By Mary Morgan, ‘11

“As an incoming freshman in 2006, I endured a lot in terms of culture shock,” said Sofia Jelanizada, ’10, who attended the University of Richmond as an international student from Kabul, Afghanistan and majored in accounting. “At times I felt that I was entering the great unknown, and I wondered how I would cope and how I would fit in as an Afghan living in America.”

The Initiative to Educate Afghan Women (IEAW) scholarship program sponsored Jelanizada to attend Richmond. During her time on campus, Jelanizada’s biggest obstacle was becoming an independent individual.

“In Afghanistan, it takes more than textbooks and pencils to be a student,” she said. “As a female, it takes tremendous bravery and tenacity. My new way of thinking and living here slowly began to fall into place, and I began to feel at ease. The attention I received from my professors, school advisors and classmates helped me crawl out of my shell.”  

Jelanizada also said that the Career Development Center was one of her greatest resources on campus.

“They provided all the necessities required for a successful interview,” said Jelanizada. “They
reviewed and edited my résumé and prepared me for job interviews.”  

Jelanizada had originally planned to return to Afghanistan after graduation, but then she was offered a job as a staff accountant at a U.S. government contractor performing construction, engineering and consulting work in Afghanistan.

“This environment provides me with the best of both worlds,” she said. “I work for Afghanistan, yet in a truly different work culture.”  

In addition to kick-starting her career, Jelanizada is preparing for the CPA exam this year and hopes to start graduate school soon. She also has a desire to give back to Afghanistan.  

“Ironically, Afghanistan had so little to give but gave so much to me in terms of strength and courage,” Jelanizada said. “I learned to never give up and to continue searching for a meaningful future. What better way to give back than to work for an Afghan company that shares the same great initiative – to rebuild and restructure Afghanistan from the ground up?”  

Her advice for other international students in their job search is to network and keep in touch with school advisors and former employers.  

“It goes without saying that I will forever be thankful to the University of Richmond,” she said. “My four years passed very quickly and left me with the gifts of education, friendship and great memories that I will forever cherish. This journey has been a true blessing.”