Professor recounts experience in Afghanistan

Erika Ward

Professor Jordan Schneider from St. Ambrose University visited Western Illinois University’s Stipes Hall on Wednesday to speak about her experiences as the first private American female professor to work in Afghanistan without any security.

 After getting a job at the Embassy of the Islamic State of Afghanistan in Washington D.C. as an undergraduate, Schneider convinced her father to fly her to the embassy and ship her vehicle across the country as well.

 “I lied to my dad,” Schneider said.  “I told him I got a job at an embassy, but I didn’t tell him which embassy.” 

 The embassy was eventually closed by the State Department, which left Schneider to return to her “normal” life, but Afghanistan was still in the back of her mind.  In 2009, Schneider became the editor of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, an organization dedicated to helping Afghan women tell their stories through writing.  

 Through her job as an editor, Schneider became very close to a woman named Mena, who dreamed of getting her MBA. Three days before Mena was supposed to leave, however, the logistics base she visited was bombed. Mena and a group of men hid under a table and made it out safely. Schneider was successful in bringing Mena to the U.S. and helping her start on her college journey.

Schneider bounced between different jobs to make ends meet, like Steak ‘n Shake and running a small business. When she discovered that a new private university was opening in Afghanistan, Schneider said she became very excited. She was offered a position as a professor at Kahkashan-e-Sharq University. Her only request was to receive a round-trip ticket, $1,000 every month and have place to stay.  

“Never sell yourself cheap,” Schneider said.  “I made that mistake the first time.”

The university agreed, and with that, Schneider was off to Herat, Afghanistan.

Schneider stayed with an American family who was living in Afghanistan at the time, but she was only able to stay with them for three weeks.  She quickly learned the dangers of being an American woman in Afghanistan. While there weren’t any Taliban members in the city where she stayed, there were criminals willing to kidnap and sell her to the Taliban.

“All these people were working so hard to protect me and make sure I didn’t get kidnapped,” Schneider said.  “Nobody told me how afraid they were that something would happen to me.”

Schneider said the hardest adjustment for her was being unable leave the house, drive  or even own a gun to protect herself. Schneider had no security and no translator to help her. However, throughout all of her hardships, Schneider found herself able to contribute to the university, including obtaining books for students to use and even installing a sink in the women’s bathroom.

“They were opening a new school, and they didn’t have a sink,” Schneider said. “I kept bothering them about it.  I can be a very annoying person – I’m like a gnat – I’ll just go at you. Finally, a driver took me to an appliance store where I got the sink and cleaning supplies.”

After leaving the American family, Schneider said she learned that staying in a hotel would be a very dangerous option that would require a great deal of planning in order to keep her safe. Because of this, as well as high hotel costs, Schneider left Afghanistan after just after three weeks.  While she was there, she was able to teach at a university and make other contributions to the school.

“I believed I could make a difference in someone’s life,” Schneider said.

While there were plenty of dangers including the risk of being kidnapped and murdered, Schneider said she was fearful about other things.

“I was more worried about getting in a car accident,”

Schneider said.

Schneider has since converted to Islam and teaches classes, such as understanding the terrorist mind, at St. Ambrose.

She is also a part of the World Affairs Council of the Quad Cities. Schneider said she wishes to return to Afghanistan one day.

“Next time I go, I’m only bringing one bag with underwear, vitamins and shampoo,” she said. “You just buy everything else. That was my mistake the first time. I tried to bring clothes for all the seasons I was staying.”

Schneider highlighted the importance of supporting men who choose to stand up for women’s rights in Afghanistan.  

“It’s important when a man in power says, ‘This is wrong and we need to change it,’” Schneider said. “We need to support them when that happens.”