Towson University senior Reema Riaz only has one thing planned for after she graduates: She’s heading to Turkey to teach English for nine months on a Fulbright award.
Riaz won a Fulbright U.S. Student Award for an English teaching assistantship. She leaves late this summer, seeing Turkey as a geographic advantage in her pursuit of a career in international education.
“Its position between East and West is definitely symbolic of this long-term cultural and linguistic diversity [in the region],” Riaz says. “I think, based on my career goals, it’s a perfect place to be.”
The political science major wants to help developing countries provide opportunities for education to minorities, women and girls, particularly in South Asia and the Middle East. The Fulbright U.S. Student Award came not long after Riaz was Towson U’s first finalist for a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University. She had hoped to pursue a master’s degree in Islamic studies there.
“I wanted to see and understand Islam from a more in-depth perspective, beyond my own personal experiences growing up as a Muslim,” Riaz says. She hoped to study inconsistencies in perceptions of Islam and how people interpret the texts, looking for ways they might be better understood to show opportunity for equality in education. Showing up at the interview for the Rhodes Scholarship struck a chord in her.
“Just to see so many different people who were also really interested in something for the greater good of the world was really rewarding.”
Riaz’s goals are partially informed by her family’s passion for education and by her own cultural background. Her family is from Pakistan. She grew up in the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Maryland, areas, and her father worked at the Pentagon. As a Muslim, Riaz says she began to see the world through a different lens in the aftermath of 9/11.
A frequent traveler, Riaz has been to several Middle Eastern countries: Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar. Some of those visits have been to see family, while others were just ways to see more of the world, which she says her parents have always encouraged. But she can’t say she has a favorite in that list of countries.
“I learned from them all in different ways,” Riaz explains. “In every single place I’ve been to, I’ve learned something new about myself.”
Riaz is a tutor at the Writing Center, which she credits both for the support she has received and for the opportunity to work with students who seek writing help. She is also in the Honors College, which she says has allowed her to study interdisciplinary subjects and exchange ideas with students in ways that have enriched her learning. That enrichment is part of how she found herself up for two exceptional awards, one of which will now put her at the heart of a region on the world stage.
“I think that living in another country definitely helps you see the world in a different way,” Riaz says. “You’re immersed in it. You understand how people are, and it’s a completely different experience.”