From half a world away in Afghanistan, two Fulbright scholars have taken the opportunity to come to the United States and study at Webster University.
The Fulbright Scholarship program is named after former Senator J. William Fulbright, who envisioned the program to promote world peace and understanding through an educational exchange between nations. The program started in 1946, and the U.S. State Department selects 8,000 students worldwide for the grant.
For Mohammad Rafi Cena and Shabnam Granzooy, the skills they will learn at Webster University offers them a chance to help Afghanistan when they return.
At first, Granzooy said she was unsure if she would get a visa once she qualified for the Fulbright scholarship.
“I felt very thankful and happy I got the scholarship,” Granzooy said. “But I was not excited until my visa got issued, and I realized I would be able to come to the United States to study.”
It took Cena over a year to complete the process of applying for the Fulbright scholarship and obtaining his visa. He then went into a pre-academic program at the University of Kansas to improve his English and adjust to life in the US. Both Granzooy and Cena are currently living with American families.
“They teach what the culture of the United States is like,” Cena said. “They have helped me solve my problems and I don’t think I am far from a family. I think I have another family in the US.”
Cena is pursuing a master’s degree in Communications Management at Webster. He previously obtained a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from Herat University.
Cena said he hopes to help build Afghanistan’s institutions by starting a public relations firm when he returns.
“Most government agencies and non-government agencies in Afghanistan send messages to the public, but they never get feedback,” Cena said. “They do not set their goals and strategies on the interests and needs of the public. I plan to conduct research in this field … in order to help Afghan government agencies encourage monologue into dialogue.”
Granzooy worked as a translator and auditor for the Afghan government before coming to the US. She also has a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a specialization in Accounting from American University of Afghanistan in Kabul.
At Webster, Granzooy is pursuing a master’s degree in Forensic Accounting. She said it was important to her to consider the needs of her community when she chose her degree.
“We need more auditors [in Afghanistan] to make sure the distribution and flow of money is done in the most efficient way,” Granzooy said. “Because one of the issues in Afghanistan is we have all this investment, but we need proper monitoring and auditing to make sure the spending is going good.”
The Afghan Ministry of Education released an Oct. 26 report detailing the corruption within Afghanistan’s educational system. The report points to 36 different types of corruption within the system, including ghost teachers, bribery and problems with textbook distribution.
Granzooy said there needs to be more checks and balances to have transparency. She also said she volunteered as a teacher in Afghanistan because many children are illiterate because of poor quality in primary school education.
“I think if we can invest in kids, we can bring a better change in future generations,” Granzooy said.
While working several media jobs in Afghanistan, Cena also founded “Let’s Build Afghanistan” in 2016.
Cena said the goal of “Let’s Build Afghanistan” was to prevent a ‘brain drain’ from Afghanistan, since so many people were leaving the country.
“I started holding campaigns at schools and universities, and was telling the people ‘if the youth force is leaving Afghanistan, who is staying?’” Cena said. “Who is taking part in building Afghanistan? I was encouraging them to stay in Afghanistan, and use their knowledge and education towards building Afghanistan.”
Another goal for Cena when he returns home is to pave the way for Webster University to open a campus in Afghanistan. He said as an active member of the English Club at Washington University, he is able to discuss cultural issues with participants from all around the world.
“As an Afghan, I discuss about the culture of Afghanistan and share my knowledge of Afghan culture with the participants,” Cena said. “I have learned from different cultures so far, and the goal of these discussions is to build mutual understanding between all countries.”