Last month, 2016 NMC graduate Edris Fana expected to see his parents for the first time in eight years, when they were to travel from Kabul, Afghanistan to Traverse City for his wedding to fellow alumna Emma Smith.
Instead, their wedding date, Aug. 15, became the day that Fana’s home country officially fell back to the Taliban, the Islamic military regime that resumed control of Afghanistan amid the final withdrawal of U.S./NATO troops after a 20-year presence.
“Everything just went downhill,” Fana said, adding that his parents have visas to travel to the United States, but cannot get a flight. (Very limited air travel resumed last week.) “To see it fall like this, it’s crazy to think about it.”
As the first international student to lead NMC’s Student Government Association, Fana, now 27, once aspired to apply that experience back home, and work in the government of the fledgling democratic republic.
“That was my all-time goal,” said Fana, who studied aviation. As the SGA president, he spoke at both the 2015 and 2016 commencement ceremonies.
“Coming from a place that I didn’t have the opportunity to practice leadership, or to have any experience of what I was capable of, it was NMC that presented me with opportunities to grow,” Fana told the audience in 2016.
Fana reciprocated those opportunities, contributing significantly to international understanding on campus, said Jim Bensley, NMC’s director of International Services and Service Learning.
“His interactions with fellow students helped many students gain a more intimate understanding of Afghan culture,” said Bensley, who invited Fana to speak to his World Cultures classes as well as wider campus audiences.
Fana’s 2013 departure to attend NMC was his second exodus from Afghanistan. In 1994 he was 11 days old when his parents fled with him and his brother to Pakistan as the Taliban began its first takeover of the country. The family returned to Afghanistan in 2003, when Fana was 10.
By then, the American invasion had ousted the Taliban from power and Afghanistan was heading into its first democratic elections. Despite attending an American school in Kabul and having parents who were educated and professional — his father runs a non-governmental organization called Partners in Aviation and Technology — Fana found his options for higher education limited. He wanted to study aviation.
As a young, Afghan man in a post-9/11 world, it wasn’t easy getting the acceptances and documents he needed to study in the United States. But Fana finally succeeded, following his brother, a pre-med student, to Michigan.
“NMC provided a path to me, not just out of Afghanistan, but to study more, to study what I really love, and get involved in the community,” said Fana. In addition to the SGA, at NMC he joined the International Club, also serving as its president, was a resident assistant and worked in the library. He earned his bachelor’s degree in business from Ferris State University through NMC’s University Center in December 2020.
NMC Dean of Students Lisa Thomas is the adviser to the SGA and knew Fana well.
“His own life experiences and journey from across the world to NMC gave him a deep sense of appreciation for the education and opportunities at NMC,” Thomas said.
Currently working as a hotel manager, with a return to Afghanistan off the table, Fana is accruing flight hours in order to earn his flight instructor license.
Daily life in Kabul is “somewhat regular” now, as the Taliban seeks international recognition of its regime, and his parents are safe, Fana said, but they are still seeking a way to leave. It’s stunning to think the country is back where it was when he was an infant.
“I don’t think anybody expected an overnight takeover. Within two weeks, the whole country just fell in.”