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Refugee students and alumni in the U.S. share their experience and perspective.

Current and former students from refugee backgrounds face a number of obstacles accessing higher education in the U.S. Here we share their experiences, their perspectives on the proposed university sponsorship initiative, and celebrate their contributions to U.S. campuses and communities.

Shabnam came to the United States on an F1 visa in 2015 because of a financial sponsor who also served as her host family in the U.S.  They helped her enroll in a post graduate year of high school to improve her English and then apply to U.S. colleges.  Shabnam recalls the process saying, “I would never have been able to access this process or afford to come to the U.S. on my own.” 

Even once in the U.S. and enrolled as an undergraduate student at Earlham College, she still faced challenges with being in the U.S. on an F1 visa.  To participate in a study abroad opportunity encouraged as part of her Peace & Global Studies major, Shabnam needed to renew her visa. Shabnam returned to Afghanistan in summer of 2018 to renew her visa, and here is how she describes what she experienced, “The situation had deteriorated considerably and violence was escalating.  My family found ourselves and our home in the midst of gun battles and my father’s workplace was bombed twice. When I left, I knew I would never be able to return.”   Upon return to the U.S. her host family helped her apply for asylum, and Shabnam explains, “Getting asylum was a long process that left me in limbo for two and a half years, the whole time uncertain about my future and unable to make important decisions.” 

Shabnam applied and was accepted as part of the inaugural cohort of Columbia University Scholarship for Displaced Students and will graduate with a Masters in Human Rights and is working as a refugee case manager at the International Rescue Committee in NYC.

Shabnam spoke to the potential impact of the proposed university sponsorship program at the launch event on December 2, 2021:

“Refugee students bring with them a unique and diverse set of experiences that not only include their own culture, languages, and traditions, but their perspectives having lived through conflict, displacement, trauma, death of family members, poverty, and uncertainty.  Many have been separated from their family at a young age and had to become self-reliant. Because of these experiences, they do not take life and educational opportunities for granted and they treasure every opportunity and work hard to make the most of these opportunities. Those who survive also are marked by an enduring hope and optimism. These perspectives and experiences can enhance the thinking, opinions, and experiences of other students on campus with regard to immigrants and refugees and other cultures.”