Alyna Rahim, 23, was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan. She spends her free time doing origami, listening to music, occasionally singing, and reading mystery novels. Prior to joining the University of Central Asia (UCA), Alyna did volunteer work in her community and believes living in UCA’s diverse environment will enable her to learn diverse cultures of the world and better understand her own. She aspires to become a cryptanalyst or a data scientist after graduation. After her first year at the UCA Campus in Naryn, Kyrgyzstan, she was recognised as the top student in her class and was honoured on Dean’s List.
This interview is part of a series featuring UCA undergraduate students’ reflections after completing their first year at the university. This series is a joint collaboration between the University of Central Asia and Aga Khan Foundation Canada.
Why did you choose to study at the University of Central Asia?
I chose to study at UCA because the university offers small class sizes, a diverse community, world-class curriculum, a peaceful campus location, and it is part of the Aga Khan Development Network. My major is Computer Science, and I chose this specialisation as there are many career choices available in this field. I believe the liberal arts courses and the computer science courses offered at UCA will help me achieve my career goals. I enjoy learning about the possibilities of a virtual world and the ways technology have eased our everyday tasks. I want to contribute to society in this way.
You mentioned that before joining UCA that you were looking forward to joining a diverse community and learning about new cultures. How do you feel now that one year has been completed?
Pluralism might sound easy, but it is not. It is challenging to embrace diversity and to live with people who are different from you are in so many ways. While this journey towards pluralism was not smooth, it has been amazing to work, learn, and live in a diverse community. This diverse UCA community, which is now my family, has taught me a lot –not only about different cultures but also about patience and acceptance. I am now more open to different perspectives and recognise that diversity is a strength. Together we can achieve a lot more than as individuals.
Coming from Pakistan, you faced a challenge of entering a university with many students whose first language is Russian rather than English. How was this transition to studying and living with multicultural students on campus?
Initially, the transition was hard, and language was a barrier with my classmates as English is not my first language either. Sometimes it was difficult for me, just as it was for them, to convey my thoughts and ideas properly. I could not even remember my classmates’ names. However, they were very supportive, and they tried to communicate in English whenever non-Russian-speaking students were around. It took some time, but we all became friends and got through it together. There are still times when we cannot find the proper words for simple things, but we all have learned to make sense from the context of the conversation.
Prior to UCA, you were a community health volunteer. What did this entail? Can you also tell us about your experience with UCA’s health club?
Before joining UCA, I was a Girl Guide and worked on a six-month health and sanitation project to raise awareness about the importance of good hygiene, safe drinking water, and a balanced diet. As part of UCA’s health club, I helped organise events to promote a stress-free environment on campus and to make sure everyone felt welcomed. The goal of our initiatives is to bring the campus community together and eliminate differences. I have loved working with UCA counsellor Robin Higgins and my fellow club members to accomplish our club’s objectives.
The UCA, Aga Khan Health Services and Naryn State University organised a health fair at the UCA campus in April for over 200 local residents of the town of Naryn including free health screenings, information sessions by qualified doctors. What was your role in that event?
I was part of the planning team, and I oversaw the scheduling of volunteers. Through this experience, I improved my management and organisational skills. Moreover, I learned how to use the best available space for an event. As the health fair was for Naryn citizens, it was really important to seek help from the community. This made me realise the importance of knowing the official languages of the region. I also had the opportunity to collaborate with students from Naryn State University. I enjoyed meeting members of the community and learning from them.
We heard that you often help your classmates with their maths homework throughout the year. In your opinion, why is it important for students to support each other?
It is important to help others as well as to seek help because no one is great at everything – we all have our strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, we are a family, and a family gives you the courage to move forward and backs you up during hard times.
What do you like the most about the student life on campus?
The hustle and bustle in the student lounge, people competing and challenging each other at Foosball or snooker, and the diverse music in the student lounge as well.
Do you feel like you have grown personally and/or academically after completing the preparatory programme?
The preparatory programme has helped me grow in a lot of different ways. Through mathematics courses, I have learned and applied mathematical concepts to the real world. Delivering several English presentations has strengthened my confidence and my public speaking skills. The diverse science curriculum has helped me identify topics of interest and has helped me improve my writing and research skills. Starting in the second year, the liberal art years will require self-study and a lot of reading and writing. The preparatory programme has strengthened my English writing and reading skills, which are important for the second year and beyond.
Before moving on to a four-year undergraduate degree programme, incoming students are enrolled in an intensive, one-year preparatory programme. Developed in partnership with Seneca College in Toronto, this programme is designed to help incoming students attain the necessary English and critical thinking skills to succeed at the university level.
What is your favourite memory from your first year?
The Winter Carnival 2016 is my favourite memory from the first year. I was part of the organising committee, and it was the first campus event mostly overseen by students. It was a fun event where everyone from the community (even the faculty) came to celebrate and compete in competitions and games.
What are you looking forward to most going into your second year at UCA?
I am really looking forward to Russian and Kyrgyz language courses in my second year. Even though I know it will be challenging, I am very curious to find out what these courses hold for me. I am looking forward to learning these languages so that I can feel closer to the community and to have a better understanding of Central Asian culture and history.
If you could share advice to incoming students, what would you tell them?
Be positive and live your life to the fullest. I know it is hard but try to have a balance between your studies and entertainment. Never compromise one for the other.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I am also a campus tour guide, and giving tours is my favourite activity. Every time I talk about the campus and UCA I feel happiness, excitement, and a sense of personal belonging. Moreover, my tours remind me of how blessed I am to be part of UCA. Studying at UCA is the right decision.