make soup when I am sick and when I am not (FAREEHAAAAAA! I missed you too!), they dance with Pikachu songs to de-stress me the night before a horrible midterm ( A shout out for TALAL, who is roaming in the parks of France right now. Sorry Talal, you don’t get love you’s or miss you’s. 😛) and what not.
– Good books, good music (with lyrics that I can relate to/ with beats that I can make silly dance moves with), good words.
– Wonders of science…haha cliché! Well, MIT Biology is great, although the tests sometimes do feel like coming from some different planet.
– The feeling of achievement that comes when I successfully solve a problem after probing it for a good few hours, or pick up a small pathogen with a needle at lab after failing for a whole day, or accomplish ‘grown-up feats’ like fixing credit card problems.
– The first flakes of snow, a lazy rainy day (however rare that might be- the ‘lazy’ part, I mean), a hug from a beautiful baby, a smile from a complete stranger on the Mass Ave …

and this list will never end.

Homesickness is there and my way of taking care of it is skyping/ ooVoo-ing(ooVoo is definitely the better version, people!). But in the end, I am happy and grateful to the Almighty that two years ago I had decided to fly. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have learned this much, I wouldn’t have grown this much.

ps: A random discovery about myself: I love lists. 😀

ps # 2: My friend and to-be roommate, Deeni Fatiha, MIT ’13, has an expert comment on this issue: “I think sometime you also just need to acknowledge the fact that you are homesick and that some places will never be home and some cultures you will never understand and some people you will just not click with like you did with friends from back home. And sometimes even all the wonderful things you listed which we should all truly be thankful for, aren’t enough to fill the vacuum that is created by not being home or around family and childhood friends… and on days like those, you need to buy yourself a big tub of ice cream, curl up in bed, watch a sad movie and have a good cry, curse the world for being so rough and go to sleep. When you wake up, everything is a little more tolerable.”
– Haha, some days are like this too!

Fights are useless, most often…

Scene 1: ইংলিশ মিডিয়াম এর এক ছাত্রের মা আমাকেঃ “তোমরা তো বাংলা মিডিয়ামে পড়। সোজায় সোজায় পার পেয়েছ। আমার ছেলে পড়ে ব্রিটিশ কারিকুলামে, অনেক কঠিন। আই এম ও (আন্তর্জাতিক ম্যাথ অলিম্পিয়াড)’র সিলেবাসও পুরা বাংলা মিডিয়ামের, এজন্য তোমরা পেরেছ। নাহলে আন্তর্জাতিক মানের শিক্ষা আমাদের বাচ্চাদের, ওদের সাথে পারতা নাকি?…” ইত্যাদি ইত্যাদি।

Scene 2: এবার বাংলা মিডিয়ামের ছাত্রের মা, “আরে! ইংলিশ মিডিয়াম! ওরা কিছু জানে নাকি বাংলা আর বাংলাদেশ সম্পর্কে। বখাটে ছেলেপেলে, খালি বাপের টাকা উড়ায়…” ইত্যাদি ইত্যাদি।

All I have in response is that THIS is stupidity at its best. Honestly, people don’t change in accordance with their language/ mode of learning. A patriot is a patriot, a spoilt brat is a spoilt brat, and a genius is a genius whatever school he goes to. Every school system in Bangladesh has its own pros and cons. Honestly, in Bangladesh, it is mostly on the student whether he/ she is faring well in education or not. Newton’s Law is Newton’s Law in both curricula- I don’t understand this complaint about education being more or less standard in two different systems of schooling. I talked with my friends from English and Bangla medium schools about this and they are at a loss as well.

Also nobody in the world cares what school system you followed, as long as you learnt your necessary lessons. To the world, I am as much of a Bangladeshi as my peer who goes to an English medium school. Why some people no understand this?

When you look at this picture, what comes to your mind? “Oh! Bangladesh team” or “Oh! Team Bangla Medium”? If it’s the second one, then sorry, you are kind of not normal; please get your issues resolved.

PS: It is a huge misconception that English medium students fail at Bangladesh math olympiad. They absolutely do not. In the beginning, a few of them attended, so a few of them got awarded- easy stats. Now more and more of them are participating, so there is obviously an increase in the number of winners from English medium.

Destination IvyPlusPlusPlus [Version Bangladesh]

Whaddup, high schoolers in Bangladesh? As per your request, my take on undergrad admissions in the USA is here. Before I start, studying abroad is a HUGE commitment for an undergraduate for many different reasons. Especially if you are attending one of the top-notch schools in the USA, honestly, the process will challenge you as never before. But don’t let that discourage you. As long as you don’t mind some hard work and know when and where to ask for help, you’ll be fine. 🙂

Let’s start with ACADEMIC REQUIREMENTS:

GPA: Undergraduate schools usually want to see your SSC-HSC/ O-A Levels transcripts. You, of course, need good grades in these tests to be considered for admission in a good school. I don’t know much about students following the British curriculum. But for Bangla medium students, for example, ‘golden’ gpa 5 is not an absolute necessity as long as you maintain A pluses in the core subjects like mathematics, physics, economics etc.
Another issue that often comes up is that many people apply to colleges before they have their official HSC/ A levels transcripts. In that case, you need to get a ‘grades prediction’ from your guidance counselor (If, at this point, you don’t know who this is, read on :)). Meaning, s/he’ll predict what you may get on all your subjects. Also you need too send in your official transcript as soon as it is available.

Standardized Tests: Different colleges have different requirements for standardized testing. Refer to the specific school’s admissions website for definite information. In general, most colleges require scores for SAT 1 and two SAT 2 subjects. A few like Harvard College want three SAT 2s. Again, a few of them want your TOEFL scores as well. It is safe to get done with these tests by December of your application cycle. Some colleges also accept January scores; again refer to the college website to make sure you are keeping up with deadlines.
As for preparing for these tests, it really really depends on you. Look at a preparatory book and see if you are up-to-date with the topics covered and if you can solve most questions from their practice tests. If you can, you are all good materials-wise but a little practice wouldn’t harm. If you can’t then you need to study- where you study from doesn’t matter; just make sure you know everything that these tests cover.
Very often people ask me what sort of scores are required for schools. Schools don’t really have any minimum score they look for. Undergraduate admission is a holistic process; so scores alone won’t take you anywhere. Just get a decent score as a backup to other strong parts of your profile. I’d say a decent score in SAT 1 (for Bangladeshi students, in specific) is 2000+, SAT 2 is 2200+, and TOEFL is 105+. Don’t take my word for it though. I have seen many 2400s getting rejected and 1900s getting in. I hope this makes you realize that your whole application has to look impressive; these standardized tests are just another formal part.

Haha, whew! SO much to keep in mind. 🙂

Now let’s move on to the important part, EXTRA-CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES (ECAs).

1. DO WHAT YOU CARE ABOUT. Just partaking in random activities for the mere sake of undergraduate admission will not help at all. Remember, most of these schools will take in 2-3 Bangladeshi students and you are competing against a huge pool of passionate people. Passion is a big word in undergraduate admission in good schools. You can be passionate about anything and everything- math, biology, astronomy, arts, music, debate, karate, football, writing and what not. Have interest and pursue it actively. These schools will want to see how far you have gone to establish your cause and how you have utilized resources available to you. Recognition/ award is not an absolute requirement. But recognition on national/ international level can give your application a big boost. 🙂

2. WHAT YOU DO FOR OTHERS IS IMPORTANT. If you can improve other peoples’ lives in any way through your ECAs, do it! This is your absolute duty as a human-being and a valued component of your personality. You do not have to run a big project on your own. The girl who got into MIT this year bought ‘shemai’ and ingredients necessary for making it for 71 poor people on Eid last year. I personally thought it was GREAT and went a long way to show how she would grow as a good person.

3. KNOW THE IMPACT AND HAVE STORIES TO TELL. Well, this is pretty self-explanatory. You yourself have to know how your ECAs have morphed you to a better you. Also have anecdotes to demonstrate your claims. Use those anecdotes freely in your essays and interviews. When I met the admissions officer who admitted me, he said, “We want students to show, not tell.” Show them what you are made of ; mere telling won’t work.For example, don’t just say, “I am a good peer counselor.” Tell them about a life experience, where your counseling helped a peer.

4. DO NOT LIE. Please. Trust me, it clearly shows and reflects badly on you.

So pursue your passion, enrich yourself, help others, and communicate your activities effectively. 🙂

Let’s take a break, guys! I I am taking mine with this:

http://whatshouldwecallme.tumblr.com/post/24391201980/when-someone-tries-to-wake-me-up-on-a-monday

This website is hilarious- Well most of the time, when I can relate to them. 😛

Now that my brain is well rested, let’s go to the MAIN APPLICATION COMPONENTS

The essay/ question-answers: The only thing that I have to say on this regard is be vocal about life experiences that have made you ‘you’. Don’t be afraid of showing off; don’t boast; don’t just tell them without showing them; don’t use unnecessary complicated words (an after-effect of the SATs); and don’t lie. This I repeat do not lie/fake. Let the admission officers see into your true persona. It’s necessary for your own good. All schools do not have the same environment. It is important that you get into one where you’ll fit. 🙂

For ‘The College Essay: Yogurt Edition’, go here

http://mitadmissions.org/blogs/entry/the_college_essay_yogurt_editi

And here is the part 2

http://mitadmissions.org/blogs/entry/show_dont_tell_the_college_ess

Recommendation Letters:Usually schools require 3 of these: 1 from a science teacher, 1 from a humanities teacher, and 1 from your guidance counselor. Many Bangladeshi schools do not assign their students guidance counselors. If this is your case, just designate a teacher of your choice your guidance counselor. Request teachers you know well to write recommendation letters for you. Meet them a few times before they compose the letters. During these meetings, tell them your stories, what makes you unique. Highlight any point that you’d want them to address on their letters. Keep reminding them of the postmark deadline.

Interviews: Some schools conduct interviews for applicants. Check the college website for this information as well. Some of them like MIT will require YOU to schedule the interview. Others like PrincetonU, Harvard College etc. themselves will get in touch with you on this regard. This reminds me, check you email at least thrice in the January-Febraury timeline. I remember, Stanford set my phone interview schedule some 12 hours before the actual interview took place. Well, continue the ‘showing’ in interviews as well. Though interviews do not decide everything, they can come to good use when the university is down to two choices and you are one of them.

This is a pretty good blog about interviews

http://mitadmissions.org/blogs/entry/post_8

[If you haven’t noticed already, I love Chris’s blogs :D]

All of these together will make your application. Try your best to make the application look good as a whole.
As far as I have seen, Bangladeshi applicants are pretty impressive people. Understand that you have to shine among all of them. Also understand that you CAN shine among all of them. Don’t be afraid and keep trying! 🙂

A little more, guys! We are almost there!

FINANCIAL AID: For colleges that offer aid for international students (A lot of them do, don’t worry!), the application is usually separate. For need-blind colleges like MIT, the admission office will never know what aid you asked for and that will, in no way, affect your admission decision. Once you get in, they’ll cover your full need with aid/ scholarships/ loans. Other colleges, where admission is need-based, like Caltech, they’ll consider your admission and financial aid application together. In those colleges, asking for high aid may harm your admission chance a little bit. But if your admission application is strong enough, financial need is usually not a problematic factor. Along with the Collegeboard CSS profile, schools usually ask for parents’ income tax returns and employer’s letters. This is something that is probably better-handled by parents; use their expertise!

Whoa! Finally I feel like I have said everything that I wanted to. Still there is a good chance I missed some important stuff. My friends, who have experience about this, please share your ideas on the comments section. Also the target audience, high schoolers, please ask if you have specific questions on the comments section under this blog. 🙂

I am sorry if I make the undergrad admissions process look like a long strenuous one. It is normal to feel very overwhelmed at the beginning. But you get done at the end, trust me. That being said, good luck! 🙂