“Set a goal and work like hell”: Afghan refugees graduate from FCPS in less than a year with college scholarships
Eltaf Samim, a Mountain View High graduate, has traveled across six countries, completed seventh, eighth, and ninth grades multiple times in different countries, and taken classes in three languages toward graduating from high school this year .
The Afghan refugee left his home country in 2015, after his father feared his work with the US military would put Eltaf and his four younger siblings at risk of being kidnapped.
“I remember it was very cold outside, my mother was packing, I said what was going on, she replied that there was no time for questions, pack everything and go to bed “, Eltaf said.
His family’s first stop was Iran, where they split into several cars and ‘pressed the gas’ when they saw police wanting to arrest them. They hid in a basement in a small village, where a guide gave them food and water and told them to be quiet.
Then, when night fell, it was time to walk to Turkey. In the dark. In the snow. “In very tight places where if you slip you’ll die,” says Eltaf. Six hours later, Eltaf and his group reached another border, with other police looking for refugees, who shouted at them to stop, then started shooting when they didn’t.
“I had a giant backpack, as an eldest I wanted to keep an eye on the younger ones,” says Eltaf. “I made sure everyone got through and then I did too.”
Once in Istanbul, it was again time to hide in another house. His family left Turkey in a group of 50 who traveled on water by airboat, just before a storm, battling large waves to land on the shore of Greece. Then to Macedonia, Austria and finally Germany, where Eltaf says he “finally found a bed to sleep in again”.
And Eltaf, who left Afghanistan after finishing ninth grade, re-enrolled in school, where he was told he would start in seventh grade.
“I showed up without any transcripts, some English, my own mother tongue and no German at all,” Eltaf said. “I finished seventh grade there, then eighth grade, and my grades were extremely bad because of my bad German, they said I had to repeat eighth grade again.”
So Eltaf did it. And then he finished ninth grade for the second time, this time in Germany. After completing tenth grade, her family was chosen for a special immigrant visa to the United States. And on March 31, 2021, they landed at Dulles Airport in Northern Virginia.
Last May, at age 20, Eltaf started at Mountain View High, an alternative school in the Fairfax County public school system. Mountain View is designed to accommodate students over the age of 18.
“I was so surprised, I came here, they gave me a username, a password and a laptop!” said Eltaf. “I thought, ‘This is amazing! “”
He wrote as many articles as he could for the school newspaper, encouraged by his teachers. Shortly after starting, Eltaf learned that Mountain View had two potential graduation dates: a February graduation and a June graduation.
“As soon as I found out about this February graduation, I said I was going to make it happen,” Eltaf said.
“But they said there were over 50 outstanding economics assignments that students had completed that had been there all year that I still had to do.”
“I set my alarm clock for 4am on Saturday morning and started to work. I returned them all on Monday. Nobody expected that.”
He started his final year at FCPS last August and in February Eltaf graduated, as he had planned.
Eltaf walks away with a high school diploma, a slew of scholarships to help pay for his tuition at Northern Virginia Community College next fall, and a sense of gratitude.
“When I was a kid, people used to say America is the land of opportunity, you go there, you get it all,” he said. “I found out it was, but you have to set a goal and work like hell if you want to be successful.”