Political Science graduate sends message of hope to SFU community

October 23, 2020

Freshta Ahmadzai’s undergraduate experience started out like many others. She visited SFU as a high school student, liked what she saw, and enrolled. Then, just days after she began taking courses, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Ahmadzai spent as much time with her mother as possible. She also took on a full-time job to help support her family, while still taking classes at SFU. Sadly, her mother lost her battle with breast cancer and Ahmadzai went through a painful grieving process. However, with the support of her family, professors, friends, and the SFU community, she emerged stronger and graduates today with her Bachelor of Arts in political science (honours).

“My sister, brother, and father played a symbolic role in this achievement, she says. “They reminded me that strength in numbers and mindful perseverance could help me overcome the challenges I faced.”

During her mother’s illness, Ahmadzai found her political science professors accommodating when it came to assignment deadlines.

“When my mom got breast cancer, I tried my best to provide her with support,” says Ahmadzai. “Mentally, I wasn’t doing so well. My professors, every single one of them, were very understanding of my situation.”

She suggests that students be open with professors when it comes to the challenges they are facing.

“A lot of students quietly suffer,” says Ahmadzai. “They don’t tell their professors what’s happening. They just feel ashamed of their failures. A lot of professors are accommodating. If they understand early enough, they can do something about it.”

Also, during her mother’s illness, Ahmadzai found support from friends she made at the SFU Manga Club, where she was also an executive for four years, and later president.

After Ahmadzai’s mother passed away, she became more determined and driven academically. She met regularly with the political science undergraduate program advisor, who assisted her with course planning during this difficult period in her life.

She also paid tribute to her mother in her honours thesis, Construction of the Gendered Household: Exploring the Value of Unpaid Domestic Labour. Though this was a somewhat unconventional thesis topic, Ahmadzai appreciates that her professors accepted it. Her mother had been a high school teacher in Afghanistan, but when she immigrated to Canada she became a stay-at-home mom. In both her paid and unpaid positions, she was a role model for Ahmadzai.

During her grieving process, she found support from friends like fellow political science graduate Golsa Golestaneh, as well.

“Golsa helped me manage my mental health challenges after my mother’s passing and taught me that through our community, we remain strong,” she says.

Ahmadzai became more involved in the SFU community and volunteered to help others. In August 2019, she became a voting member and project leader for the SFU Surrey Campus Committee. She helped organize events that emphasize the importance of community engagement and connection. Ahmadzai is now participating in Pivot 2020.

Ahmadzai advises students that are experiencing mental health issues, due to personal tragedy or COVID-19, not to expect too much of themselves.

“It’s okay that you’re not doing perfectly right now,” she says. “To expect ourselves to progress, to move forward, to constantly be in a state of perfection, especially during a pandemic isn’t realistic.”

Even though people may feel isolated during the pandemic, Ahmadzai reminds students that the SFU community is still there for them.

“You are connected to a community,” she says. “You have advisors, professors, and student executives that care, and we’re all trying our best to get through this time together.”