Zafer wants to open eyes to the real Middle East

When asked what she’s going to do over the summer, Homa Zafer responds with a typical college-student answer: “Sleep,” she says with a laugh. “I miss it.”

Zafer, however, is anything but typical. She completed 20 credit hours this semester and at Commencement will receive a bachelor’s degree in communications with a journalism emphasis from University College in Arts & Sciences.

Homa Zafer came to the United States from Afghanistan with little money and lots of courage. She wants to use her communications degree to become a
Homa Zafer came to the United States from Afghanistan with little money and lots of courage. She wants to use her communications degree to become a “cultural bridge” and create greater awareness of her homeland and its people.

Her route to the University was circuitous.

She started writing in high school in her native Afghanistan: short stories, news articles, columns. Later, she became a reporter for an Afghan women’s magazine, which helped launch her to the position of editor in chief of a women’s magazine in Pakistan called Sadaf.

Zafer’s father also is a writer. His pen was a strong weapon against threats to humanity and peace, Zafer says. His criticism of warlords and their drug business in Afghanistan resulted in his family being terrorized. After fleeing the Communist regime in Afghanistan, the family lived in exile in Pakistan, where her father was a columnist.

She left Pakistan for the United States, where U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services sent her to St. Louis.

“As soon as I arrived in St. Louis, I started looking for a way to improve my education,” Zafer says. “I asked around for the best school in St. Louis, and ‘Washington University’ was the answer. I simply walked into Wash U. and met Diane Willis, coordinator of undergraduate advising and student services. Diane walked with me extra miles.

“I will never ever forget, she asked me how much money I had,” Zafer says before breaking into laughter. “I said none. And she asked if I had a diploma or anything from my country, I said nothing. She said, ‘But I am glad that you have a lot of courage, that’s great!'”

Zafer earned a scholarship and enrolled in journalism classes. She plans to enroll in University College again in the fall to pursue a master’s degree in political science or international affairs.

University College in Arts & Sciences

“Homa is an unforgettable person, and her love of learning, resolve and tenacity are remarkable,” Willis says. “Homa became transformed by her experience in University College both personally and academically. She exudes a new confidence and uses her educational experience on a daily basis to make life better for others.”

One of the ways she might make life better involves trying to change the way Americans view the turmoil — and people — of the Middle East.

“There are lots of stories untold, especially dealing with conflict,” Zafer says. “I see a lot of conflict in the world based on not knowing the cultures of the people. I can imagine myself as being a good cultural bridge. A lot of news I’ve seen is based on rumors. It’s not exact news, and that’s something that makes me upset. I wish I could work toward fixing that.

“I want to bring viewers and readers closer to the issues and to the situations and give them more awareness about the reality,” she continues. “I see lots of things that, if Americans know more about the culture and get to know those people, that would bring a big change. For example, when I was in Afghanistan, there were a lot of pro-American people — a big part of the communities.

“But America doesn’t know that because the media has generalized the issue of terrorism so much and made it a big, big issue,” she says. “America is not a superpower only for its modern and equipped army; mostly, it’s because of the values that they set as an example for the other world.

“There are many people around the world whose security and even life depends on Americans,” she adds. “They have a great expectation of America as a superpower, and most Americans over here don’t know how much the world’s people wait for them to do something. This is something I want to get out there.”

But that can start after she gets a little rest this summer.