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For Afghan Fulbright winner, ASU was fortuitous choice

December 13, 2010

When Javid Ahmed Qaem applied for a Fulbright Scholarship to study in the United States in early 2009, he was asked to select universities he would like to attend.

“I chose the big names, such as Harvard,” he said. Then, Qaem, who is from Afghanistan, learned that the Institute of International Education had chosen ASU for his Fulbright work.

Since he had never heard of Arizona State University, and had no idea what Arizona was like, he quickly started doing research on what to expect when he arrived in January 2010 to begin studying for a master’s degree in public administration.

“There were some interesting findings,“ Qaem said. “I learned that it is one of the best as a research school, that my own college (Public Affairs) is a well-known college. Moreover, I was impressed by the ranking of the programs in the school of public affairs.”

Qaem said that when he first arrived in Tempe, he was having second thoughts about interrupting his career in Afghanistan. “But after attending the first class in ASU, I was sure that I made the right decision. Then I explored more about ASU and I was really overwhelmed by its academic ranking, professional faculty, social engagement, diverse student body, plenty of facilities, various student activities and the teacher-student relationship. I love ASU now. It was more than I expected.”

When he returns to Afghanistan next spring, he plans to work in city management and civic development.

It’s a sharp career turn for someone who started his career as an English teacher, earned a medical degree and planned to follow in his father’s footsteps as a doctor.

What changed his mind?

“It was not because my father was a doctor so I wanted to be a doctor, though I can't deny that it also had some effect,” Qaem said. “However, I was always interested in helping others and at that time I felt the best way to do that is to be a doctor.

“Later on I realized that I can help more people in a shorter time by implementing proper policies and administering. In addition, I found out that I am quite good in that and I have some natural leadership competencies.”

Also, the outlook for doctors in Afghanistan is not bright at this time, Qaem said. “There is tough competition for new medical graduates in the cities, and in the provinces, security is a problem and financial incentives are low.”

Qaem’s most recent position in Afghanistan was with the 9,200-employee Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, where he was an adviser to the minister, Mohammad Asif Rahimi, and the human resources director.

There, he led a restructuring of the ministry, reviewed hiring processes, supervised training and built a change-management unit, among other achievements.

Before working for the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, Qaem did similar work for the Asia Foundation and the National Solidarity Program, both also in Kabul. He also has worked for the Pazhwok Afghan News, Yama Development Association and the Afghan Women Welfare Department. His first job was teaching English at the Kabul English Language Center.

Qaem earned an executive master’s degree in management from Preston University of Pakistan and his M.D. at Kabul Medical University.

Qaem said he decided to interrupt his already successful career to seek a Fulbright because “the Fulbright is a prestigious scholarship, and I wanted to be part of that honored society.

“I wanted to study in the United States because of its cultural diversity and political importance in world affairs, and because I am fluent in English,” he added.

When he finishes his degree program at ASU in May, Qaem plans to return to Afghanistan, most likely to work in Kabul, where his parents and two brothers now live (his sister lives in the United States).

He is excited about the future of his country, and though he said the war is very difficult to talk about, he is grateful to the United States for helping bring stability.

“Afghanistan is a beautiful country, and the people are friendly,” he said. “If you visit, you will be treated as royalty. They will give you guidance about the country. The north is relatively safe, and so is the south.”

Visitors to Afghanistan will enjoy “great weather and good food,” Qaem noted. “Our food is very famous and tasty.”

One of his favorite dishes is Qabuli Palao, a mixture of rice, carrots, raisins and pistachios that is served with meat, for example. (In Tempe, he has discovered a fondness for brownies and the burritos he buys in the Memorial Union.)

Though Qaem had the opportunity in the summer of 2009 to choose another university other than ASU, he is glad he didn’t. And, he’s happy that he had the chance to discover the state of Arizona, as well.

“It was my first time in the United States, and I always have seen the U.S. in movies and documentaries. They show New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco in these movies so I expected something like that, but Arizona is a little different.”

Qaem thought there would be more tall buildings, and that the streets would be busier. And in spite of using Google maps and apps to get a preview of Arizona, he was surprised at the open space, flat land – and all the cactus.