For two Afghan students, Norwich provides opportunity to give students a view of their war-torn country

Muhammad Ali Shahidy and Fareed Ahmadi are the two only international students from Afghanistan who attend Norwich University, and they bring a unique background and perspective to the NU community, which they are eager to share.

Both students will go out of their way to educate Norwich students about their culture and country.

“I want to give them the Afghanistan I know, and take the Afghanistan they know and compare them,” says Ahmadi, a 23-year-old sophomore who is a business management major who hails from the capital city of Kabul.

He aims to talk about his country and culture in order to give students here at NU a better understanding of his native land. He enjoys talking with cadets and students in a casual environment where he can simply converse and tell them about his country.

Norwich University has over just a little over 2,500 undergraduate students, and less than one percent are international students. Seventy percent of the population of students are Caucasian thus leaving the other 30 percent a blend of African-American, Asian, Hispanic, Native American and Pacific Islander. (This information can be located at http://www.collegeview.com/schoolfacts/norwich-university/all)

Also, the majority of students at Norwich are in the Corps of Cadets thus leaving a smaller population of students to be classified as “civilian students,” such as Ali Shahidy and Ahmadi. So international students provide a unique perspective and also get a different experience as foreign students who attend Norwich. They think Norwich would benefit from a broader interaction with the world.

“I think Norwich University does need to accept more international students, particularly from the Middle Eastern region, because as a military school most of these students will commission or join law enforcement or military agencies,” says Shahidy, 27, who is a psychology major and a junior, also from Kabul.

Shahidy also went on to say, “I think it’s critical for a school like Norwich to have some first-hand experience and cross-cultural exchange between American students and international students that come from the region.”

The idea of more cross-cultural experiences, which has been cited as a key goal by the university, makes critical sense because it gives the ability of future leaders to gain more knowledge on that region on a personal level, and this could be critical to their career field.

Prior to attending Norwich, Shahidy served as both a combat and civilian translator in the war theater of Afghanistan. He worked both on and off bases for three years and his personal safety was in constant threat during this time.

“Most of the Taliban viewed most Afghans as traitors who worked with foreigners,” he says. “They’re (Afghan interpreters) even considered as a bigger threat and that’s why they target Afghans more than others.”

His line of work was not for everyone and he had to keep a “low profile,” he says. His family, such as both parents and siblings, would receive threating phone calls with death threats to both them and Muhammad. As a result, he and his family would move around a lot to avoid being tracked down in order to avoid being targeted by the Taliban.

Now, in a much safer environment, Shahidy is able to dedicate his time on summer research projects dedicated to his studies.

Prior to attending Norwich, Shahidy was an active women’s rights activist in Afghanistan. Still to this day when he visits Afghanistan, he plans rallies and attends classroom engagements with students in order to spread the word on women’s rights advocacy.

He also attends panel discussions around campus and offers his opinions and shares his views with other students about current issues occurring around the world, bringing his informed perspective to the campus and explaining his culture.

Even though both men are from Afghanistan, they each provide a different experience from their homeland.

Ahmadi, unlike his fellow Afghan, was already a student prior to attending Norwich, studying at American University of Central Asia back in Afghanistan until he was informed about the opportunity that was here at Norwich.

Here at Norwich he has a lot of financial aid available and scholarships that help fund his education. “The campus is beautiful, the campus is quiet, the air is good and professors know you by name,” Ahmadi explained when asked what he likes about Norwich.

And cold winters are hardly an issue. “It gets negative 30 in some places, and I’ve studied in really cold classes and I know about being in a cold city,” said Ahmadi about his native country.

Unlike Vermont, however, it’s much dryer in Afghanistan and the summers are a little more extreme, but as far as cold weather goes, both students have experienced it before.

For both Ahmadi and Shahidy, they really appreciate what Norwich offers and its great relationship between students and professors here on campus. This is able to occur because of the low student to faculty ratio..

“In my country all we do is read the book and give the exam,” said Ahmadi. He also said that, “Classes have 80 to 100 students in classes and the professor doesn’t know the students too well.” Although higher education is provided back in his home country, the experience will vary just like here in the U.S.

Norwich emphasis on small classroom environments with interactive discussions between students and professors is something they appreciate, and also that students here are expected to plan and execute presentations in front of the classroom.

This kind of learning style is something that Ahmadi hadn’t been exposed to before and he now enjoys the classroom environment and he looks forward to one day having the chance to go back home and possibly teach students from his home country via similar methods used at Norwich.

The only downside to being at Norwich is that they would like to see the number of female students increased, improving the female to male ratio.

“The ratio should be almost the same, because boys and girls see the world differently,” said Ahmadi. He comes from a male-dominated environment, where interaction between men and women is limited and contact between the sexes faces “barriers” back home.

Therefore, he looks forward to hearing their opinion here and he looks forward to debating and learning more about the world in their eyes. Adding more female students would also provide more diversity in the classroom, adding a different perspective in classes.

After Norwich, both students see themselves most likely returning to their country in order to share their experiences and apply the type of education they learned at Norwich back home.

With nine universities in Kabul, according to http://www.4icu.org/af/kabul/index.htm, they both hope to possibly work at a university one day and help contribute to creating a better and more prosperous Afghanistan.

Right now the literacy level in Afghanistan is low, with currently only 38.2 percent of the population over the age of 15 being able to read and write, according to U.S. government figures. In addition, 85 percent of women don’t have a formal education; instead they are taught by private tutors.

Most of Afghanistan’s economy is based on agriculture products, so Ahmadi looks forward to one day having the opportunity to contribute towards his nation’s economy with fruitful ideas that will create jobs and help build schools in order to educate the people of his country.

And Ali Shahidy looks to continue his career in education and educate students and help others possibly come to America to receive a higher education, because he and Ahmadi are experienced with the process of coming to America for an education, so they will be able to help more people.

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