Third World Kid

Growing up in Afghanistan gives nursing student international perspective

She’s a child of the world—the blonde-haired, blue-eyed SDSU nursing student who speaks Dari, the native language of Afghanistan. Though the 21-year-old was born in Denver, Colo., Joy Schumacher has spent the majority of her life in Afghanistan.

“I loved growing up in Afghanistan,” she said.  “I have such a passion for international things now.  My world view is very big.”

Until she was a high school junior, Joy attended an international school in Kabul.  Instruction was in English, but her classmates came from Brazil, Italy, Spain, Korea and Afghanistan—most were children of diplomats, aid workers and Afghan elite. She completed her last two years of high school in Colorado.

“Living in Afghanistan has really given me a heart for people in the developing countries of the world,” she said.

Living among Afghans

Joy’s parents—Owen, ’77, an agricultural engineer, and Debby, a nurse—wanted to use their abilities and education to help others, so they joined a nongovernmental humanitarian aid agency called International Assistance Mission. They were trained in Nepal before moving to Afghanistan.

As an engineer, Owen and his team developed water turbines that harness mountain streams to produce electricity for remote Afghan villages. After 14 years with the nongovernmental aid agency, Owen started Remote HydroLight, a private Afghan company, to manufacture the turbines.

“Having grown up in South Dakota, I have a soft spot for the rural farmers and ranchers in Afghanistan,” the Bowdle native said.

Unlike those who work for larger organizations and live in communities with security guards, International Assistance Mission people reside in standard Afghan houses throughout the city and do not use armed guards as security escorts.

Initially, the Schumachers were stationed in Charikar, the capital city of Parwan Province in northern Afghanistan. “We were the only foreign family in the entire village,” said Joy. Because of fighting in the Parwan Province, the family moved to Kabul when Joy was 4 years old.

Joy grew up knowing the native language, because all her playmates were Afghan. She recalls her mother watching her as she ran down the alley to her friend’s house.  “It’s amazing how normal a life you can live,” she commented, comparing her neighborhood alley in Kabul to a cul-de-sac in America.

Without being able to speak Dari, Joy explained, “I wouldn’t have been able to connect as well. Being bilingual is all part
of it.”

“When we started a family in Afghanistan, we knew the dangers,” Owen said, but since there were other expatriate families as well, it didn’t seem unusual.

Joy was born in America during one of the many times her parents and other aid workers were evacuated from the country. She has one sister, Grace, who is 18 years
old, and two brothers—Wesley, 15, and Jeremy, 12.

“Our kids are very normal, even after living their lives in Afghanistan, but they think international rather than national,” Owen explained.

Maintaining positive outlook

Joy credits her parents for her positive experiences and outlook. “They let me express my love for other countries and my frustration for being displaced,” she said. “I had really good friends like me, so we could share confusion over culture things.”

“There’s so much to be learned from other cultures,” explained Joy. The concept of hospitality, for example, is one of the most compelling aspects of Afghan and Middle Eastern culture, in general.

“Being a guest is like being a king or queen,” Joy said. “They will kill their only chicken for you. You will eat before their children eat. They will do everything to make you feel welcome, accepted and happy.”

When the Schumacher family attended weddings, she recalled, “you will be pulled up to dance whether you want to or not. You can’t compliment anybody on their jewelry because they’ll give it to you.”

Joy’s parents taught their children to be respectful of other cultures—that translated to learning to dance at weddings, speak the language and connect with the culture.

And for the Schumacher women, that meant wearing a scarf. “It’s about being respectful of the culture,” she explained, “and honestly, it’s about security. Do you really want to be the one to stand out?”

Her experiences in Afghanistan have fueled her interest in women’s rights internationally. “There is still much oppression for women there,” Joy explained.“I have so much respect for the many Afghan women standing up for their sisters there.”

Spending last summer in Afghanistan

Last summer Joy returned to Afghanistan to help her family move back to the U.S. Her sister finished high school and her maternal grandparents need more help, she explained.

“It was time for them to come back,” she says. The Schumachers are living in Aurora, Colo., near her grandparents and adjusting to life there.

Her reunion with her family and with her favorite places and people in Kabul was joyous, with posts on Facebook about visiting tea houses and eating pastries—all while still jet-lagged from her 15-hour trip. Her favorite keepsake is a small handmade wool carpet—the red color in the design comes from pomegranates.

“I have a love for both countries—America and Afghanistan,” Joy explained.

Coming to SDSU

Her father, being an SDSU alumnus, was certainly a factor in her choosing SDSU for her nursing degree, but Joy said, “I really like the program here … and everything fell into place.”

Her international perspective has taught her how very different medicine is in other countries. “I am more sensitive to cultural differences,” she explained. She brings this unique insight to a nursing program, which focuses on interpersonal skills.

In addition, Joy was delighted to find such a large international community in Brookings. She joined the international club and participates in the celebrations that each organization sponsors, including dancing at International Night in November.

“I am comfortable being the only American in a room full of people,” she said. And she encourages others to take that opportunity to learn about other cultures.

“I encourage people to reach out, to go beyond their comfort zone,” Joy explained, noting that those who do will discover that people are more alike than different.

Christie Delfanian

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