Diana Nazari (Class of 2021): forging a pathway to success with passion and resilience | Aga Khan Academies

Diana Nazari (Class of 2021): forging a pathway to success with passion and resilience

Growing up in Kabul, Afghanistan, education has always been central to Diana Nazari and her family. Although it is not traditional for girls to be highly educated in Afghanistan, this was certainly not the case for Diana, who will be graduating from the Aga Khan Academy in Hyderabad, India and attending Brown University, a private and Ivy League university, with a complete scholarship this upcoming fall. 

Diana joined the Academy in 2015 through the Academy’s Talent Identification Programme, which provides exceptional students from unique geographical locations and backgrounds access to quality education regardless of their ability to pay. This was an opportunity Diana had never imagined as she recalls the exciting, yet nervous, feelings she felt whilst going through the application process and being accepted into the programme. 

“I remember my family telling me about this scholarship from the Aga Khan Academies and they encouraged me to apply because it is a great opportunity,” Diana said. “There were a lot of exams we had to take as part of the application and I remember there being about 300 students during the first examination process. The whole process took a while, but I remember one day I was coming out of the house heading off somewhere and my dad pulled me inside of the house and told me I did not get accepted into the programme and I started crying because I worked so hard throughout the application process. Then immediately my dad started saying ‘I was joking, you got accepted!’ and we went back inside the house and everyone was hugging me, congratulating me and crying together because we were so happy. It was a very epic memory.

Not a lot of students from Afghanistan get to study with a scholarship like this in a different country and at such a school like the Aga Khan Academies. It’s such a big thing and my family members were so, so proud.” 

Arriving in Hyderabad, India, Diana felt a bit lost and uncertain at first. Being over 1000 miles away from Afghanistan, Diana was unfamiliar with the culture, the language and the food of India, and she was afraid of actually getting lost somewhere on the 100-acre site of the campus. Two months after Diana’s arrival, students from Tajikistan, also a part of the Talent Identification Programme, came to the Academy, which made Diana feel more comfortable due to the similar cultures and shared experiences of being so far away from home. Finding a small community helped Diana open up and branch out – she soon began interacting with all of her classmates and residential peers, expanding her horizons and beginning to call the Academy her new home.

“The first few months were very difficult for me. I was from a different culture, a different family and I would be staying at the Academy for a very long time before being able to see my family again because of the distance between India and Afghanistan. When students from Tajikistan came to the Academy, we bonded because we all had the same experiences. I remember we were not engaging a lot with everyone else because we could not really speak English, but soon after we started having more and more classes with different people and I was interacting with more people. I think, personally, when I entered the Diploma Programme as part of the International Baccalaureate programme offered by the Academy, it really helped me bond with more students. 

In the residences, I started getting close to the girls there, especially when they all voted for me and another Afghan student to become Dorm Prefects, which are like representatives for the dorm. I was so shocked that they picked us and that’s when I really bonded with everyone in the dorms, especially with the students who are younger than me. We grew really close together and we would all chat and spend time together since we had different classes. The residences gave me a chance to bond with the younger students and provide ways to support them, like through helping them with any of their courses or subject selections.” 

However, things changed dramatically during Diana’s third year at the Academy. Her family became refugees, hastily packed up their entire lives within a month and moved from Kabul to Hyderabad. Although closer to her in distance, Diana’s family also had to adjust and adapt to living in a new country and culture without any other family with them. This also meant that Diana would not be able to go back to her hometown in Afghanistan for some time. 

“Just the fact that I couldn’t go back to Afghanistan really affected me because I wouldn’t be able to go back to Kabul, my home, my culture and the community I grew up in. That was a big shock for me.” 

Seeing moments of political turmoil in Afghanistan, becoming a refugee and being further distanced from her home country sparked a passion for politics and economics in Diana. This led her to give a TEDx talk at the Academy entitled, “The untold story of Afghan refugees”, in which she discusses the misrepresentations and underreporting of Afghan refugees in mainstream media. She shares her family’s transition to India and the stereotypical slurs she and her family have experienced, along with a hope for a better future in which refugees, and immigrants overall, can feel welcomed in a foreign land.

“There are so many people who are feeling the same way I am and have experienced the same things my family and I have experienced. If I have the power of media through my TEDx talk, why not represent these people and my family and become a voice for them all. My basic message overall was focused on the value of pluralism and acceptance.” 

Along with politics and economics, Diana is also very passionate about community service and giving back to others. She, along with other students at the Academy, organised a club called the Creative Expressions club. They made and sold friendship bracelets inspired by Afghan and Tajik culture, with the money generated in the end being given to faculty members in the Academy a part of the housekeeping department. Diana also became an English language instructor whilst visiting Afghanistan one summer before her family became refugees. 

“My mom was going to a literacy class and her teacher had to go to Pakistan for surgery so I replaced the teacher for about two months and was teaching all of the other women a part of the class,” Diana said. “The women were all very, very interested in learning and I got so inspired by them.” 

During her Diploma Programme, Diana participated in two internships through the Academy’s University Counselling Department, which helps students find internships or summer programmes to engage in. She said the internship experiences, along with her time at the Academy and exposure to the International Baccalaureate curriculum, has helped her gain various skills like time management, determination and exploring your passions even if they’re unpopular at the time. 

“Everyone at the Academy is very different from each other and everyone has their own interests they’re able to pursue because the Academy provides so many opportunities to do so. I’m very honoured to be able to do my own stuff and develop my passions and nobody’s judging me for that because our uniqueness is valued at the Academy, which is such an enriching experience. But the fact that we are still able to come together and be one big community, despite our different interests, is my favourite part about being a student at the Academy.”

When Diana learned about her acceptance to Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island with a full scholarship, she was overfilled with joy and gratitude. She, along with four other Afghan students, will be the first Afghan cohort a par of the Talent Identification Programme to graduate from AKA Hyderabad. Along with this milestone for the Academy, this is a big step for Diana and her family as she will be the first in her immediate family to attend university. But, according to Diana, she doesn’t believe she can take any of the credit for her accomplishments. 

“A lot of people have been telling me that I deserve this acceptance into Brown University because I’ve worked really hard, but the truth is that there are a lot of people who have worked even harder to get me to where I am today. My teachers, my family members, the Aga Khan Academy Hyderabad and my classmates have all supported me so much. If I hadn’t come to the Academy in the first place, none of this would be possible at all and I am beyond grateful for being able to study here and begin this new chapter in my life.” 

Diana is just one of the many students graduating from the Aga Khan Academies this academic year who has received exceptional scholarships and admissions offers to prestigious universities around the world. We are excited to see where our Class of 2021’s futures will send them as they continue to grow and become our leaders of tomorrow.