The University of Iowa

From Bangladesh to Iowa: Embracing the Shared Learning Culture

June 24th, 2020
Nafisa Kamal Ayntee
Nafisa standing next to the Bangladesh flag displayed on the pedestrian bridge near the IMU

Nafisa Kamal Ayntee spent her early years traveling throughout South Asia. Her father’s career as an agriculturalist, working to support a variety of NGOs, resulted in the family relocating multiple times. One significant move was to the Maldives when Nafisa was five years old. Not only was this a remarkable time due to the birth of her younger sister, it was also when Nafisa was first introduced to the English language.

Born in Bangladesh, her native language is Bangla. The school she attended in the Maldives used English as their medium of instruction. At the end of their year there, Nafisa’s family settled in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where Nafisa continued her education in another English medium school.

Ten years later, Nafisa found herself traveling again, this time on her own. When presented with the opportunity to participate in a U.S. student-exchange program, Nafisa knew she wanted to go. She had listened to awe-inspiring stories about the U.S. from older friends who had participated in similar programs, and also from her father, who had briefly worked in the country.

The exchange program brought Nafisa to Harcourt, Iowa, during the 2016-17 academic year. She became very close to her host family. They enjoyed a variety of trips and vacations together, which Nafisa cherished. She also took advantage of every school-sponsored trip, thinking it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the U.S., not knowing if she would ever return.

The first time Nafisa learned of the University of Iowa was at a high school college fair during her exchange year. She recalls a large mixture of colleges and being represented at the fair, but it was the UI that stood out to her. “I clearly recall when I came to the University of Iowa. It struck me at that moment, ‘I wish I could be there - it all sounds so wonderful,’” shares Nafisa.

Nafisa’s exchange year turned out to be better than she had imagined. Upon returning to Dhaka, she was determined to work hard and do well in her studies with hopes of returning to the U.S. to pursue her higher education.

Nafisa Kamal Ayntee and freshman roommates
Nafisa with her freshman roommates

Nafisa’s hard work paid off. She was accepted to the UI and started her freshman year in the fall of 2019. When she arrived, she was thrilled to meet her new roommates, one with Ethiopian heritage, and the other with Mexican heritage. “It was pretty remarkable; we were from three different zones of the world. I was able to learn different perspectives, and we all shared our culture. It was wonderful to enjoy our freshman year experiences together,” said Nafisa.

One significant experience took place during Nafisa’s On Iowa! orientation. “In my school back home, sports weren’t a big thing. During our orientation, we all went to Kinnick to celebrate. It was amazing, seeing this magnificent facility, watching the fireworks, realizing that I was part of this big university that is so well-known. It was all so incredible.”

She was also impressed with the student involvement fair and learning of the many ways to get involved on campus. “This is something very special at Iowa - the opportunities they offer. Whether a student organization or in a research lab, a student can never say ‘I don’t have anything to do,’” said Nafisa. “It stands out to me how respectful Iowa is, creating opportunities for everyone.”

Nafisa participated in the South Asian Student Alliance, a student group focused on uniting the student body through philanthropy, events, service, and culture. She enjoyed the opportunity to share her culture with others and to learn of theirs.

Nafisa Kamal Ayntee
Nafisa enjoys sharing her culture and learning of others

Nafisa also served as an International Student Ambassador in UI admissions. In this role she would speak with other international students who are interested in the UI or have already committed. “My advice is to know what you’re stepping into and then take a leap of faith. I’m happy to answer their questions and share my experiences at Iowa, but everyone has their own personalized journey. For me, it’s been wonderful.”

When the campus was forced to close this spring due to COVID-19, Nafisa returned to her exchange family’s home in Iowa. She admits the transition to online classes was a big change. “I wasn’t accustomed to online courses, but I think it went smoothly because the professors were so cooperative and supportive. They worked very hard to help us get through it.” Nafisa is looking forward to returning to campus this fall to continue her studies in microbiology. She hopes to go to medical school one day.