This time last year, I received an email from the HEC Paris admissions team confirming my admission and scholarship. I was super excited and happy but confused and lost at the same time. It had only been two days since I had settled in Germany after spending months in a refugee camp, uncertain of what the future held when I left my home country after the Taliban took over.
I had to decide whether to stay in Germany and build a new home or move to France to pursue a master’s degree.
Born and raised in Kabul, I was fortunate to have ambitious parents who worked hard to educate their children in a country like Afghanistan, despite the security, social and financial challenges. I spent my childhood travelling with my parents to different provinces and rural areas, where my mother, in her capacity as a midwife, provided healthcare services to young mothers and other women.
They built a home where my sisters and I were supported, educated and valued just as much as my brothers. They inspired us to have a desire to be strong, well-educated and financially independent women. This led me to study business administration as my bachelor’s degree and later join the private sector.
In 2019, I started working with consulting firm BrightPoint. BrightPoint gave me the opportunity to be part of an inspiring community driven by a purpose to create change through entrepreneurship development. I was leading one of the first impact-investing platforms in Afghanistan, Tamveel Impact Investing.
A year before the government collapsed in Afghanistan, I applied for French government scholarships (Bourses du Gouvernement Français) with the ambition to do a master’s degree in France to broaden my knowledge, while I continued to work at Tamveel.
However, due to the insecurity and instability in Afghanistan, many international organisations and governments were halting their activities and bringing their staff home from the country. The French Institute in Kabul informed me that they wouldn’t be going ahead with the scholarships.
Months later, while living in a refugee camp, I received an email from the HEC Paris admissions team, and we arranged a call. I was nervous. The wi-fi was not stable in the camp, and we were supposed to talk about the opportunity to study at HEC Paris.
The master in management programme at HEC Paris was the perfect fit. It was an international programme, offering the opportunity to study in English as I didn’t speak a word of French. It included a combination of theoretical concepts and practical practices and projects with the ability to tailor the programme in areas that interested me the most.
They presented me with the Imagine Fellowship, a scholarship scheme for students coming from war-torn countries to study at the school. At that time, I felt that it would be impossible to go through the entire process from my room in the camp, but thanks to the admissions team and the HEC Foundation’s support, I received both an admission letter and full scholarship.
I was traveling within Europe, so obtaining a visa and arranging the trip was convenient. The university was supportive with the administrative work and housing, making it easy to move in.
I remember my first day; the campus was huge. Our schedule was packed with friends of my husband who were visiting, and the events and programmes planned by the university and student associations for the international students. There was a very diverse student body with many students coming from lots of countries.
It was already a big shift for me to leave my family and home country, live in a refugee camp and move to Europe, to a culture and an environment very different from those of my home country. Moving to France and living alone added another layer of complexity and pressure, especially when my husband had to leave, in comparison to our life together back home.
But thanks to the opportunities provided by the university, there were lots of chances to get involved in activities such as sports clubs or student associations. This helped me build a group of friends, engage in the community and ultimately love my student life.
I went from studying in a tent when we didn't have a classroom, chairs or schoolbooks in my primary school to studying a master’s degree in HEC Paris in a dream destination.
HEC Paris gave me the opportunity to gain world-class knowledge while building an international network, learn French, discover a new country and culture, and try sports such as running, which was not possible for me as a woman in Afghanistan.
This experience is an irreplaceable part of my life, an invaluable contribution to my personal and professional growth. It has made me more resilient, disciplined and self-sufficient. Now that I am almost at the end of my first academic year, I’m glad that I will come back to HEC to do my second year and be part of this inspiring and diverse community.
While I was discussing this decision one year ago with a friend, she told me this quote: “The sky is the limit if you have a roof over your head.”
If you are coming from a very different background and culture like me, or if you are feeling fragile, I would suggest you take the challenge. You would enjoy this journey of growth. And there would be a lot of support throughout the process.