From Pakistan to Philadelphia

Cabrini Univ. senior pre-med student Maria Khan against the massive mountains of her native Swat Valley in northern Pakistan
Cabrini Univ. senior pre-med student Maria Khan against the massive mountains of her native Swat Valley in northern Pakistan

Maria’s journey for educational opportunity  

It’s a long way from the Swat Valley in northwestern Pakistan to Philadelphia – some 7000 miles.  That’s quite a distance to get an education!  But for the Khan family with one son and three daughters that was top priority.

The scenic Swat Valley lies in the lea of the massive Hindu Kush mountains that rise more than 19,000 feet above its green valleys, rushing streams, and deep blue lakes. To the East of this “Switzerland in Asia,” are the vast deserts of Xinjiang in China; to the Southeast, one finds Kashmir in India; and to the West is Afghanistan. 

Now residents of Philadelphia these past ten years, the Khan children are all in college, with eldest daughter Maria in her final year at Cabrini University in nearby Radnor, PA. From there the diminutive Maria hopes to find her way into a career in medicine – perhaps through one of the prestigious medical schools in Philadelphia. She will also be looking for a job in a health-related field to help support her medical studies. 

Among the elements which have guided and supported her educational efforts, she first credits her family. They have placed great emphasis on education and have sacrificed much to make it happen. “Growing up in a small town in Pakistan, women do not have equal rights and are treated as inferior by one’s family and society,” Maria reflected. “This causes many young women to not receive equal education or work opportunities. I always wanted to pursue education and make something out of my life. However, due to the local situation, I never expected I would be able to pursue my dreams and goals.”

Fortunately, here in Philadelphia Maria came under the care of her high school guidance counselor who happened to have attended Cabrini and was kind enough to give her an in-depth introduction. “I loved the beautiful campus, but it was the way they emphasized social justice and women’s rights that really impressed me,” she related. The quiet, cloistered setting of the suburban Roman Catholic school also made her feel comfortable and safe, and the small classes provided a positive learning environment. 

The current pandemic crisis is dramatically impacting Maria’s final year and a half at Cabrini. “Since I am majoring in Biology for my pre-medicine studies and minoring in chemistry and psychology, I do get to take my lab courses on campus in person,” she noted. Other than those, all her other studies are virtual

Maria was assisted and supported as well by her membership in such programs as the Philadelphia Scholars (Philadelphia Education Fund) and Science Scholars for Social Justice.  

As to mentors, Maria reflected, “My parents have been my models. They worked hard for me and my siblings so we can have the best – no matter what our culture was, or our town elders said. My parents always reminded me to accept myself and recognize my strengths and weaknesses. Above all, they told me to never give up no matter what circumstances I face. 

At Cabrini, Maria cited the encouragement she received from her professors. “They are always there for me! Without these supporters I would have not been able to achieve my goals,” she asserted.

For more information about the 40+ major and minor courses of study at Cabrini University, visit their website at where you can sign up to attend a “Virtual Open House” on November 21.

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