Afghan Students Travel to India in Search of Higher Education
For two days he ate only bananas. The Indian food was too peppery and oily for Safa Sarwary who came to the capital, New Delhi, for his undergraduate studies.
“Food and hot weather are major hurdles yet India attracts Afghan students because it is peaceful and cheap here,” said Sarwary, 24, an undergraduate student at Atma Ram Sanatan Dharma College, Delhi University.
Like Sarwary thousands of Afghan students flock to major Indian cities, attracted by low cost of living, easy visas and scholarships. Most of them are enrolled in Bachelor’s, Master’s and diploma programs in Delhi, Bangalore and Pune. The Indian Council for Cultural Relations offers 675 full scholarships to Afghans, the maximum for any country. In a year, ICCR offers over 2000 scholarships. India and Afghanistan share a common heritage and in recent years the two nations enjoy good political relations and India is playing an important role in the reconstruction and rebuilding of Afghanistan.
Traditionally, Iran and Pakistan received most of the fleeing Afghan refugees and aspiring students. Not anymore, Sarwary explains. It has become increasingly difficult to get visas to Iran. Students do not want to go to Pakistan because of unstable political conditions. Thus in the last couple of years India has emerged as the top destination for Afghan students who travel abroad in search of peace and hope.
Good reputation and familiarity with culture
The evening call to prayer sounded from Sayedhamed Sayedzada’s cell phone, filling the small room. His roommate, Muhavallah Nazari, stopped the folk music playing from his IBM laptop. A few minutes later Sayedzada emerged from the washroom dressed in an immaculate white cotton tunic, baggy trousers and a cap. After prayers he made Afghan tea with shriveled green leaves and laid out almonds and dark chocolate.
Indian education has a “huge reputation” in Afghanistan, said Nazari, a student of business administration at Global Business School, Noida, as he flopped onto one of the two mattresses lying on the floor. But Delhi’s dust has slowly ruined the shine of the maroon rug, he added.
Nazari fiddles with his laptop that is playing songs in Dari praising the resilience and bravery of Afghans. Sunlight streams through a window into the square room with moss green walls. On one end is the kitchen counter with a small sink and a two-burner gas range. Pots, pans and bottles of vegetable oil and spices are neatly arranged on narrow shelves. “It is a sad period in our history but the youth are restless, they are hungry for good education, good jobs,” he said.
Sayedzada chose India because English is used as the medium of instruction in most colleges. “Knowing English is a ticket to lots of jobs in international aid agencies and non-governmental organizations mushrooming in Afghanistan,” he said.
Language is another factor. Hindi is similar to Urdu, a language most Afghans understand. Also, Afghans are great fans of Hindi films and television serials, he said. So there was no culture shock. “Even before I arrived in India, I was familiar with the language, culture and lifestyle, thanks to Bollywood.
“But life in India is not easy,” said Sayedahmed, the 21-year-old with bright brown eyes and a soft voice. He had a bumpy start. He joined a business program at a local institute and soon realized that the University Grant Commission of India did not recognize it. “Many Afghans rush to India with no information and join non-accredited institutes and suffer,” he said. After three months he found a recognized institute willing to admit him in the middle of the semester.
He is excited about new friends and his upcoming internship. “But in the beginning it felt awkward sitting in the same class with girls, I was naturally shy,” he said. Now he makes friends with girls easily and knows his way around. He advises newcomers to choose recognized courses and takes them on a tour of Delhi and Agra.
“I always dreamt of visiting the Taj Mahal, now I have seen it uncountable times,” he said, laughing.
But like many Afghans, Sayedahmed harbors dreams of returning home and working for his people. “There is scarcity of skilled people in Afghanistan. It is my duty to go home and work for the reconstruction of the country,” Sayedahmed said with a smile.