From Kabul to Kansas: KU student from Afghanistan helps his family settle into new American life after difficult journey

photo by: Courtesy of Ahmad Baset Azizi

Ahmad Baset Azizi is pictured with his family at his May 2022 graduation from the University of Kansas. From left are his sister Sona, his sister Ghezal, his mother, Parwana, Azizi, his father, Fariadoon, and his sister Afsoon.

As recent college graduates head out into the world to begin their professional careers, 22-year-old Ahmad Baset Azizi is moving back in with his mom and dad, and he couldn’t feel more successful.

Azizi, who has been separated from his parents for seven years — he in the United States, they in Afghanistan — was recently united with them at Kansas City’s international airport — just in time for his graduation from the University of Kansas.

“My mom cried when she saw me,” Azizi, said of Parwana Azizi, who along with her husband, Fariadoon, and three daughters — Ghezal, Sona and Afsoon — fled Afghanistan last August after the United States withdrew its troops and the country fell to the militant Taliban regime.

“Seeing and hugging my son again was a dream come true,” Parwana said in her native Dari, which was translated to English for the Journal-World. “Baset is the kind of son that every mother would hope to have. I have only one son, and he is my dream son.”

When the Journal-World last spoke with Azizi, who goes by Baset, he had just learned that his family had navigated the overrun Kabul airport and had boarded a plane to Abu Dhabi with little more than the clothes on their backs. At that point he could “breathe” again, knowing, or at least hoping, that a few months — and a mountain of paperwork — later they would be with him in America.

In mid-May, that hope became a reality, when Baset, who had left home as a boy to study music at a prestigious academy in Michigan, welcomed his family as a grown man at the end of their long immigration journey — a journey he had largely orchestrated.

But before that, Baset, like most of the world, had watched in horror as Taliban troops swept through Afghanistan, eventually overtaking Kabul, the capital city of 6 million that his family had always called home — the city where his father was a colonel in the military assisting U.S. troops, where his mother was an election worker and where his older sister Ghezal studied law before such things would once again be forbidden to women.

But unlike most of the world, Baset’s horror was obviously personal. He didn’t know if his family would make it out of Afghanistan — until the very moment they lifted off in that plane — and uncertainties persisted until they set foot in the U.S. many months later.

Helping to get a family of five out of a country in complete disarray would be challenging for anyone; for a college student thousands of miles away it would seem especially daunting.

“He is quite a young man,” one of Baset’s KU professor’s, Steve Leisring, told the Journal-World last September, recounting how Baset would come to class after sleepless nights communicating with his family. The time difference between Kabul and Lawrence is about nine hours.

But while his professor may be impressed and his mom may find him a “dream son,” Baset seems to think that he’s pretty ordinary — just doing what needs to be done for loved ones.

“It’s a great feeling to have a family again,” he said, “to live with a family again.”

It’s also a full-time job, as he has happily discovered in getting everyone settled.

“I always thought college was busy, but now I know that was not busy,” he said of finding housing and furniture, doing all the driving, completing paperwork, translating from Dari to English and helping his family adjust to a completely foreign environment.

The first big task was finding the family a home. They decided to live in Overland Park rather than Lawrence because of greater employment opportunities, Baset said.

photo by: Courtesy of Ahmad Baset Azizi

Ahmad Baset Azizi, third from right, is pictured with his family in their Overland Park home. His mother, Parwana, is second from left, next to his father, Fariadoon. His three sisters are Afsoon, left, Ghezal, second from right, and Sona, right.

Also the family, coming from a huge, noisy city like Kabul, whose chaotic traffic Baset compared to New York City’s, was instinctively drawn to a more populous area. Overland Park ended up being a kind of compromise between a smaller college town and a larger urban setting.

Baset understood the instinct, having experienced culture shock when he first moved to Michigan, which seemed eerily tranquil. “What is this place?” he remembers thinking. But after years in America, he has developed a fondness for “living somewhere quiet and relaxing,” and he thinks his family will also come to prefer it to “a crazy busy” metropolis.

Already, he said, they are “very grateful that they can walk to the park, they can do what they want, and they have no fear that anyone will harm them.”

With a roof over their heads, Baset is now focused on helping his family to learn English and to seek out educational and employment opportunities.

His three sisters are able to understand English, he says, though they are still shy about speaking it. His parents are starting to learn the language, with the help of books and YouTube tutorials, and he hopes to get them more formal instruction.

His youngest sister, Afsoon, is especially eager to get into high school, and Baset has made that enrollment process a priority.

“I do whatever she asks,” he said, noting that she has also been pestering him to teach her how to drive. “She’s the boss.”

“My mom and my sisters did not drive in Afghanistan, but they’re excited to learn,” he said.

He is also helping his two other sisters explore higher education opportunities. His sister Ghezal studied law in Kabul and hopes to continue on that path here.

“I believe that with the help of those who are involved in educational institutions and our diligence, we will learn and continue our education,” she told the Journal-World in a translated statement.

Ghezal also expressed gratitude for “our new American friends in Kansas.”

“We enjoy discussing culture, education and everyday life,” she said.

And while it’s unlikely that the family will return anytime soon, if ever, to their native land, Ghezal expressed her hopes for the embattled country.

“As someone who grew up in Afghanistan, I want to see my country peaceful and prosperous — a place where women can live comfortably and girls can have the right to education and choice,” she said.

As for Baset, at some point, armed with the three degrees he earned at KU – in political science, global & international studies and music — he’ll focus on finding his own job, something in politics or diplomacy, he hopes.

But in the meantime, he’s enjoying building this new life with his family, catching up on all that he missed these past seven years and indulging one of his mother’s renewed pleasures: keeping her special boy well fed.

“She does not allow me to leave home without having breakfast,” he said. “And I’m talking about she takes some time cooking something special.

“I told her as a college student I did not really care about having breakfast, but she says, ‘No, you’re not allowed,’ and I’m like OK, she’s the mom.”

photo by: Courtesy of Ahmad Baset Azizi

Ahmad Baset Azizi is shown as a child at the zoo in Kabul, Afghanistan.

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