Meet the seawolf: Romal Safi

Romal Safi. Photo by Alden Lee/TNL

Romal Safi would like to bring awareness to Alaska. More applicably, he would like to bring awareness to the nation.

A 20-year-old citizen of Afghanistan, Safi is UAA’s one and only Afghan student. As a cultural ambassador for his country, Safi hopes to communicate there is more to the Middle Eastern land and its peoples than the war and strife broadcasted across news and media stations.

“Everybody thinks it’s just a warzone,” Safi said of his homeland. “Thanks to the media, it’s just blood and killing all the time. I’d like people to know that there’s much more to my country, the culture and the people and the way of life. We’re more than what’s shown on TV.”

A tall and soft-spoken young man, Safi is majoring in biological science and hopes to continue on to medical school with doctoral prospects. His journey from a small arid town not far outside the Bagram Air Base, to a public university in Alaska, is quite the interesting story.

Safi was born right at the end of a prolonged, bloody period in Afghanistan. Decades of strife between the People’s Democracy Party of Afghanistan and Soviet forces had left the country in shambles, with 60,000-2 million civilians killed by the Russians alone in a ten-year span. The Soviets withdrew in 1989, and in 1992, Afghani political parties were able to decide on a mutual peace agreement. And though current bloodshed has flared up with Taliban involvement, American troop occupation has helped bring more stability and reform to the shaken country.

American occupation has changed a lot about the day-to-day life in his country, says Safi—now women have more liberties, culture is once again embraced more, and almost all children are able to attend schooling and get an education. 4,000 schools have been built in the last decade, with 100,000 new teachers and 43 universities.

Safi himself said he wanted to experience what an education in America would be like. In 2009, he enrolled in an international exchange program that would send him to an American school for a year as a citizen cultural ambassador. He took a test, and when it came to filling out which states he’d like to travel to, he wrote in Washington, D.C., California and New York. However, he was unsure what choose for the final two slots.

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“A friend said, ‘Hey, why don’t you put down Alaska?’ I don’t remember why he thought of Alaska in the first place, but I did it, and then found out that’s where I was going,” Safi said with a grin. “They must have saw my name and said, ‘Okay, this Afghan needs to be in Alaska.’ I guess I’m a good grab.”

Safi’s Alaskan high school experience took place at East High, which he said was a “great blast.” Upon graduation he returned to his Middle Eastern homeland, but Safi wanted to come back to the state to continue his higher education at UAA.

A fund was established to allow Safi’s second sojourn, and the Afghan underwent the tedious Visa application process once again.

“It was difficult, but I had my first trip going for me,” he said. “I had fulfilled my promises—I didn’t skip to Canada or anything the last time.”

Safi obtained a single-entry Visa, meaning he must fully complete his studies before going home again. The prolonged separation from his family—six brothers and three sisters, as well as several relatives—can be difficult, but Safi says he is enjoying his time here and makes things work the best he can.

“We have no internet where I am from, but I get to talk to my family at least three times a month over the phone,” he said. “In the meantime, my favorite thing about this place is the skiing and snowboarding. The snow and cold, for sure. My least favorite is waiting for the bus in the morning.”

Safi made the Dean’s list for the fall 2011 semester, and currently plays intramural soccer. He has also been publically speaking about his country’s rich culture and tradition.

“Afghanistan has much to celebrate,” Safi said. “Buzkashi, our national sport; Nowruz, the Afghan New Year; our city-to-city parades celebrating our independence on Aug. 19; our rejoining into the FIFA World Cup…and we are famous for our homemade rugs.”

As UAA’s only Afghan representative, Safi will continually work to spread this awareness.

“The media only covers a tiny part of our world.”