Alumni portrait - Sonia Ahmadi - Alumni
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Position: Research Adviser at the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies of Culture, NTNU
Education: Bachelor in Political Science (2012-2015), Foundation year in Equality and Diversity (2015 – 2016), Masters in Entrepreneurship & Technology management at NTNUs School of Entrepreneurship (2016-2018)
A woman for change
Sonia Ahmadi wants to be the voice of those who are forced to remain silent. Four years after she applied for asylum in Norway, she moved to Trondheim to study political science where she learned to think outside the box.
"For us who live in the world's best and most equal countries, it is important to remember that no woman is free until all women are free," said Sonia Ahmadi during her appeal on this year's Women's Day in Trondheim. She reminded the listeners that there are countries where women are not allowed to get an education or able to dress as they please.
Ahmadi has now found a quiet room at Dragvoll, where she works as research adviser at the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies of Culture at NTNU, to have a chat over Zoom.
It has been ten years since she came to Trondheim, alone with her four-year-old son, to study political science at the age of 23.
- I knew nobody, had no idea where we would live.The first nights we slept at the Pilgrim Center. ‘Fortunately, I called the student service organization (Sit) who said I did not have to worry because they could offer me accomodation as I was a single mother’, says Ahmadi. She thinks the Norwegian welfare system deserves an applause as one of the best things that exist in this world.
Born during civil war
What Ahmadi tells about her life before coming to Norway takes us far away from NTNU and Dragvoll.
She was born in Kabul in 1988, a year before the Soviet Union withdrew its forces from Afghanistan after a ten-year civil war. A new civil war started in 1992. Childhood memories are mixed. She remembers her grandmother's big house with a beautiful garden and views of the mountains as well as cold, dark bomb rooms and the sound of bombs. She can still hear the screams of soldiers who underwent amputations without anaesthesia at the hospital where her mother took her and the two siblings to seek refuge. When she was 12 years old, she was whipped by the Taliban's moral police on the street because she did not wear a burqa. She managed to escape in a taxi.
- The war affects everyone. I was still lucky to come from a privileged family, my father was a diplomat, my mother was a teacher. I enjoyed studying, learning new things. But life was dangerous for a young woman like me in Afghanistan with opinions and ideas.
Asylum seeker at the age of 20
The first years after she was granted residence as an asylum seeker, she lived in Skien where she learnt Norwegian, and started a multicultural magazine. She moved to Trondheim the summer of 2012.
She says that the beginning was not easy. She felt alone, the apartment was empty, and her son wanted to return to Skien. But already during the orientation week the ice was broken, she made good friends and contacts.
- What are the most important things you learned as a student?
- To be able to go in depth on a subject, and at the same time see it from different perspectives and points of view. I came from another system, where one thinks in a box. At NTNU, I learned to be independent and think outside the box.
Not afraid to speak her mind
Ahmadi has always had a lot of courage and will to persevere, but without support from the student service organization (Sit) and student community at NTNU, she would not have become who she is today.
- The time as a student was valuable to me. I was new, my Norwegian was poor, and I was also a single mother from Afghanistan. My self-confidence was not good, but still I have always spoken my mind.
When she realised that others were looking up to her for daring to express her opinion, it gave her a boost of confidence.
"This is good, I'll do more of this," Ahmadi thought then. Since then, she has held many debate posts and appeals - as she did in Oslo in January during Taliban's visit.
The organisation Junior Chamber International has named her Europe's best speaker.
Follows her heart
Ahmadi is a determined person who likes to realise ideas, it also means that her days are hectic.
- Do you have a recipe for success?
- We all have 24 hours a day. I have to sleep for 8 hours; the other hours I try to do what I am passionate about with all my heart. When you are dedicated and follow the heart, the road to success is not so far away. But remember to take breaks, for a while I was near burnout.
In Trondheim, Ahmadi has had several part-time jobs, as an interpreter, bilingual assistant, and working as a coordinator for the Red Cross. Last year, she founded the organisation Afghan-Norwegian Women for Change. They arrange courses that range from mental health to job search, and work for the inclusion of Afghan women.
- One thing I forgot to say is that I have a YouTube channel where I teach entrepreneurship in 3 languages: Dari, Pashto and English, she adds.
Focus on what works
Ahmadi speaks without filter about subjects most people avoid addressing, such as the oppression of women, honour and shame, and violence. Not everyone likes that.
- I work towards a goal and I have a mission, that is bigger than everything else. If the hate messages make up 10 percent of my feedback, then it is in the minority and insignificant in relation to my goal, says Ahmadi - who has a piece of advice to share:
We are programmed to think about what is negative, but do not spend energy on that. Think about what actually works in your life and what you want to achieve.
8 a bit on the side
What was your dream job when you were 10 years old?
- Teacher, and I loved to play I was a teacher
Your biggest mistake as a student?
- That I stressed, stressed – and stressed too much
What talent would you like to have?
- To sing – and to be able to fly!
Which 3 qualities do you value most in others?
- Honesty, positivity, and openness
This makes me happy
- Be out in the nature, watch a good movie and be together with my son and new husband
I'm afraid of
- The dark
Favourite travel destination
- Country with interesting history, culture and food – like Egypt
One or more legendary book tips
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Lean in by Sheryl Sandberg and Out of the shadows by Shazia Majid
Text: Lisbet Jære