It has long been a dream of Laila Jessani’s to earn her college degree. When her daughter, Aliza, took the step to enroll at CUW, Aliza encouraged her mom to enroll, too.
Aliza Jessani is now enrolled in Concordia’s pharmaceutical sciences degree program, while Laila Jessani is in pursuit of degrees in secondary education and business. Below, Aliza shares the story of how the two Bengali women came to America and began pursuing college dreams together, at Concordia.
Once upon a time, I lived in Bangladesh. This is the country where I was born and the country that provides me with the privilege to proudly say that I am a Bengali. Before I keep going on with using the word “I” a thousand times in the upcoming sentences and become an anonymous author, I should introduce myself. My name is Aliza Jessani and I am 21 years old. I came to the United States at 18 and graduated from Nicolet High School. From a very young age, I wanted to study in an American high school. Why? All thanks to Netflix for presenting movies and TV shows with so much high school/college drama and romance!
I used to think that if I could study at a school in the US, I would also experience the same as the characters in these shows. However, I never really expected that my desire to experience the school life in the United States could actually come true. But it did. How? The answer to this is simply, love. The immense love of two sisters: my mother and my aunt.
These two sisters have been best friends since childhood, but then life happened and my aunt had to move to the United States after her marriage. The sisters had not seen each other for a very long time. When I say “very long time,” I mean that they had not seen each other’s faces for literally 10 years. I remember my mother used to tell me their childhood stories about how she and her sister used to cover for each other’s faults just so the other one did not get yelled at by their parents. The sisters used to talk for hours on the phone, crying about how much they missed each other and planning trips to visit each other. Of course, those plans just remained plans for a long time.
Until one fine day, my mom got a call from her beloved sister. “Wrap up everything. You and Aliza are moving to Wisconsin with me.”
And that was it. That was when I believed that God does listen to silent prayers. My aunt had everything sorted out for me and my mother.
As soon as we moved to Milwaukee, I applied for admission to Nicolet High school. I started as a senior at Nicolet and couldn’t believe I was actually going to an American school. I had everything pictured, I was prepared for the high school drama and romance and all that they had portrayed in Netflix movies. But guess what? For me, high school wasn’t really like any of those movies. I was having a hard time even making friends because everybody wanted to stay in their own bubbles. I would approach people in my class, but never really had a connection with anyone, feeling very excluded and different from everyone else. Maybe it was because of the cultural differences or something along those lines.
My days in high school went like this: attend classes, sit alone at lunch, go back to class, and then go home. And then, as if things couldn’t get any worse, “Covid” started. Classes switched to all virtual and the probability of making friends or even talking to anyone was basically zero. Nonetheless, I finished high school and I got that diploma; thinking of 365 different ways to sue Netflix for lying to its audience.
Then, it was time to move on. And by moving on, I mean going to college. Thankfully, I knew what I wanted to study which was pharmaceutical sciences. What I did not know was where I wanted to go to college.
Words of wisdom
So, one fine morning, I was sitting at the breakfast table with my mom and my aunt. And as I continued to do my research, my mom started to have this conversation with my aunt about how she had always wanted to pursue nursing as a career, but had to quit her studies because she got married at the age of 23. That is when a bolt of lightning sparked in my mind and I thought: Why not register my mom for classes along with me?!
Growing up, my mother would always remind me: ‘Learning has no age and it never stops. Always keep learning ’til your last breath.’Aliza Jessani, CUW pharmacy student
Growing up, my mother would always remind me of one thing. She would say, “Learning has no age and it never stops. Always keep learning till your last breath.” Now it’s like those exact words run through my veins. When my mother brought up the fact that her desire to study nursing never came true, I realized at that very moment that it was time that she applies her words to her own life.
So, I repeated her words to her and insisted that she continue her studies now. The sparkle and joy that she had in her eyes at the thought that she could actually pursue her passion is indescribable. Long story short, we both were ready to go to college.
How did we decide to study at Concordia? Of course, the decision was not limited to the result of a Google search mentioning the breathtaking views of Lake Michigan, or the fact that it was nearby. One of the reasons we chose to study at Concordia was because it is a Lutheran university. What really drove us to this campus was its identity rooted in the Word of God and the mission that it holds of helping students develop in mind, body, and spirit. It not only focuses on the academics, but also cares about the person as a whole. It teaches the students with the different values like truth, integrity, excellence, and service.
My mother and I not only wanted to exceed in our fields of study, but also as human beings. No matter how successful we become or how wealthy we are, at the end of the day, if we are not good human beings, are we really successful? If we are not kind to one another, treat each other with respect, and perform our prayers and service to God, are we really happy and at peace? I don’t think so. My mother and I want to be successful as humans first and then in our fields of study. And that’s why we chose Concordia.
What really drove us to this campus was Concordia’s identity rooted in the Word of God and the mission that it holds of helping students develop in mind, body, and spirit.Aliza Jessani
Applying to international school
We went through the admission process and registered for the spring 2023 classes. It was quite stressful with the visa applications, filling up the college application, submitting documents, writing trillions of emails. But thankfully, with the help of our wonderful advisors and staff at Concordia, we were accepted at Concordia as international students. Here I was, about to attend college for the first time in my life. I was excited as well as nervous since I did not have a very good high school experience.
It took my mom and me awhile to find our classes, but after a few weeks, we were a pro at it. Concordia is huge and beautiful. The chapel, art gallery, the lake, and just every place in it are so unique. I was having fun making friends and exploring the college, but at the the same time, life became very stressful for me.
More words of wisdom
After starting college, I realized that I needed to apply for an on-campus job so I could pay my tuition. I applied for a job and thankfully got it. As days passed by, I was getting overwhelmed with assignments, helping my mom with her assignments, doing paperwork for my on-campus job, and so on. I was hardly able to make any time for myself or for my family. It had only been 3 weeks and I was already in tears with anxiety. I thought I was going to fail in what people call “adulting 101”.
That is when this beautiful woman, my mom, held my hand and said to me, “ Life will throw challenges at you so hard that you may fall down multiple times, but I know you can get up stronger every time you fall.” Her words, her love, and her belief in me gave me so much power that I started believing in myself.
Where they are now
Although Netflix had set the bar very high for me and a few days later, had also dropped me down from my dream fantasy world, I was now aware that in reality none of that happens. But, the reality is not that harsh either if only one knows to appreciate the good things. And that is what I have been doing, looking at the glass as half-full.
Now my mother and I act as each other’s support systems. I help her with understanding her assignments while she reminds me to take one step at a time. I couldn’t have been more grateful to have a best friend and mother all in one person. And I can’t thank Concordia enough for giving me the opportunity to follow my dreams. Who knew that a phone call from my aunt would bring me this far when I could still be watching Netflix and fantasizing about the “ideal high school life”?
I have come very far from where I started and I know I have a long way to go. As Robert Frost says, “But I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep”. This is who I am, still trying, failing, trying again, and failing better. And this goes on until I finally succeed in fulfilling my dreams.
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—This article is written by Aliza Jessani who is studying pharmaceutical sciences at Concordia University Wisconsin.