I was running a few minutes late and in a mild panic – arranging a meeting in front of the university’s Main Building in late June was a hopeless idea. Usually the place gets fully invaded by a happy crowd of fresh graduates, their families, and friends. Luckily, it wasn’t the most crowded moment that day and I spotted Shazia almost immediately.
She was wearing a beautiful white Pakistani dress, all ready to join the Rector’s reception for cum laude graduates at the UT Botanical Garden a few hours later. We sat down for an interview and Shazia Javed told her incredible story.
As a teenager, she had a dream to become an astronaut. “Unfortunately, we’re not really welcome in NASA,” noted Shazia. Then she thought: “If I cannot be an astronaut, what can I be?” and discovered herself in Computer Science.
After graduating from the National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences in Islamabad with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, Shazia’s next dream was Cornell University. This is nothing out of the ordinary, as the young woman comes from a family where everyone has studied at the world’s best universities. As Shazia puts it: “Cornell is a very, very, very selective university; if you get in there, it’s like you’ve done something in your life.” And, she got in. However, at the very last moment her sponsor company withdrew their support, and the dream crashed.
This was when Shazia noticed the University of Tartu’s master’s programme in Software Engineering. In the beginning, she was very negative about it. She thought: “OK, should I try it? If I try it, they will not grant me admission. If they grant me admission, they will not give me a scholarship. If they give me a scholarship, I will not get a visa.”
Truly enough, getting the visa turned out to be a real nightmare, as Pakistan’s image has been damaged by terrorism. One of the few options was to get the visa at the Estonian Embassy in China, but Shazia wasn’t even allowed to enter the Chinese Embassy in Pakistan on the grounds that she might not come back from China.
Having gone through all the imaginable and unimaginable procedures, Shazia finally arrived to Italy where no one seemed to speak English. At the hotel, she recalls asking the manager: “Have you ever heard of Estonia? And he was like: What is Estonia? I was like: God…Where am I going?!” She was desperate, and the chances were high that she would not make it to Tartu. But she did make it. One and a half years later, she’s a fresh master’s graduate in Software Engineering, cum laude.
Shazia says that the whole long journey was worth it, that Tartu has healing power, and that the most difficult thing for her in Tartu was gaining survival skills: cleaning, cooking, and doing the laundry. The first thing she cooked was a poached egg, and she looked the recipe up on the Internet. Living abroad is no luxury.
Shazia also shared very interesting things about the life and culture of Pakistan, a country that – apart from the negative media coverage – we know relatively little about.
Listen to the podcast interview with Shazia Javed:
Listen to Shazia’s speech at the graduation ceremony: