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Bridging two worlds

Student Close-Up: Asmaa Lashin

By Matthew Biddle

Photos: Tom Wolf

For Asmaa Lashin, MBA ’17, coming to the School of Management has meant more than earning a degree. It’s a chance for her to build bridges and tear down walls between two worlds.

Lashin grew up in Alexandria, Egypt, a country where young women are not encouraged to obtain an advanced degree or work outside of the home, particularly in technical fields. Instead, she decided to pursue engineering.

“In Egypt, our culture says girls should stay home and raise children. You don’t have the right to practice certain activities, ride a bicycle or go for a scientific major,” she says. “Challenging that was not easy. Many people told me to go for Faculty of Education like my sisters, but I said, ‘I may become a teacher — a professor of engineering.’”

In 2009, she completed her Faculty of Engineering degree at Alexandria University and says it inspired other girls in her family to pursue a similar path.

“This is what I wanted to do — what I needed to do — so that’s why I succeeded,” she says. “Whenever you are going after something you love, you have a chance to prove yourself.”

Over the next few years, Lashin held various consulting and technical positions, but the idea of earning her master’s degree lingered. In 2014, she went to Japan for about a month as a technical support engineer for the newly launched Egypt-Japan University of Science and Technology, gaining insights on the IT infrastructure of Kyushu University she could bring home.

The experience motivated her to apply for scholarships and universities abroad. In 2015, Lashin earned a full-tuition scholarship from the U.S.-Egypt Higher Education Initiative, a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) program that supports Egyptians who study business and STEM fields. She chose the School of Management’s full-time MBA program, in part, because of its supply chains and operations management concentration.

“The transition was difficult,” says Lashin, citing some cultural differences she noticed. For example, in Egypt, appointment times and deadlines are more relaxed and family is paramount above any individual goal or obligation. Early on, she also struggled with Western cooking, differences in the education systems and communication barriers.

“We talk with our hands and our tune is relatively high, but here that could be misunderstood or taken offensively,” she says. “I tried to observe how people react and do things, but it was difficult because everyone is a little different, even if they are from the same place.”

Over time, Lashin became more comfortable and embraced opportunities for cultural exchange, educating her colleagues on such topics as clothing, transportation or infrastructure in Egypt, and spending time each weekend experiencing new aspects of Buffalo.

“We are all more similar than different, so it’s about enjoying those differences,” she says. “It’s my responsibility to present a good image of my country and bring back what I’ve learned about this country and its many great things.”

After commencement, Lashin plans to return home and work on USAID projects related to improving educational opportunities in Egypt. Most of all, she hopes to inspire other girls to chase their dreams.

“When other girls heard I was traveling to the U.S., they were excited, so I hope this will give them confidence to travel and experience other cultures,” she says. “Girls deserve better opportunities to step outside of the traditional life they have now. I hope they feel as powerful as I see them.”