By ANNA HALL The Brunswick News
It's clear that Hania Afzal has a passion about education.
Talking at a rapid pace, Afzal is assuredly on fire when it comes to earning degrees and being a model for her peers.
A native of Pakistan, Afzal is in Brunswick after being accepted into a highly selective exchange program sponsored by the U.S. State Department. Only 125 students are chosen for the program and sent to schools nationwide.
Afzal had applied twice before, finally being selected this year.
As a student selected for the scholarship, Afzal landed at College of Coastal Georgia, where she is studying finance, lives on campus and has been recruited for the school's debate team. She will be at the school through the end of the current semester, after which she will head back home to complete her studies at Quaid e Azam University Islamabad in Islamabad, Pakistan.
"I am the first from my village to have such an opportunity like this," Afzal said. "It was a difficult process to be selected and I am so grateful for this opportunity. We don't have opportunities like this back home."
The months spent stateside have helped her break out of her shell, which she says has been one of her major accomplishments while here. Prior to her trip to study abroad, Afzal admits she was a rather shy individual, always willing to take a back seat and follow the traditionally quiet role she was accustomed to taking. But since being in Brunswick for the past few months, she has been all but forced to break her own mold.
"This is all really new for me," she said. "The hardest part for me was working on my shyness. I came here and learned I can speak up. I can ask questions. It's not the same as it was back home, and I don't think I can be the same."
Before coming to the college in August, Afzal had never been to a beach, had never been able to speak her mind and was never afforded the opportunities for additional education options such as she has seen the past few months. One of the most memorial moments she has experienced at the college was attending the recent graduate school fair, where she learned about possible other scholarship and financial aid options. With the goal of earning a doctorate, Afzal is anxious and excited to take any pathway provided to help her further her educational career.
"There are so many opportunities here that I never even would have thought would be possible," she said. "I grew up in a humble background, and it was seen that educating women was a waste of money. It was a waste of time. I know now that is not true. I am an example that it is not true."
Afzal comes from a background where education was seen as the highest point of achievement and that no hurdle toward earning an education was too high to jump. Her mother was a teacher, and her father went after his doctorate, taking the family with him as he sought his higher degree.
"I am one of five siblings and when my father went to university for his PhD., we went with him and only saw my mom every two or three months. She was 400 miles away," Afzal said. "My father acted like a mother, taking care of us all. We didn't have much money, and he rode his bike back and forth to school. He woke up at 6 a.m., and he took care of us. It was the very opposite of what was considered proper in our village. But he took me to university with him and made sure I saw how important an education was."
His message took hold, and now Afzal is working to share that same ideology with young female students in her home country. There, she said, education is specialized for males, and women are often married before they are 20 and expected to become mothers and homemakers. That's not an undesirable option for the women who want that path, but Afzal thinks young women should be able to decide for themselves how they want their lives to be.
At 21, Afzal is married and her husband is a member of the Royal Air Force. But unlike many married women she knows, her husband and her family have become her beacons of support, encouraging her to pursue her goals and empower her peers to do the same.
"I now have a platform to show the girls back home how they can be educated, how they can be strong and how they can make the most of themselves," she said. "That's what I am doing here. I am earning an experience and an education to help females back home. Before this, I didn't know so many opportunities for females existed. Now, I want the world to know you can be whatever you want to be. Anything is possible."
• Spotlight on Schools appears weekly. Contact Anna Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 265-8320, ext. 322 to suggest a column topic.