When Zahra Rasool receives her diploma, she will cap off four years of hard work and determination — and a little anxiety.
Rasool is from Mumbai, India. Her whole family lives in India, so when she announced her plans to go to school in Columbia, Mo., they were uneasy. It wouldn't be her first time away from home. She had traveled to Europe, Dubai, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa and Iran as well as throughout her home country. But this was different. The United States was halfway around the world.
“I remember telling my dad that I wanted to come to Missouri to study, and he asked ‘Where is this place?’” Rasool recalls. “He thought I was crazy because I didn’t know anything about America, had no idea about the culture, no idea what I was getting myself into.”
Despite his concerns, Rasool’s father told her if she could find a way to pay for attending MU, he would support her.
“I think he said that because he couldn’t image me arranging for those finances,” Rasool says.
She applied for scholarships and was able to get a financial package to allow her to study at Mizzou.
Rasool had begun her undergraduate career at a university in Mumbai with plans to go abroad for her master’s degree. After one year at the university, she realized she wanted something different and reevaluated her options.
She was interested in journalism, and online searches for journalism schools consistently put MU at the top of the list.
Rasool wasn’t nervous about coming to Missouri; there was too much excitement at the time. However, upon her arrival in Columbia, the nerves hit her.
“It finally sank in what I was going to do,” she says. “I finally realized what I had done and, for the first time, I wasn’t sure about my decision.”
She found that she didn’t have much in common with the American students she encountered. The food they ate was different. The clothes they wore were different. The sports they watched were different. There were no common subjects to start a conversation.
“I wasn’t sure initially how I was supposed to talk to people,” she says. “I didn’t know how to approach them. I was scared.”
Rasool knew there was no turning back and took the initiative to make connections and build friendships. She soon found Mizzou to be a diverse and welcoming campus.
Finding a niche
Niki Harris was Rasool’s adviser during her first year at MU and calls Rasool a “curious and engaging student.”
“When I first met Zahra, she was trying to navigate a new campus and a new country,” Harris says. “She was so open and excited to experience as much as she could.”
Rasool began to get involved with activities on campus. While taking a psychology course with professor Etti Naveh-Benjamin, Rasool learned about the multicultural certificate, a program that familiarizes students with multicultural and diversity issues. Naveh-Benjamin, the program director, encouraged Rasool to get involved.
“Zahra represents the best of what MU is when it comes to international students,” Naveh-Benjamin says. “She has been a strong voice for diversity and social justice issues, and she does everything with grace, modesty and kindness.”
Rasool pursued the certificate. Then she joined the staff.
“Issues of diversity and social justice are so important to me,” Rasool says. “There wasn’t a better job I could think of.”
Rasool knows that there are issues that need to be discussed when it comes to diversity. The multicultural certificate is one way to address those topics.
“Mizzou has so many classes that deal with diversity and social justice,” Rasool says. “This certificate is an initiative for students to learn about these issues.”
Rasool also continued to pursue her degree in journalism. She studied abroad in London for a semester through a School of Journalism study-abroad program and spent the summer following her sophomore year in South Korea as part of the Mizzou International Center exchange program.
Rasool took classes while in South Korea but describes the trip as more of a cultural exchange program where she learned about Korean culture and was able to interact with the Korean people.
In 2012, Rasool was nominated for the International Engagement Awards, which are given to MU students, faculty members and staff that have made meaningful and sustained contributions to the internationalization of MU.
During the annual Tap Day ceremony in April, Rasool was inducted into LSV, a secret honorary society at Mizzou that recognizes “the most outstanding upperclass women” at MU who “strive to promote and improve the status of women.”
“It is energizing to me just to be around her,” Harris says.
The world is her oyster
Rasool will start graduate school next year and continue to work towards her career goal, which is to serve as an international correspondent for a broadcast news outlet.
“Our world is so globalized,” she says. “We are all shaped by things that are happening internationally, and there is a need for people to know more about international issues.”
She mentions countries in Africa that are cut off from other countries and need journalists to discuss the issues they are facing.
Like those countries in Africa, Rasool’s home country can benefit from good journalism. Historically, the best minds of India have left for education and careers in countries such as the United States. According to Rasool, that trend is changing. More bright young people are staying in India or going back to India, and she plans to be part of that new wave.
“Eventually I see myself going back,” Rasool says. “There is a lot of work that needs to be done there. It is a developing country with so much poverty, illiteracy and corruption. I think it is up to the youth of India to change these things.”
Rasool hopes to take the values, ethics and techniques she has learned in classes at Mizzou and apply them to her practice of journalism in India.
“Ethical and accurate journalism is needed in India more than it is needed here,” Rasool says. “Here people are aware of those values. People over there are still discovering those things.”
Whatever the future holds, she's ready.
“Every step along the way has been a surprise,” Rasool says. “I just had to accept things as they happened. That gave me the courage to do this. That kept me strong.”