Author: Raisaa Tashnova


About Raisaa Tashnova

Raisaa Tashnova is a first year MBA student from Bangladesh, South Asia. She is an avid traveler, a keen observer and a global citizen at heart. She is documenting her experience of moving to and learning about America through her blogs.

When I was applying for business school, almost every program promised a transformative experience—one where you are taught to think differently and see the world differently—so excuse my original cynicism in not believing a word of the webpage promises. But today I stand corrected. While I cannot speak for the programs I did not choose, Olin and WashU have lived up to their digitally printed promises. Today, at the brink of ending the first year of my MBA, I stand transformed—quite a different person from the one who walked into the United States 10 months ago.

And what, you might ask, has changed in me? Here are—you have guessed it—three of the biggest transformations from my Olin experience.

Problem-solving through experience

A major portion of the price tag MBAs command is due to our reputation as problem solvers. Olin did not teach me to solve problems—my classes, my peers, my projects taught me to turn problems into opportunities.

Critical analysis, yet another MBA buzzword, really is a major asset to have. It is a mindset, a can-do attitude which helps you view an issue from different points of view. It takes you to the core of all problems—conflicting human interests. From there, you learn to use your hard skills to wow your stakeholders and your soft skills to guide them to see the common good.

While Olin introduced me to many tools to undergo the above process, it was perhaps seeing my peers put them to action that truly ingrained this new way of thinking in me.

My peers taught me about managing people

When you put many highly-motivated individuals in a room, it makes for an interesting social experiment. I feel I have always been surrounded by high achievers and strove to match up. Somehow, during these past months I learned to calm down and take some time to observe. And that made all the difference.

I saw how my peers handled conflict, how they disagreed without disregarding an idea, how they motivated others, how they took up leadership, how they succeeded, and how they failed. I will not claim to have absorbed it all—to have incorporated in my leadership style all the good I saw and defended against all the bad, but I am surely more aware of my actions now as well as of reciprocation from those I am acting upon.

Say ‘yes’ to new opportunities

The Olin MBA is an adventure and luckily, I am an adventurer. There are so many interests you can pursue and so many ways you can leave an impact here. To make the most of this experience, I feel it is important to say, “yes” to new opportunities—to be ok to fail and take the learning on to the next adventure. When someone says it cannot be done, I have learned to say, ‘Let’s fail then,’ because it is better to have tried and failed, then not to have tried at all.

There will not be an A-Ha moment of transformation—at least there wasn’t one for me. It happens gradually, through debates in class and discussions outside of it, through group projects and case competitions, club works and event organizations, and through the fun and frolic of an everyday MBA life. It happens through an Olin MBA.

My friend jokes that I tick every box for diversity. I am brown, I am a woman, and I am from an underrepresented country of the world. While my diversity is an asset, it is also a responsibility. I represent a country to this community, I represent my gender, I represent my religion—in short, I am an ambassador.

In the past months, as an ambassador, I have learned new things about my identity and I have never felt closer to my heritage or prouder of the differences I bring to my new home.

I am Bangladeshi

It is a mouthful, I agree; but if you make the effort to call me Bangladeshi instead of Indian, you will be closer to my heart for addressing me with our hard-won nationality.

I will then tell you how we are the only people in the world who fought for their language. How we are a socialist country without much social security to go around. How we have set exemplary standards in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. How we are stuck on the brink of explosive economic growth, the prize just eluding us every time! I learned these recently because I want to share with you the struggles and aspirations of the people from a small country, perched on the Bay of Bengal.

I am a Woman

More importantly, I am a South Asian woman. My eloquence and my extroversion are often in contradiction of the image of a woman born and raised in South Asia. That image is not incorrect.

Yes, things are changing for the better, but we still have a long way to go before we can claim to have built a society where women can explore their full potential. Nonetheless, I stand as proof of what we can achieve, given our limitations.

Sharing cultures and clothes!

Sharing cultures and clothes!

I am Muslim

Islam has become an enigma for Americans, and I am glad to answer questions about the religion (the best I can) if you are curious to know. The other day a friend asked me if I knew what we say in our prayers. I didn’t.

That day I Googled the meaning of every statement we make when we pray and for the first time I discovered that I pray for enlightenment, for peace, for forgiveness, for the blessings that I have, every day. I would not know this if I was not asked. I drew closer to my Creator because you were curious.

I read it somewhere—America is not a melting pot, it’s a salad bowl. Everyone can be unique here, yet complement each other. I see how that has played to America’s strength. When you accept the whole of a person, how can she not give her all to you?

Growing up in a homogeneous society, this is refreshing for me—and it is beautiful.

Over the last three months, I have been to five states and six cities in the US. I have toured the Central Standard Time zone, tasted the cheese in Wisconsin, been blown away in the windy city of Chicago, danced my way down the streets of New Orleans, watched my first game in football-crazy Texas (Dallas) and lived daily life in Missouri (St Louis).

I list ‘travelling’ as one of my favorite things to do, so imagine my delight at having so many opportunities to travel this massive, new country I am in. Through my travels I have come to realize something interesting. I am loving St Louis and here is why.

1. It’s mid-November and I am still wearing shorts

I hail from an (almost) equatorial country where the norm is hot and humid. I would not have banked on my sun toasted skin to survive the dreaded winter of Missouri. Interestingly, the weather has mostly been deliciously cool, ever since temperatures dropped at the end of August. The beauty of fall is stretching itself out here and I am loving its chill and colors. Crisp, cool wind blowing in your face as you walk across Mudd Field is the best way to wake up for the 8 am classes.

I know what you are thinking—I have not survived winter yet, but St. Louis has been kind so far and if nothing else, the warmth of the ever-smiling people of St. Louis should help get me through.

2. Mother nature has your back

I head to Forest Park for my dose of green.

I head to Forest Park for my dose of green.

As I returned from my journey to the south of the country, I noticed how distinctively green St Louis is. There are trees everywhere, especially with Forest Park taking the game up a notch. At 1,293 acres (500 acres larger than Central Park!) Forest Park is the treasure of this city. Its streams and meadows, fountains and bridges lay out a mesmerizing mix of mother nature and human architecture that you can explore for days.

Any day you are feeling down or feeling lonely, turn to Mother Nature. Just head down to Forest Park and the dose of green will boost your endorphin levels.

3. No shortage of places to go

Music, theater, zoo, museum, tours, fairs, festivals. You are never bored here. Did I say that most of these are free?

The St. Louis Zoo is the USA’s ‘Best Free Attraction.’ You can watch the animals at the zoo or watch kids squeak in delight as the giraffes eat from their hands. The Anheuser-Busch Brewery Tour is one of a kind. It comes with free beer, as is expected from the homeland of the famous Budweiser. I have met great people at ‘Festival of Nations,’ a grand affair, staying true to its name and showcasing art forms, food and goods from all over the world. I have not even scratched the surface of ‘Things to do in St Louis.’

I know. I sound like a tour guide, trying to sell St Louis to you; that is not the purpose of this blog. This blog is my thank you to St Louis—I came to you prepared to be bored and miserably cold, but while I was not paying attention, you became home.

In July, I packed two heavy bags and came to America. I left behind my family, the country I grew up in, and the daily comforts of certainty; instead, I brought with me hope for a better life and determination to conquer bigger challenges.

I also brought with me an image of America built from watching Grey’s Anatomy and Modern Family, Transformers and 27 Dresses, Last Week Tonight, The Daily Show—and, of course, the 2016 Presidential Race.

Over these three months, however, I discovered a different America—the real America. Here are a few observations I’ve made during these first few months about living the American way.

Fewer boundaries between personal and professional life

I always considered myself a raging extrovert—smiling easily and always making friends. In America, however, it is a different ball game altogether. Small talk here is aggressive. You must constantly smile at people—even at strangers, especially at strangers. Even when you are dragging heavy grocery bags to the bus stop, even when you had a bad day. There is no excuse to not smile at people here.

Americans also love it when you tell them a personal story. You need to tell your story to your peers, to advisors, at an interview, while networking. You need to keep talking about yourself—not only what skills you have, but also what you think, how you think, how you feel. Coming from a culture where personal and professional lives are strictly separate, this is a big adjustment for me (especially the smiling all the time part).

The first sight of the land of the free, home of the brave.

The first sight of the land of the free, home of the brave.

American news leaves much to be desired

American media is really bad. I am sorry for not sugar coating this, but you guys are missing out on big drama from not being tuned into the world’s news.

Once I stepped into the country, my Flipboard stream changed from being a mixture of news from around the world to churning out American news exclusively. Granted, it is important to know why Brangelina split up, but it is also important to know about the Colombia referendum, where the people voted ‘no’ to a peace deal (essentially saying they want civil war to continue!! See? Drama). This lack of news creates a sense of isolation I was not prepared for. It’s a big world out there, and a lot is happening in it.

Options are endless

The first time I went grocery shopping, it took me four hours to buy $100 worth of food. There are so many choices for everything in this country. Seven varieties of bread; five varieties of milk; chicken with skin, without skin; breast pieces only, drumsticks only; breast pieces and drumsticks only! Do not even get me started on the coffee.

I now use my grocery trips to practice the concepts I learn in class, from Accounting to Strategy, as I plan my path to becoming a more efficient shopper.

There is so much more to America than WashU, St. Louis and the Midwest—and that is what is exciting about this quirky place where everyone drives on the wrong side of the road and ‘flavour’ is spelled ‘flavor’. Here’s to exploring more unknowns, as America unfolds its beauties and flaws to the woman from a land far, far away.

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