People, Profiles

From Herat to Haas, Afghan student builds a new life

Raised under Taliban rule in Afghanistan, Sal Parsa was destined to be a tailor or mechanic — until the presence of American soldiers set him on a path to education and, now, Berkeley-Haas

Sal Parsa
Sal Parsa at Berkeley-Haas (Photo by Jim Block)

Sal Parsa’s destiny was to become a tailor, or a mechanic. Born in Afghanistan and raised during Taliban rule in a family without much education, he was going to school half the day by the age of 12 and working the other half sewing clothes.

The arrival of American soldiers in his hometown in 2001 sowed the seeds of what became a revolution in Parsa’s life — such a profound change that he is now an MBA student at Berkeley-Haas and an aspiring entrepreneur. The camo-clad strangers fascinated him.

“I was a kid, so I wasn’t seen as a threat and I could approach them and try to talk to them,” says Parsa. “They looked scary at first but they were friendly and kind. Those first encounters were what began to change my life.”

The Americans brought back books and education, and Parsa took full advantage. After working for the U.S. military, he was invited to attend Walsh University in Ohio, a small, Catholic school.

“I was the only Muslim student living on campus,” he says. “During Ramadan, the cafeteria closed before I could break my fast, so I ate Ramen noodles or fast food. But by the second year, they made me a boxed dinner.” 

From there, he went to work in a corporation in Ohio, and then applied to business school — and got in. 

Maya Mirsky tells the story — an all-American tale — of this young man’s extraordinary transition on the Haas School of Business website.

Read the full story on the Berkeley-Haas website