Graduate achieves American dream in Fargo and pays it forward
Published July 2016
Saurav Dahal projects the maturity of a much older person. Just a decade ago, the young Fargo professional left Nepal for NDSU. He wanted to become a doctor and was laser-focused on going to college in the United States even though it meant leaving his mother, a single parent, who was undergoing cancer treatment. He says he was naïve and selfish. Others would say he was young and ambitious.
The cost of his education guided many of his decisions. He was an international student who was not eligible for federal financial aid. And it was up to him to pay all of his expenses. NDSU offered quality, affordability and the chance to reach a dream.
Dahal covered his first year with savings and money he earned in the campus dining center. He was good at scrimping and saving. He knew he wanted to help other people and believed he could make a difference, but becoming a doctor seemed impossible. So he revised his plan.
Finding a career
Dahal decided against medical school because of the cost. He would find another way to make a difference.
A campus email, the kind students get every day, gave him a new direction. It was from the NDSU Nepalese Student Association. A local organization was looking for interpreters to work with Bhutanese refugees. Dahal had heard about Bhutanese refugee camps in his home country and wanted to learn more.
Becoming an interpreter helped relieve homesickness and satisfied Dahal’s curiosity. He ran out of money his sophomore year and took time off school, working as an interpreter, to replenish his tuition fund. The experience paid off and led to an interview for a full-time position at Family HealthCare in Fargo.
He remembers showing up wearing jeans and tennis shoes for a meeting with the CEO. He didn’t realize it was a job interview. But the CEO agreed to give Dahal the flexibility to balance a full-time job and a full course load so he could finish his degree. In return, Dahal assured the CEO he would learn the dress code.
Dahal’s new job was to coordinate appointments for refugees to get government-mandated screenings and to connect them with appropriate health care services. This was the turning point, he says. As he finished his degree, his work showed him how to make a difference and gave him clarity about where he wanted to take his career.
At the same time, NDSU launched its Master of Public Health program—one of the ways the university has increased enrollment of undergraduate and graduate students to meet the workforce needs of the region. It was perfect timing. Dahal was among the first students admitted to the program.
He continued to work full-time throughout his graduate studies. He studied or worked every waking moment, including while he ate.
He worked with refugees who had spent five to 20 years in camps. They told stories of violence and persecution that drove them to the camps, stories about lives without basic necessities, work, education or choices. “When you meet refugees, it shows how privileged we are,” he says. “It helps with self-reflection. It gives new meaning to life.”
Fargo is home
Fargo is home now. Dahal and his wife, who met at NDSU, have careers they enjoy and strong professional networks. They own a home where they live with their baby daughter. His mother has come to join them, too. “Things are perfect here,” he says.
He is proud of establishing himself and contributing to the community. He pays it forward through his work as state refugee health coordinator/special projects manager at Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota. He writes grant proposals to secure federal funding and manages the financial and reporting aspects of the grants. He also oversees health-related grants for newly resettled refugees and supervises the elder refugee program.
Advocacy is his favorite part of his job—educating community members on the facts about refugee resettlement, such as the rigorous health screenings and expectations of financial self-sufficiency within eight months.
His wife has his former position at Family Healthcare and runs a program he implemented. It is health care orientation for new refugees and provides training on health care topics and how the U.S. health care system works.
Dahal came to NDSU and Fargo with a strong desire and a plan. The plan changed, but the desire never did. He uses his education, skills and work ethic to make a difference in the community. “You begin to love the place,” he says. “This is home now.”