International student from Afghanistan finds new home at K-State

Photo Courtesy of Samiullah Khalilzad

Some students come to Kansas State because it is close to home, while others across the nation are drawn to specific programs at the university, but Samiullah Khalilzad, freshman in business, traveled nearly 12,000 miles from Afghanistan to become part of the K-State family.

At the same time, Khalilzad said he misses his family back in Afghanistan.

“I haven’t seen my family in so long,” Khalilzad said. “I will probably not go home until after next spring’s semester.”

Khalilzad said only two days after arriving to Manhattan he called his mom telling her that he wanted to return home.

“She thought I was crazy and told me that I had only been (at K-State) two days,” Khalilzad said.

Although his immediate family is so far away, Khalilzad has company in his cousin, Jahanzib Masjidi, freshman in political science. Masjidi said having a family member on campus has made him happier and that they have helped each other succeed in a foreign country.

“I feel like I am at home,” Masjidi said. “Samiullah is my best friend and we have been friends since childhood.”

Kristin Oberheide, director of International Admissions, said homesickness is very common among international students.

“Many international students face similar challenges, such as missing their families, financial concerns, renewing visas and the fear of traveling,” Oberheide said.

Cultural prejudices and expectations

Oberheide said many international students undergo difficulties and a cultural shock when coming to a new country and school. Khalilzad said he had such difficulties when he came to the United States.

“I had a long layover in Chicago, and when I finally got to Kansas City, I wasn’t sure how I would get to Manhattan,” Khalilzad said. “I called a taxi and asked the driver to take me to K-State. He thought I was kidding, but he eventually took me. I spent nearly $400 on that taxi ride.”

Now that Khalilzad has been a student at K-State for almost two semesters, he said he has realized many things about college and life in general.

“One funny thing is that I thought all Americans were fat before I came here,” Khalilzad said. “But that isn’t the case; I don’t see many fat people here.”

Khalilzad said there have been instances where people have judged him based on his nationality.

“At first, (living with Khalilzad) was a little scary to me,” said Cole Conover, freshman in milling science and management and Khalilzad’s former roommate. “After meeting Sam, I knew I had nothing to worry about.”

Conover said Khalilzad was very easy to live with and is one of the nicest people in the world.

“We got along very well, and it was fun to take him to do stuff here for the first time,” Conover said. “Living with (Khalilzad) was a great experience, and (it was) a great way to learn about other cultures.”

Differences in food

Beyond the cultural prejudices and expectations, Khalilzad said one of the biggest hurdles to overcome was becoming accustomed to American culture, especially in regard to food. Although he tried his first Philly cheesesteak with Conover, Khalilzad said pizza has become his favorite food, which has caused him to gain a significant amount of weight.

“In Afghanistan we don’t eat pizza very often,” Khalilzad said. “We may have it once every couple of weeks or so.”

Even though he likes pizza, Khalilzad said there are many popular American foods that he does not like.

“I really don’t like boiled foods, especially how rice is cooked here,” Khalilzad said. “In Afghanistan, we cook rice by pressure cooking it with oil.”

This method is used to make one of his favorite traditional Afghan foods, qabeli, a rice dish cooked with carrots, raisins, almonds and beef or chicken.

Khalilzad said he has been developing his cooking skills in order to make the traditional Afghan meals he enjoys.

“(Khalilzad) has been improving his cooking skills since we got an apartment with a kitchen,” Masjidi said.

Overall, Khalilzad said he has become more individualized and stronger since coming to America.

“I was a typical kid who never imagined being away from his mom,” Khalilzad said. “But here I am and I haven’t been home in eight months.”