Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Visa Half the Battle for Afghani Student

It took one year, five applications and several letters from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for Afghani student Rafi Khetab to receive his visa to come to the United States and Georgetown University. But now that he is here, his homeland is never far from his mind.

Khetab (SFS ’13), who worked for the U.S. government in Kabul before coming to Georgetown, is making it his mission to build bridges between the two countries.

Although now a sophomore, Khetab was originally admitted to the Class of 2012, but visa problems prevented him from entering the country for over a year.

“It was a very rough time,” Khetab said. “All I had was hope.”

But he never gave up or sat back and just waited for something to change.

“I was on the phone every day with my contacts here and on the ground in Afghanistan,” Khetab said.

elanie Buser, an international student and scholar adviser for the Office of International Programs, is responsible for providing visa and immigration guidance to incoming students and worked through the process with Khetab. Khetab received the Arrupe scholarship, a university-backed scholarship that provides funding for needy students from conflict-ridden areas of the world to study at Georgetown, which compelled Buser to take a special interest in Khetab’s case.

“An opportunity to attend Georgetown with funding from the prestigious Arrupe Scholarship is very rare, and we needed to do everything possible to get Rafi here to take advantage of it,” she said.

Scott Fleming, assistant vice president for federal relations, was another administrator who fought for Khetab’s entry to the United States and matriculation to Georgetown.

“When I heard his history, that he had worked for us, and our bureaucracy couldn’t find a way to let him in – that struck me as fundamentally wrong,” Fleming said. “He was literally putting his life on the line.”

In Afghanistan, Khetab worked as a coordinator and translator for the U.S. Justice Department and military as well as USAID. He translated the first Counter-Narcotics Law, the first Counter-Terrorism Law and the first Extradition Treaty enacted by the Afghan government. Before that, he risked his life by teaching English to young Afghani girls while the Taliban was in power.

“I just knew it was incumbent on us to stand up for him,” Fleming said.

Fleming contacted members of Congress, including Pelosi, who wrote letters to the Department of State, as did Khetab’s former boss in the Justice Department.

In the end, the effort paid off.

When his fifth visa application was accepted, Khetab was already packed and ready to go. Three hours later, he was on a plane headed to America. The trip from Afghanistan took almost two days, and Khetab started class the morning after he landed.

Khetab said that while he experienced a culture shock upon arrival and still misses his family, he adjusted quickly because of his five years of prior experience working with Americans.

“I sort of don’t feel estranged here,” he said.

He said it helps that he has thrown himself into activities, is taking an overloaded schedule and serves as a teaching assistant for three language classes.

Khetab is also working with the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council to help coordinate on-campus activities, including fundraisers and educational programs. But next semester, he has even bigger plans.

“I myself, this coming spring, am going to establish the first Afghan club at Georgetown,” he said.

The club, which Khetab plans to call the Afghan Club for Education, will promote access to education for Afghanis. More importantly, it will be a window into Afghan culture, life and politics for students. Khetab said he thinks many Americans have been misinformed about his homeland by both politicians and the media.

“Americans are not well informed about the situation in Afghanistan,” he said. “The media is always focusing on the negative aspects.”

Khetab said the American presence in Afghanistan is changing this perception, however; the beneficial effect of the troops there is noticeable.

“The difference is like between the sky and earth.”

Because of visa complications, Khetab cannot return to Afghanistan until he has completely finished his degree. If he leaves, he might not be admitted back into the United States. His family in Kabul does not have Internet access at home, but he manages to keep in touch by calling every week.

“I miss my family terribly,” Khetab said. “And they miss me.”

To add to the homesickness, life at Georgetown is filled with constant reminders of his homeland.

“There is not a single day that goes by when my professor doesn’t mention Afghanistan in my international relations class,” Khetab said.

He said that his classes in the School of Foreign Service often give him a better academic understanding and scholarly perspective on experiences that he, unlike most students, has already had on a personal level.

“In Afghanistan, all these theories are actually being applied on the ground by different actors,” he said.

Kelly Krohn (SFS ’13) met Khetab last year while working on an event for the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council.

“He’s just very passionate about the cause,” she said. “He has a fascinating story and he never hesitated to bring

that in.”

Khetab hopes to finish his education in the United States, acquire a master’s degree and then return to his homeland to enter the Afghan political scene.

“Rafi’s real world knowledge and life experience need to be complemented by a formal education so he can be successful in the way he wishes to serve his country in the future,” Buser said.

Khetab says that he hopes to be able to help create ties between the two nations after his time in America.

“The best way we can solve the problems in Afghanistan is through education,” he said. Khetab hopes that the Georgetown community will be able to help other Afghanis receive the same education as him.

“They will change the course of history.”


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