American dream brings Tajikistan native to Tulsa

Growing up in Tajikistan, a small Central Asian country that borders Afghanistan, China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, Nadima Vafoeva watched American movies and listened to American music (all of which had been translated into Russian) and from an early age dreamed that she would one day study in the United States.

Vafoeva’s opportunity came in the 10th grade, when she participated in the Future Leaders Exchange Program. “I had to take three tests, and only 45 of us passed out of 3,000. We got to travel to the U.S. to live with American families and go to high school for a year,” she said.

Her destination was a far cry from the skyscrapers and taxicabs dotting the cityscapes of New York and Chicago featured in popular movies. Instead, Vafoeva arrived in a small Indiana town of just 6,000 residents.

She fell in love with America all the same.

“I like the American lifestyle,” said Vafoeva. “There are a lot of differences in culture, but I felt like I was at home in America. Maybe it was because of the host family, too. They made me feel at home and like they were my family. We still keep in touch.”

Vafoeva returned to Tajikistan to complete her high school studies, but longed to return to the U.S. for college. She found out about The University of Tulsa through a conversation with the coordinator of American consuls. “He told me TU offered a select number of full tuition scholarships for international students,” Vafoeva said. “I Googled TU and liked everything about the university and the city. It looked like a nice place to study and a great school for international students.”

She submitted her application and was offered a full scholarship to study at TU. While the decision to accept was an easy one for Vafoeva, she had to work hard to persuade her parents that it was the right move. “I was excited, but my parents didn’t want me to come back to America. It took me two months to convince them to say yes — especially my dad.”

Vafoeva has settled in nicely at TU and maintains a full schedule. Fluent in five languages (Persian, Tajik, Russian, Turkish and English), she serves as vice president of the Russian Club. She’s also associate director of community service for the Student Association and a member of Phi Eta Sigma National Honor Society.

The finance major works part time for TU’s Annual Fund initiative and tutors other students in pre-calculus and calculus. To fill the community service commitment that is part of her scholarship, Vafoeva volunteers for international events on campus in addition to helping with efforts in the Tulsa community.

Vafoeva interned at Grant Thornton’s office in Tajikistan as an audit assistant last summer. Looking to the future, she has her sights set on working in finance for an energy company. “I like my major and have loved studying in the Collins College of Business,” she said. “The professors are nice and always willing to help.”

Reflecting on the journey that brought her to the U.S., Vafoeva said matter-of-factly, “If a person wants something really bad, they will make it happen. I’m proud to be part of the TU community, and I’m very thankful to have the opportunity to study here.”