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Sameer was born in Afghanistan, fled to Pakistan and later to Denmark, and now he is almost finished with his PhD. at Copenhagen Business School. Photo: Marion Chen

Be who you are

It can actually turn out to be an advantage, if you make use of your background as an immigrant, because you have unique resources and knowledge.

By Marion Chen

Imagine 24 years ago; a 6 years old boy was driving a motor cycle on the Pakistani streets and selling tea for her mum, has now become a professor at Copenhagen Business School (CBS) – what a dramatic life he has had.

Sameer Azizi was born in Afghanistan, but he had to flee to Pakistan with his family, when he was 5 years old because of the war in Afghanistan. They stayed in Pakistan for two years and started the life of selling tea on the streets, waiting for the end of the war so that they could go back home.

Sameer’s aunt got asylum in Denmark by coincidence and she applied for Sameer’s asylum in Denmark. Sameer then moved to Denmark with his family, already with refugee status. The life for Sameer has changed completely since December 1991.

Knowing good and bad
Sameer lives in a big family. A big family, to Sameer’s understanding, means that all family members, including aunts and uncles and their children, would gather together to talk and discuss life and the future.

The family atmosphere is open and warm, but with unsaid disciplines. No one could be out after 6:00pm during the everyday. No nasty words should ever come out of the mouths of the family members and alcohol and cigarettes are of course forbidden.

Since they live in Vesterbro – very close to the Istedgade – drunkards and drug addicts are the usual pictures in his parents’ eyesight. So, the disciplines played an important role of teaching their children what is right and what is wrong.

On the other hand, his mother never convinces him to do anything that he is not capable of doing. Opposite the Danish youth, where to move out at 18 years old is considered normal, Sameer stayed with his family as long as he could, because he had no money to afford living on his own at that time.

Delicious meals are always ready whenever Sameer and his brother and sister feel hungry. They never worry that one day, they will have no food to eat, no place to live, even though the room is not big enough for the family.

With the strong support of the family, their warm concern and strict disciplines, Sameer grew up without the interruption of bad things, such as alcohol and hash, which usually affects the Danish youth very much.

Education makes changes
Sameer’s aunt has a good education background, and all his cousins are doing well in their courses. His family somehow inspired and encouraged Sameer to do his best all the way through his education path.

Being the best is always the ambition of Sameer. He likes to compete with his cousins. He doesn’t know, if he can surpass them, but he will try his best.

One time, Sameer got the highest score in a Danish test, but his teacher didn’t trust his results because the questions were so difficult that even native Danish children could not do it.

Sameer finished his business and IT programmes with relatively very high scores in his bachelor’s degree from Copenhagen Business School, and found a job in a very big Danish company afterwards.

Be who you are
After working for one year, Sameer met some Danish young people, who were working for a small NGO that helps street children in Afghan. This is exactly what he wants to do.

He engages in a Refugee Council project when he was 19 years old and went back to Afghanistan – the homeland where his father was born. While he stands on that land, he suddenly finds out that there was something missing in his life: His identity of being an Afghan. He tried to help people in Afghanistan, who have nothing after Taliban fell, as much as he can.

He came back in 2006 and started the Master’s degree, learning about development and business, which he sees as a part of the mission of his life. He wrote about Afghanistan in his thesis for his master degree. After he finished it, his supervisor asked him if he would like to go on to PhD.

“I think the links between all these stories are maybe having the confidence to see yourself as a resource,” Sameer says.

Sameer was employed as a project manager in a NGO, working for street children when he was 22, even though there was a very strong candidate, who had much better skills and education than him, Sameer got the job.

Being Afghan can be a resource
He then realised that there was something about being an Afghan: It is a resource. “Why look at it as a problem? Being a refugee or being an immigrant could easily be a resource. It is up to you to utilise it.” said Sameer.

His Afghan background has done much for Sameer’s success and he is confident that he will do something more for the Afghans, as well as the world development.

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