When Srinagar-based school student Maleeha Zehra completed her class 10 examinations two years ago, she was faced with the age-old conundrum of selecting a stream in high school — a daunting choice, which at the time felt make-or-break. Her heart was set on studying political science, but she knew her decision to pick humanities in the 11th and 12th would be met with some amount of skepticism. Despite initial objections from well-meaning relatives, Maleeha pressed ahead with one goal in mind — to study international relations in a foreign university.
Two years later, Maleeha’s gamble paid off. Late last month, the Class 12 student from Delhi Public School, Srinagar received an email informing her that she had bagged a $70,000 (over Rs 51 lakh) full-ride scholarship to study at the prestigious Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar.
“I am on cloud nine. This is beyond my imagination — everything that I am feeling and everything that is happening,” a jubilant Maleeha told indianexpress.com. “My parents and everyone in my family are happy. People who I haven’t been in touch with for years are now calling and congratulating me.”
But Maleeha’s journey to her dream undergraduate programme hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing. Following the abrogation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and conversion of the erstwhile state into two Union Territories in 2019, 4G internet services were shut down in the state and a lockdown was imposed. Maleeha was in Class 11 at the time. “That year I couldn’t do much in terms of my applications,” she recalled.
Then the coronavirus pandemic struck, and her applications were put on the back burner yet again. “Thankfully my grades and an exchange programme in Brazil I went on in 2018 all added to my application. But it was a very tricky and challenging year for me,” Maleeha said.
Despite the challenges, her counsellors and teachers stood by her every step of the way. “One teacher in particular, Shazia Fida, was like my rock. She was my class teacher in Class 10 and the activity-in-charge at DPS,” she explained.
According to DPS Srinagar chairman Vijay Dhar, the school has a long history of sending students to some of the world’s best universities. “Maleeha did a great job working her way through the last couple of years to get the scholarship that she wanted,” Dhar said. “The school has been doing this for many years. We have a couple of students in Stanford on full scholarship too.”
With Class 12 boards postponed indefinitely and countries across the world imposing fresh travel restrictions on flights arriving from India, the coronavirus pandemic has thrown yet another spanner in the works for Maleeha. “There is a lot of uncertainty. I’m a bit worried about whether everything will happen on time.”
The teen has also decided to hold off celebrations until the second wave of the pandemic tapers off and cases begin to drop.