08 May

Chapter 11: From obstacles to opportunities: first programming and hacking experiences (1)

Earlier, I posted Chapter 1-10 of my new series of blogs, which will collectively form an online book. Below, I have attached Chapter 11.

Chapter 11: From obstacles to opportunities: first programming and hacking experiences (1)

Disclaimer: Disclaimer: Since this is primarily a fictional story, please do not take everything I write too seriously.

The dusk settled over the city, its golden hues painting the skyline in a warm embrace. We retreated to the long passages of the building, gazing out at the panoramic vista that unfolded before us. The evening’s beauty draped over the bustling streets below, the melodies of car horns and shop bells drifting up to our vantage point. Deciding to savor the moment, we settled before the vast window, the cityscape our captivating backdrop. Once more, Elhara opened her laptop, and I continued my story.

“As I mentioned a few moments ago, dear Elhara, my life took a challenging turn when I turned fifteen. It wasn’t the hard classes that weighed me down, but rather the sense of isolation I felt in those classrooms, unable to converse fluidly in Dutch. Having resided in the Netherlands for less than two years, my grasp of the Dutch language was shaky. That made it hard to connect with others. And when I did try to join in, our different views often led to arguments.

I was a girl who dared to dream big, a soul for whom the sky held no limits, yearning to leave an indelible mark on the world. But my classmates had different plans. They were happy with a regular nine-to-five life, rushing to finish school and marry before they turned twenty-one. Being single and childless at twenty-five was seen as shameful by many. Their goals were simple: have fun, get educated, find a partner, and start a family – the typical path that most followed.

The gap between our perspectives made it really hard for me to connect with my classmates. When I urged these young women to strive for bigger dreams, half of them dismissed my ideas, laughing that becoming a scientist wasn’t a job for a woman. They believed a woman’s true calling was motherhood. The other half were held back by self-doubt, convinced they weren’t smart enough for higher education. They not only discouraged themselves but also tried to discourage people like me, focusing on the obstacles they saw instead of the possibilities.

Even while I adored my classmates, a fun group of girls my age, there was a minor obstacle that prevented us from having a genuine connection. I found it difficult to speak openly with them, even though they were kind; there was always a simmering undertone of irritation.’’

“One day,” I continued, “with determination blazing in my eyes, I approached my parents. ‘I don’t care what sacrifices it takes, but I’m ready to do whatever is necessary, even the impossible, to pursue higher education. It is seriously unbearable for me to spend another four years in this class feeling like I am operating below my knowledge and skill level.’ To be honest, I was so frustrated with myself. Here in the Netherlands, I hadn’t yet had the chance to prove my value and my capacity to bring about any changes to the world.

“Unfortunately,” I stopped, “my parents didn’t have a clue about what I should do, since they were also new in the Netherlands and had nobody to guide them about me. So, they left me to decide for myself what’s a good approach to reach my goals and discover the right path.”

I continued my story: ‘’So fueled by my burning desire, I found a potential solution: immersing myself in Dutch movies with subtitles to speed up my language learning. Without hesitation, I attended some classes while strategically skipping others. During lectures, I sat at the back, quietly studying Dutch while keeping up with the lessons. When I got home, I wasted no time finishing my homework in less than 30 minutes. Then, I’d settle in to watch loads of scientific movies and documentaries, all with Dutch subtitles. It was my way of improving my Dutch skills.

Since we were getting settled in the Netherlands, and I needed to do my homework on the computer, my father decided to get me a laptop and my own TV for my bedroom. This meant I could watch movies and do my homework without disturbing anyone else in the house.

So, at the beginning, I spent four to five hours every day watching movies with Dutch subtitles and actively learning the language, aiming to become proficient quickly. Alongside this, I kept up with my schoolwork, diligently completing homework assignments, but also frequently missing numerous classes on a regular basis. As a result, I gained a reputation as a truant student, consistently missing classes to an extreme degree. This behavior shattered the educators’ trust in my abilities and only added to the discouragement I felt, but at that point, I didn’t care anymore.

After months of non-stop effort, I felt ready to take on the NT2 II level exam, which meant I had a highly advanced grasp of Dutch, sufficient to handle university-level studies. Amazingly, I passed all the exams on my first try, earning the highest Dutch language certification for immigrants in just two years. Getting these credentials not only boosted my confidence but also broke down the language barriers I used to face. Now, I could chat fluently with my teachers and others around me.

But speaking fluent Dutch wasn’t enough to gain access to any higher levels offered, since the rules seemed clear: I had to complete the four years of my appointed education before considering any higher education after my twenties. That’s at least what I kept hearing from everybody around me.

After immersing myself in countless movies at home and proving my fluency in Dutch,  I found myself once again mired in the depths of boredom. But then, two significant events occurred, changing my life forever.

Firstly, I discovered and started to become active on many Dutch forums, and before I knew it, I found myself enjoying these forums immensely. They covered topics ranging from science, mathematics, and technology to hosting online contests for members. Before I knew it, these forums had captured my fascination, becoming an integral part of my daily routine.

Secondly, I often felt lonely at home and disliked school so much that I would occasionally lie to my parents, claiming there were no classes just to have some space. In response, to provide me with emotional support and distraction, they made a decision that changed everything: they got me a small, adorable orange kitten. From the moment I laid eyes on this adorable creature, I was utterly enamored, falling deeply in love with him. I named him Samak, often called him Sam, drawing inspiration from the brave lead character of a Persian story that fascinated me as a youngster.

This little orange kitten, my Samak, and I became best friends. He was always by my side, playing with me, doing homework, and watching movies together. He’d even sit with me while I surfed those forums I mentioned earlier. I couldn’t imagine a better friend. He was like my little angel, encouraging me to do my best, comforting me when I felt down or stressed, and making me smile with his playful behavior.

Because of the online forums, not only did my Dutch become more fluent due to the extensive reading and writing I engaged in, initiating numerous discussions and topics, but I also discovered a vibrant community of individuals who shared my abilities, interests, and hobbies. Through these forums, I formed meaningful connections with like-minded individuals who became not just acquaintances, but true online friends.

So, as I mentioned just before, many online contests were held on these forums, most of which were linked, for example, to digital art. These contests provided a platform for artists like myself to showcase their skills and creativity in various categories. And here, because of these online forums, my love for art once again took center stage in my life. As I mentioned earlier, I spent much of my childhood painting images inspired by the galaxy and the universe. Participating in online contests hosted on these forums allowed me to merge my passion for art with digital techniques. It was during this time that I began exploring digital tools like Photoshop and Paint on my laptop. Surprisingly, I found myself consistently winning many of the online contests, which filled me with a sense of accomplishment and belonging. Being recognized for my talents among peers who shared similar interests was immensely gratifying. Moreover, as one of the few girls actively participating and winning in these digital contests, I gained prominence among older boys with exceptional skills in programming and a keen interest in technology.

I paused, reflecting on the unique circumstances of that time. “I forgot to mention that in my time, back in 2002, it was uncommon for people to engage in online forums using their full names or sharing personal photographs. Privacy and anonymity were the norms.”

“So it meant you were anonymously active?” Elara asked.

“Indeed,” I replied to Elara’s question. “Online, everyone operated under pseudonyms, shielding their real identities. It created this intriguing dynamic where we connected deeply despite knowing so little about each other’s personal lives. In a way, the anonymity allowed us to shed societal expectations and judgments, fostering a space where we could express ourselves authentically without fear of scrutiny or prejudice.”

I paused, reflecting on the significant influence of these online relationships. “I had a sense of understanding and companionship with each interaction that extended across the limits of anonymity and physical distance. Interacting with others who shared similar interests and passions to mine was refreshing. We created relationships based solely on mutual respect and admiration for each other’s abilities.”

Elara nodded as she took in my explanation. “It sounds like a truly unique and enriching experience,” she said. “To find such a supportive community in the world of the internet must have been incredibly rewarding.”

“It was,” I smiled in response. “And it’s evidence of the power of technology to bring people together, even when their worlds are different.”

Click here for Chapter 12.

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