Amina Abdul Qayum, ’13, traveled a long road to Richmond, but the geographic distance — 7,000 miles — was less daunting than the cultural and political barriers she encountered.

Soon after she was born in Kandahar, Afghanistan, her father was forced to flee the country for political reasons. The family lost its home and ended up in a Persian community in Kabul. Abdul Qayum excelled academically until third grade, when the Taliban took over and banned girls from schools.

“The most difficult part of my life by far,” she recalls, was “not having permission to get educated, not being allowed to learn.”

Abdul Qayum moved to Richmond with her family at age 10. She became president of her senior class at Hermitage High School and was a representative in the Henrico County Student Congress.

She considered several colleges, including the University of Virginia, the College of William and Mary, Virginia Tech and Virginia Commonwealth University. She selected Richmond because it offered greater opportunities for undergraduate biology students to participate in research.

Abdul Qayum looks forward to collaborating inside and outside the classroom. “I have the ability to see things differently,” she says. “We make progress together because of the different experiences and knowledge that we have. … It’s important to learn from professors and to learn from peers. It’s amazing how we can come together with people from different cultures.”

To meet other members of the the class of 2013, visit our alumni magazine.