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Vantage Student Check-in: Maryam Begzada on overcoming adversity, and seeking out new experiences

Could you tell me a little bit about yourself, and what country and city you are from?

I am from Faryab, a province in north of Afghanistan. I am Uzbek, but thanks to my parents and the environment I grew up in, I can speak the two other official languages of Afghanistan, Dari/Persian and Pashto, as well. My family lives in Kabul, and I was raised there. Coming from a war ravaged and extremely male dominated society, I was privileged and lucky to have parents who highly believed in girls’ education. I graduated from Zarghoona High School in December 2018 in Kabul. I love reading books and working on art work.

What was your response when you achieved the Vantage College Excellence Award? What was your family’s response?

It was one of those nights when we didn’t have electricity at home. Taliban usually cut electric wires in Afghanistan, leaving many cities and families without power, sometimes for hours and sometimes even for days. It was hard for me to keep up with the emails when WiFi wouldn’t work without electricity and phone data didn’t have very high speed where I lived, because of the high usage of it in my neighborhood. I usually checked my emails at midnight, as the data worked better because of less usage of it at those times. I finally received the email, and I literally read it a couple of times to believe my eyes about what I am reading and in case I am not missing anything. After being sure, without thinking of anything else, I woke my parents up. They were happier about it than I was, as they, especially my mother who had gone through really hard circumstances for educating a girl and wanting her to be an independent young woman in an extreme male-dominated society. Their hard work had finally paid off, and I was getting a quality education in a world known university in North America.

What was it about Vantage College that interested you in the program?

Studying at the university of British Columbia (UBC) was the main reason that interested me in this program. I love diversity and I love meeting new people from diverse backgrounds. UBC is the best place to provide such an opportunity for me. It is also the best place for students who did not finish their high school in English and want to study in one of the top international schools in the world. It provides various programs for students who want to engage very effectively in an environment where the academics is in English. Vantage College is one of those programs.

What programs or degrees are you looking into pursuing after your Vantage One year, and why?

The programs or degrees I am looking into pursuing are programs related to math and computers, because I love math and I love working with computers.

Are there any dreams or goals you would like to achieves while studying at UBC?

UBC has limitless opportunities for everyone. My dreams expanded here, and seem more possible to achieve here. There is always more than enough for everyone here, no matter where they are from or their previous experience. My goals while studying at UBC is to join as many clubs as I can, especially art, writing and poetry and volunteer as many times as possible, mainly related to empowering women and girls.

What would your dream job be?

My dream job would be being an activist for women rights, advocator of marginalized groups and those who are forced to use the language of silence worldwide, mainly in Afghanistan. I want to be that person for someone who needs them or their support to have a better life, especially in Afghanistan where people, especially women, have been deprived of their basic needs. My role model is the honourable Mohammad Shaker Kargar, the head of Afghanistan’s president’s office. Just like him, I want to provide education through scholarships and provide job and support for those in need regardless of their gender, religions, and language in a time where patriarchy and discrimination is at its peak in Afghanistan. Working as an activist for marginalized groups and to become someone who will work on ways to empower women, may be very hard especially in extreme male dominated societies like Afghanistan, but together with all those people who think like me, and who value women empowerment, this is possible. No matter how much a goal and a dream seems impossible, if we believe that we can do it, and if we never give up towards that dream, everything is always possible.

What has been the best part of the Vantage One program for you?

The best part of Vantage One program for me has been having all the support I have received throughout my time in Vantage One program, both academically and emotionally. The professors and teacher assistants are amazing here. They are one of the most supportive, respectful, and understanding people I have ever met in my entire life. No matter which kind of problem I have had, whether academically or emotionally, they have always been there for me, and they have always found a solution for me. The support network here is great! I came to UBC very late, and I missed two weeks of my classes, because of my visa issues, but thanks to my professors and TAs and the entire Vantage program as a whole who helped me with catching-up with everything very quickly. To be honest, I thought I would fail my courses because it was my first attempt at classes in English and I was studying in a world renowned university, but thanks to all the support I have been receiving here, I haven’t failed any of my courses.

Could you tell us a bit about some of the extracurricular clubs or projects you have been a part of (inside or outside Vantage College)?

As it was my first year in university and I was still adjusting to the environment and my academics, I couldn’t do as much as I wanted and expected. One of the first things I did at UBC was painting a pillar at the Buchanan building in October. It was the first Annual Community Student Expression Project provided by Arts undergraduate society (AUS) UBC. Students were asked to send their proposal related to U.N.'s sustainability goals, and my proposal which was about gender; girls getting married under age 18 worldwide was approved. It was not only my first art experience at UBC but also in my life, as I used a completely different medium than I was used to. It was my first time using oil painting and that too on a pillar/wall. I recently volunteered for a two-day event for women in Computer Science by Cmd-f at UBC. I am also a part of a student-run poetry magazine at UBC named Ember where I do poetry, and where I am planning to share my artwork as a background for students’ poems.

Do you have any advice for other students thinking about going into Vantage One, or who are considering studying at UBC?

UBC is one of the best things that happened to me in my entire life. I believe it will be the same for anyone thinking about going into Vantage One program. The support that students receive from everyone here, whether they are professors, TAs, academic advisors, friends, in general everyone is amazing. Plus, you will have a great network in a very international school by engaging in a world where everyone thinks of becoming successful and working to have an impact in making the world a better place.

Is there anything else you would like to share with us regarding your experience?

This is a dream come true. I am very happy to be where I am now and the people I have met so far, whom I consider as family. The environment and people here have a very good influence over me, and as Mawlana Jalal Ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi (Rumi) says, “Set your soul on Fire. Seek those who fan your flames.” These people here and the environment, have fan my flames of dreams and have helped me reach my potential and keep on it with it in a very positive, effective, and supportive way. I want to thank my mentors, Ms. Mari Talkin, Ms. Mary Kelly, Ms. Carol Ann Hunt, and my lovely family in India, Ms. Ritu Malik and Mr. Rahul Malik and their delightful family, whom I love all these people dearly and who always believed in me and were there for me. They are the people who shaped my personality and who I am today. I would certainly not be who and where I am today without them, and the support of my parents.