With her country ravaged by decades of war and oppression, Afghan-born Fulbright Scholar Farima Nawabi is following her father’s footsteps: studying in America.
In Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001, Nawabi and other women were barred from attending school. Yet, once American forces crushed the “Talibs” (native for Taliban), she, her sisters and her fellow countrywomen were free again to pursue academics. Her father, who studied in Texas as a young college student, blessed his daughter’s scholarly accomplishment.
“For more than three decades, we (women) haven’t had the chance to come to the U.S. and study,” Nawabi said. “As a woman, this is a big achievement for me, a golden opportunity.”
An English instructor at Kabul University, Nawabi has lived in the U.S. since August. Starting this fall at the University of Mississippi, she has been studying to teach English as a second language as well as teaching a course in Dari, the official language of Afghanistan.
In December 2008, Nawabi delivered a free, public lecture in the Croft Institute, to help educate the north Mississippi community about her homeland. The “Native to Afghanistan: Perspectives on Language and Culture” discussion revolved around Afghan customs, climate, population, traditions and languages.
“Everyone talks about the war, but I don’t want to talk about it,” Nawabi said. “I want to tell things that people don’t know about my country.”
Witnessing the recent U.S. presidential election, Nawabi recalls President-elect Barack Obama’s visit to Kabul, and the promise he made to change U.S. foreign policy.
“There is no connection between Al Qaeda and Afghanistan,” Nawabi said. “My country is simply a target, a place Al Qaeda is using. The Afghans really feel bad about this. We are hopeful Obama brings change.”
Esim Erdim, director of the UM Teaching English as a Second Language program and professor of modern languages, described Nawabi as an enthusiastic and motivated student who is eager to participate and share her experiences.
“For her to leave home on her own and live in a very different culture in order to gain additional knowledge has to be inspiring for other women,” Erdim said.
According to Nawabi, the greatest hurdle for Americans studying the language is pronouncing unwritten vowel sounds. For example, woman is spelled “zn” in Dari, but between the letters of “z” and “n,” an “a” sound is inserted.
“The opportunity to offer this exotic language was completely unexpected,” said Donald Dyer, UM modern languages chair and professor. “Ms. Nawabi provides more than first-rate instruction; she also serves as an important cultural resource.”
To date, Nawabi speaks highly of her time in Oxford, and she looks forward to additional new friends and experiences as her Fulbright scholarship extends through the end of the 2009 spring semester.
“People are very helpful here,” Nawabi said. “Everything has gone very well so far.”