No Internet, Multiple Lockdowns: How a Kashmiri Student Got a Scholarship to NYU

Slogging through the unending communication breakdown post the scrapping of Article 370 and 35A in August 2019, and the consecutive COVID-19 lockdowns, Kashif Iftikhar, 17, from Budgam district of Kashmir, has made it to the prestigious New York University (NYU) with an 80% scholarship.

Iftikhar holds an undergraduate offer at the Shanghai campus of NYU. Since the founding of the campus, the class of 2025 is expected to be the most competitive ever with a mere 500 spots available for nearly 19,000 applicants.

“I got admitted in the Early Decision II admissions round, making my acceptance even more cherishable,” Kashif said.

Born and brought up in the Beerwah area of Budgam district, Kashif completed his primary education from a local school. Later, he did his Class 12 from Government Boys Higher School with 87%.

The feisty teenager always dreamt of studying in one of best institutes in the world. However, the journey to achieving his dream came with a series of challenges. From internet shutdowns to various rejections from multiple colleges to struggling to keep his mental health intact during several months of the pandemic-induced lockdown, the teenager has faced it all.

Also read: Amidst Lockdown, Kashmir’s Online Classes Are a Disaster Waiting to Unfold

“I had to prepare my Class 12 board examinations, college essays, manage Letter of Recommendations (LOR’s) and apply for financial aid, all in a few months’ time. On top of it, I used to travel around 75 km every day because my school and tuition centre were far from each other and I had to attend both,” Kashif said.

The communication ban in 2019 made it even worse. “My situation was such that I was unable to take a single TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) practice test because of the internet ban. I had no idea what the test looked like until I took it,” he said.

In 2020, Kashif applied to various colleges abroad but failed to get any scholarship.

“At the same time, the COVID-19 outbreak also happened and the lockdown was put in place. That’s when I started getting a negative response from everywhere. My parents, friends and teachers all advised me to get admitted to an institute in the Valley itself and not waste further time by applying outside,” he said.

Undeterred, Kashif continued to work towards his goal and started afresh.

“I was undoubtedly overwhelmed by the constant worries and concerns of my parents, but I did not lose hope. In this process, I even developed an anxiety disorder but I fought it off with my steely resolve to get a scholarship,” he said.

Kashif worked through his essays and got better with each passing day. “I used to send my essays to students studying in Harvard and Stanford University. Their feedback helped me grow and understand how to write them properly. That’s how I got selected at NYU in February this year,” he said.

Fascinated by astronomy and Artificial Intelligence, Kashif wants to fully explore these two fields. “As of now, I am considering a double major in Physics (Astronomy) and Computer Science,” he said.

To help Kashif crowdfund his education, see this link.

Hirra Azmat is a journalist based in Srinagar, Kashmir, who covers human interest stories with a special emphasis on health and environment.

Featured image: Author provided