Continuing the Conversation: Afghan-US Student Dialogues

With the arrival of the long-awaited year 2014, the outlook for Afghanistan remains tentative.  Security deals wait to be signed, votes are still being counted from the recent election, and the withdrawal of U.S. troops continues without clarity as to how many will remain.  Though Afghans are concerned for the future of their country, many are hopeful and looking forward to continued development and growing opportunities.

This optimism reverberated during the second Afghan-US student dialogue, held at the University of Arizona on April 21st.  Students in Herat, Afghanistan teleconferenced with students from the university as well as other community members in English.  The event, co-sponsored by SISMEC and Civil Vision International, gave students from both schools the opportunity to discuss their daily lives as well as their hopes for the future of the US-Afghan partnership.  Last year, the event was held with students at Kabul University and was largely focused on what would happen in 2014.  This year’s discussions included how Afghan students are working to improve their lives and fit into an ever-changing country as well as American perceptions of Afghanistan.

Herat is the third largest city in Afghanistan and sits in a largely Dari-speaking region of the country.  Though it has been relatively peaceful  for a number of years, the nearby countryside provides an easy staging and training ground for Taliban forces.  Herat has continued to develop and it saw both men and women participating in the recent presidential elections.  Students at Herat University have the opportunity to study a variety of subjects including economics, computer science, public administration, and agriculture.

Like last year’s dialogue, the students in Herat wondered what American students knew about Afghanistan as they are well aware of the lopsided media coverage of their country.  When asked what they would want Americans to know about Afghanistan, they responded that they wanted to show the “real” Afghanistan: instead of the damage perpetually shown on TV, there is new construction everywhere. They wanted the world to see the progress, the universities, and most of all the spirit of the Afghan people, who are “always searching for peace.”

American students asked for clarification on the role of women in Herat and the role of the Taliban in Afghan life.  The few women in the room in Herat stated that they had the same opportunities as men and that they weren’t prevented from going to school or participating in public life.  A number of Afghan students reflected the less known reality that the Taliban is not considered an Afghan institution, but rather a movement imported and forced upon them from neighboring Pakistan.  The dialogues revealed joint interests in continuing education, studying abroad, and most of all continuing the conversation across continents.

To find out how to be involved in forthcoming discussions, contact Farzana Marie:  farzanamarie@gmail.com

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