Senior Series: Bisma Munawar


Munawar at the CMU home campus in Pittsburgh, U.S.. Photo provided by Bisma Munawar.

After taking almost a year of Spanish classes at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, Bisma Munawar found herself immersed in Spanish culture in Mexico at a debating championship in Fall 2018. She loved how she was able to communicate with people and not feel like an outsider. Now as a senior graduating in May, she has taken almost two years of Spanish and hopes to go to South America or Spain after graduation and feel like she truly belongs there.

“I had the opportunity to go on a lot of trips [during my time at CMU-Q], which has definitely made me a culturally-curious person,” said Munawar.

Munawar chose CMU-Q because of not only the small student to professor ratios and great academics, but also because she would be able to complement her learning on campus with trips abroad. Having chosen information systems as her major, she wandered the world to seek inspiration to innovate. She came to CMU-Q seeking answers to complex information organization problems and ended up travelling to 10 countries in her four years, including the U.S., Canada, U.K., UAE, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Austria, Vietnam and Ireland.

Munawar at he World University Debate Championships in Mexico in Fall 2018. Photo provided by Bisma Munawar.

However, in all her travels for various purposes, ranging from debate competitions to an exchange semester to hackathons, her biggest takeaway is the ability to draw happiness from unknown experiences and meeting new people.

She described a cruise party on the Danube river at the end of a Model U.N. conference in Germany as the best party she has been to in her life. And this was because she was with a diverse group of people who spoke different languages and came from different countries, yet they all were able to have fun together.

“I really celebrate diversity…. I’ve realized whoever you meet would know something you don’t. So, I’m always ready to be surprised and to be amazed that I’m going to meet somebody and learn something new,” said Munawar.

Even at CMU-Q, she’s had a diverse group of friends who she always finds a common ground with no matter how different.

“I feel like a toasted chip that needs no dip…I find happiness in things and people around [me],” she said.

Munawar also recalled a class she took titled “language and social aspects of second-generation immigrants” that helped her appreciate many of her classmates and their stories, as well as motivate her to keep learning Spanish.

“I didn’t just want to be part of my culture but other cultures too…feel like I can belong somewhere else too,” she said.

Travel is not cheap though, especially for a college student. Munawar comes from a middle-class background, but that never stopped her from going after her true passion. She saved up while working multiple jobs and even bought her parents tickets to her graduation ceremony in May 2019.

“Qatar Foundation is extremely generous and gave me opportunities I could have never imagined,” she said.

Despite her background, she says she is very privileged and her trips have allowed her to appreciate this. On a service learning trip to Vietnam, she worked with laborers to put up scaffolding and build homes, which humbled her.

Munawar while working with Habitat for Humanity in Vietnam. Photo provided by Bisma Munawar.

“You can’t judge somebody on their income status. I feel inferior in Qatar as people are so rich but [Vietnam] helped fight these biases. The worth of a person is in their character and not based on their money,” said Munawar.

Susan Hagan, associate teaching professor at CMU-Q, taught Munawar in one of her design courses. According to her, Munawar always tries to figure out interesting angles on things through her curiosity. “Being in a school and field that’s innovative therefore really suits her,” she said.

It is not easy to successfully get these travel opportunities, which are limited and highly competitive. However, Kevin D’Arco, director of first-year, leadership & service programs at CMU-Q, noted Munawar’s diligence and enthusiasm when it comes to applications for travel. She wasn’t always successful on her first try and kept asking for feedback, he said.

Most importantly, Munawar said travelling has been beneficial for her mental health. “Taking yourself out of your comfort zone…being in a new vibe and mindset, it’s very good for your well-being as found by science as well,” she said.

However, not every place suited her tastes and comfort zone. Munawar particularly recalled that when she was in Toronto to learn about cryptocurrency there was a hailstorm. She thought to herself, “How do people live here?” It was so different from weather she was used to, but she embraced it knowing all places are not perfect.

D’Arco, who also accompanied Munawar to Vietnam, complimented her willingness to be put out of her comfort zone in new places and circumstances. “It’s not always the easiest places to go to, but she was open for that,” he said.

“There’s not one particular place you could be happy in, it’s a state of mind…that’s why I am able to be content wherever I am,” said Munawar.

Munawar presents at a case competition. Photo provided by Bisma Munawar.

Her diligence is also reflected in her academics and co-curricular life at CMU-Q. She is very active in the community and her confidence is radiated in all aspects of her life, according to Amir Ahmed, Munawar’s classmate, who also did an exchange semester with her at CMU-Q’s home campus in the U.S.

Munawar credits her success to her time at CMU-Q. “They groom you, they teach you a work ethic and how to deal with conflicts,” she said. After graduation, she wants to work for a big technology firm like Facebook to keep improving user experiences, which she is passionate about.

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