The emotional stories of Afghan students at Mizzou, Missouri S&T – Columbia Daily Tribune

Maseeh Wassil held high hopes in 2020 when he received a Fulbright Scholarship to attend the University of Missouri as a graduate student studying public affairs.
He started his studies online from his home in Kabul, Afghanistan, in January 2021, when he was unable to secure a visa. It was still relatively safe inside the capital, but he had to schedule studies around regular power and internet outages, he said.
“The Fulbright journey started with a lot of dreams and hopes,” said Wassil, 31.
He finally got his student visa to travel to the U.S. and started his studies on the MU campus on Aug. 5, 2021.
“A few days after that, the (Afghan) government fell apart and the Taliban took control, which changed everything dramatically,” Wassil said.
Wassil was interviewed last week at B&B Bagel on Nifong Boulevard.
His wife, two children, parents and three siblings remained in Kabul as the Taliban assumed control of the country and the capital.
“My older daughter was crying and asking when I could join her or when she could be with me,” Wassil said. “She was really frustrated. She was 5 years old at the time, but she knew something wasn’t right. It wasn’t easy for her.”
There were five Afghan students at MU at the time, Wassil said. University officials arranged a webinar to try to help students get their families out of Afghanistan.
Veterans United Foundation came through with $100,000, he said.
There was just one open border, between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and his family members made it there.
“There were 35,000 other people with them wanting to cross the border,” Wassil said. “They were there for five days and nights without food or resources. It was really challenging. The weather was really hot. Crossing the Pakistan border is not easy.”
A sister in Australia had secured a protection visa for them. Late in the night on Oct. 25, 2021, or early morning Oct. 26, people from the Australian consulate in Islamabad picked up his family and took them to Islamabad. They spent nine days there before flying to be with his sister in Sydney.
With the foundation donation, the university flew his family from Sydney to the U.S. consulate in Melbourne for visa interviews, and eventually to the U.S. The family was reunited Jan. 17.
But he needed to find a larger apartment for his large family in the middle of the school year while continuing his studies. The apartment he found was unfurnished, but Veterans United Foundation helped buy furniture, he said.
The family has adjusted well, he said.
“We are happy,” Wassil said. “We are having a good life.”
His daughter is in first grade at Grant Elementary School, and his wife is taking English language classes offered by Columbia Public Schools, he said.
He had a summer internship at Veterans United Home Loans. His work experience in Afghanistan was in banking, and his purpose in studying public affairs was to help reform the financial policies in his country.
“Veterans United helped me understand the credit and mortgage policies and the importance of credit scores in getting home loans or any loans,” Wassil said.
Reforming the Afghan financial system has been delayed indefinitely, he said.
“As of now, returning is not an option, but hopefully in the future if the situation gets better,” he wrote in a post-interview text message.
Now, some urgent deadlines are approaching, he said.
His final graduate student stipend comes in October and he graduates in December, after which he will have to leave the country unless something happens.
“As of now, I cannot work,” he said.
He has applied for asylum, but those applications can take years to process, he said.
“It is really kind of challenging for me and really stressful,” Wassil said. “This unknown status is providing a lot of stress. It’s really hard to try to do all of these things at the same time.”
There are now 11 Afghan students at MU, according to the MU News Bureau.
At Missouri University of Science & Technology in Rolla, Afghan student Somaya Faruqi just started as a first-year student, majoring in mechanical engineering.
She was interviewed last week on Zoom.
In high school in Afghanistan, Faruqi was captain of an all-girls robotics team, which gained fame in 2017 when it was in an international robotics competition in the U.S. The team won a silver medal for courageous achievement.
The United Nations Children’s Fund in 2020 recognized Faruqi as a teen activist.
Her team has been called the “Afghan Dreamers.”
When the Taliban overtook her country, things went awry.
The team members made it to the Kabul airport.
“We tried three days” to get on a plane out of the country, Faruqi said. “The door was locked. There were thousands and thousands of people there. There was the sound of shooting and crying.”
After 11 p.m. on the third night, the team was moved to a hotel in Kabul, and the Qatar Ministry of Foreign Affairs arranged a military flight to Doha, Qatar.
“It was a very hard time,” Faruqi said. “It was like a nightmare. We couldn’t believe the Taliban took over our country.”
The nine Afghan girls took part in the Academic Bridge Program of Qatar Foundation. The students improved their English language, math, science and computer skills during their year with the foundation.
Faruqi is one of four team members to apply and get accepted at a university. She discovered S&T by researching university websites.
“It’s more focused on engineering and technology,” Faruqi said is what appealed to her about S&T.
She already has joined the student rocket team and the human-powered vehicle team, she said.
Afghanistan is never far from her thoughts, she said.
“I miss everything about Afghanistan,” Faruqi said. “Even I miss my mom’s cooking.”
Her mom’s qabuli, a rice dish, is her favorite, she said.
A return to Afghanistan is in her future, she said.
“I absolutely want to return to my country,” she said.
She wants to teach other girls about engineering in a free Afghanistan, she said was her ambition.
Roger McKinney is the education reporter for the Tribune. You can reach him at rmckinney@columbiatribune.com or 573-815-1719. He’s on Twitter at @rmckinney9.

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