A few years ago I didn’t think I’d attend college, much less fly an airplane. And if you would have told me I’d set out to be the youngest woman to fly solo around the world, I wouldn’t have believed you.
The path to this dream was filled with challenges. I was born in a refugee camp in Afghanistan and immigrated to the United States with my family before my first birthday.
Growing up in California, I attended an underprivileged elementary school that lacked the opportunities and resources to help me see a future beyond the world that existed around me.
By the time I was a teenager, I had nearly given up hope that I’d ever attend college or follow any career path in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). But it was in high school where I moved into a new school district and found support and encouragement from my peers and teachers.
I took on leadership roles and earned a college scholarship as the result of applying myself. Even though I had no memory of the flight from Afghanistan to the U.S., I was terrified of flying. But I finally faced that fear during a trip to visit family in Florida the summer after I graduated high school.
I can still remember looking out the window, and seeing the sun shine over the runway. As the plane lurched forward and then launched off the ground, it was like riding a big roller coaster.
It was on that flight that I realized how big the world is and I wanted to see all of it. I decided then that I wanted to be a pilot. I learned that sometimes your fear can be your biggest passion.
For the next two years all I thought about was flying. I worked as a bank teller while I attended community college and saved as much money as I could for my education. With the help of scholarships, I was able to attend Embry-Riddle where I completed my bachelor’s degree in Aeronautics and my master’s degree in Aeronautics. I’m currently working on my Master of Business Administration.
In 2010, I completed my private pilot license, making me the first certified female pilot from Afghanistan.
But this is really where my journey begins. In an effort to encourage women to follow STEM-related careers, I helped form the Women’s Ambassador Program at Embry-Riddle to create a big sister program to mentor women. Since the program formed in 2013, female enrollment has increased by nine percent.
But I knew I could do even more on a global level to improve opportunities for women. Through the Dreams Soar Initiative I am attempting to make a historic solo flight around the world and team up with inspiring women to host events throughout my 33 stops across five continents. One of my stops will be to Kabul, Afghanistan—bringing my story full circle.
My departure on June 2 is the culmination of support from my university, mentors and a flight team that believes in the purpose of my mission. I still have a lot of work ahead of me before I leave, but I’d like to invite you to follow my journey and I hope it inspires you to reach new heights.
How did you overcome challenges in your own life? Comment below and share your story.