I was born and raised in Tajikistan, in Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast, in a remote area of Vakhan valley which is 560 miles away from the capital city of Dushanbe (the map given on the next page). I was twelve years old when the Soviet Union collapsed and in a matter of overnight, a newly independent country of Tajikistan emerged. The independence aroused challenges in almost every aspect of our lives, including a civil war in the country that lasted almost three years. Despite the blockage of the region from the rest of the country, the flow of an enormous number of refugees, erupted infrastructure and severe economic crises, with the support of my family I obtained my undergraduate degree from the local University of Khorog and later I won a scholarship to do my graduate studies in London, UK. Soon after that, I returned back to Tajikistan and joined Aga Khan Development Network for few years and since entrepreneurship was something that I was always passionate about, I have started few small projects. I believe my diverse life experience enabled me to succeed in business and personal life.
A successful company, comfortable home, and loving family – it seemed I had it all and achieved everything I ever wanted. But somewhere deep in my consciousness, for the last few years, I felt the need to take the next step in my career and go back to academic life – to learn something new.
Few attempts I took to apply for MBA were a disaster: I started several applications, but because I was too overloaded with work or maybe, just reluctant to leave all I had even for a short period of time – for whatever reason it was, I never completed and submitted any of them.
And one day, my wife forwarded me an email with the title MBA in the USA, WEF – Herzing University Scholarship opportunity and I knew, if I ignore it, I will be getting reminders every single day. So I started the application. This was an opportunity to challenge myself and to take the next step in life. Of course, the workload was still heavy, but the competitiveness of the process was challenging and therefore, sparked my interest: first round, second round and eventually, the long-awaited and desired Letter of acceptance from HU with the title Congratulations Zafar…
I believe when receiving an email or holding an envelope with a promise of opportunity and at the same time, unknown change, it is normal to have mixed feelings – one might feel excited or overwhelmed, pleasantly surprised or indifferent. This email embodied a lot for me: I knew this was the time when I had to come out of my comfort zone. I realized if I accept the offer I will stop being a managing director of a company and give up all favorable conditions I have created for myself all these years. Suddenly, it hit me that very soon I might be sitting in a student auditorium in the US, carrying student backpack and using a time-consuming MARTA train and bus – things I have not done in more than 10 years now. But then I also realized that this was a challenge I had to take up because learning happens only when you come out of your comfort zone. HU acceptance letter was for me an open door – the door that leads me to explore new opportunities in completely different settings, different country, and different culture. This was a challenge I have desired.
I was surrounded by my colleagues till the last evening before my flight as we were working in my Dushanbe office and I was handing over my duties and responsibilities to them. I could see panic and confusion in their eyes. The next day I insisted to go by myself to Dushanbe airport as I felt overwhelmed. But my family insisted and when I hugged my 8 months baby girl, my wife and my mom, I saw how difficult it was for them to say goodbye. Spending a day in Istanbul gave me some time to digest the reality and appreciate that despite the sacrifices I and my family were making, this was a new journey in my life – a new start for me and my family.
Landing in Atlanta, warm welcome by Rahman, delicious dinner and a symbolic sign “Welcome home” at the entrance of Paces Park, Decatur lifted my mood and gave me even more confidence about the choice I made.
The next few days were filled with introductions, jamaati functions, meeting new friends and getting to know America. The warmth and enormous support offered by WEF and the community made me feel home. Today, despite the fact that it hasn’t gotten easier – my little angel daughter now thinks I live inside her mom’s phone as I video-chat with her, I receive work-related calls at 2-3 am from my colleagues, I feel I have made a right choice to take up this challenge. I am very excited about the knowledge, skills, and experiences America has to offer me and am committed to using every minute of my time here to internalize them.