Insights into a personal learning process

Afghan women's rights activist Sajia Behgam fled to Frankfurt after the fall of the Afghan government in August 2021. She had formerly worked for national and international women's rights organizations and was an advisor in the Afghan Prime Minister's Office for Women's and Youth Affairs. In her home country, she had already lived under the Taliban and taught girls in an underground class. In Germany, Behgam received a scholarship for doctoral students in the field of “Border Studies” at Goethe University. Additionally, she worked as a research assistant at the Department of Social Work and Health at the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences. Here she was involved in the buddy program of the STEPS-A project, in which she supported other refugee women from Afghanistan who had previously worked as women's rights activists and counselors.

In this interview, she talks about her learning process, challenges and opportunities that have accompanied her along the way.


At the recent IWAAC Summer School in Malaysia in August, 2023, you were awarded "Best Speaker." What was your presentation about?
This year I was very fortunate to be invited to a writing workshop and a conference as part of the Frankfurt UAS program ‘Inequalitities within and among countries (IWAAC-10)’. It was not easy to get me, a refugee with an Afghan passport, to Malaysia. But everybody supported and encouraged me. That’s how I came to represent the project at a panel at the 13th International Malaysian Social Studies Conference, and to share my learning process as part of the project. I shared my journey with the audience, and I think it hit a string when I shared how I boarded a boat the other day, despite me not being able to swim and scared of being on water. It was then that I understood I could face my anxieties and be brave – even in my academic endeavour. Now I try to keep this feeling in mind when I doubt that I can actually make it.

What challenges and success stories did you experience when you started in Germany? What message do you give to the STEPS-A participants?

Life as a refugee has many challenges, but nothing compared to the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan! I think one of the biggest challenges for us all is that we had to leave family in Afghanistan. In the beginning we didn’t know where they are and how they are. We constantly live two lives: here and there! Then the perspective of a life in a new country: We all came from our life in war zone, into a very orderly life with lots of rules and regulations – and forms that even Germans don’t understand! And people in the offices are not always helpful: I speak many languages: Dari, Pashtu, Urdu, English – but I struggle with German (having to read English for my PhD). One of my successes was when I could attend the language classes at Frankfurt UAS, and passed my exams.

What also helped was that I could use an office at the >Institute for Migration and Intercultural Communication (IMIK)< at Frankfurt UAS. It gave my life a daily structure, it allowed me to be on campus, and I could learn and engage in academic discourses (what I always loved). I am so happy that my colleagues had similar opportunities due to the STEPS-A-program. My massage to them is: grab the opportunity! And I can see how motivated and engaged they are.

To what extent has your doctorate and work as a buddy changed your perspective on education and refugee aid? Are there any particular experiences or insights that have mainly shaped you?
I took a lot of inspiration and motivation from Prof. Dr. Dagmar Oberlies, Ms. Kirsten Huckenbeck and all the buddies who helped Afghan families tirelessly when they arrived in Hesse. Even during COVID the organized our first get together in the ChamissoGarden, and supported us ever since during all turns and twists. Coming from a conflict country we are sometimes absorbed with our own and family problems. Experiencing this kind of solidarity was moving for all of us, and gave us a different perspective. It helped me figuring out what I wanted to do, and having their trust gave me confidence and hope, and made me forget my own problems and that of my country some of the time. Not to mention how much I learnt about my new home in exile! I think that gave me the confidence to apply for a ‘real’ job.

What message or advice would you give to other students who want to embark on a similar academic and professional journey in Germany?
Most of my colleagues in the STEPS-A-program were counsellors. They worked with victims of domestic violence or with female prisoners. I think they have something to offer, in a field were ‘Fachkräfte’ are in high demand. So, firstly I hope that they can use their skills and experiences, and find good jobs (so that they can support their starving families back home). But I also know that Afghan women and girls are very ambitious in terms of education and career. Some might continue with a master in counselling which Frankfurt UAS offers, other want to pursue a PhD, and I know professors from the STEPS-A-program will help them identify a topic and find a supervisor. My advice: talk to the professors (because students in Afghanistan are not used to that).

Welche Pläne haben Sie für die Zukunft, sowohl in Bezug auf Ihre Forschung als auch auf Ihre Arbeit zur Unterstützung anderer? Gibt es neue Projekte oder Ziele, die Sie verfolgen möchten?
Currently, I am working on a proposal for a book chapter. I hope I can be a member of the Frankfurt UAS delegation that travels to the TATA-Institute in Mumbai for the conference next year and present and discuss my book contribution. I am also energized to continue my work on my PhD, especially after I came back from Malaysia where I met with other young researchers, and build a transnational network of peers. We are still in contact with each other and comment on each other’s writings.

At the same time I started to work part-time with an organization called ZAN e.V. which conducts training and workshops to build the capacity of women. I enjoy that I can use my experience and knowledge to help other women.But I never lose sight of my big dream to become a lecturer again, maybe in Germany, maybe in the Afghan-Online-University that we were planning, maybe, one day, in Kabul again. I want to be a role-model for my own daughters and for other women: never give up, enjoy studying, don’t let anybody or anything shatter your dreams and ambitions.

Thank you for the Interview!

Further information on the STEPS-A project at
More on the Inequality within and among countries - IWAAC-10 project at


Website editorial teamID: 12933
last updated on: 10.24.2023