His father only had $300 to his name when the Mehfars arrived.
But the senior economics major from Cary refused to let hardships get in his way of achieving success.
Mehfar recently was named a Luce Scholar, an honor that only 18 Americans receive each year and that only 22 other UNC students have held since 1974. As a Luce recipient, Mehfar will travel to Asia in late August and begin an 11-month internship.
Mehfar said he found the Luce award intriguing because he had never traveled to Asia before, aside from his years in Iran. But now the award has taken on a new meaning. "The program is going to give me a refreshing break from school," Mehfar said. "Instead of going right into the the working world, I'm going to be doing something unique and different."
It took Mehfar more than a month and a half to put together his application, and then he had to endure two rounds of interviews on the local and regional levels. "The quality of the candidates was incredible," he said.
When the letter arrived in the mail, Mehfar said it was a thin envelope, which only increased his anxieties. "My roommates knew I was expecting the letter, but since it was thin, I opened it alone," he said. "When I found out, I was ecstatic."
Mehfar said his education at UNC has prepared him well for the challenges he will face in Asia. "It's been an incredible experience," he said. "The things that you thought would never teach you something will. There are lessons that you can extrapolate from every experience."
Joel Schwartz, one of Mehfar's political science professors, said he thinks Mehfar is a great choice for the Luce award. "Alex is unbelievably self-disciplined, self-directed and self-reliant," he said. "He can talk and think about things outside of the box, which very few others can do."
The Luce Scholars Program prefers that its candidates have only a small acquaintance with Asia prior to applying. Mehfar believes this is because the program wants people to enter their assignments with an open mind. "You can learn a lot about the culture and politics from that region," he said. "It is a very diverse part of the world."
Mehfar is still undecided about where he will spend his internship. One choice would put him in Thailand, where Mehfar would design Web sites and work in finances for a nonprofit international NGO Web portal.
But Mehfar says he is leaning more toward working for the only Internet service provider in Mongolia. "I would be helping to expand the Internet to rural areas," he said. "Only three Luce Scholars have ever gone to Mongolia."
Regardless of Mehfar's decision, Schwartz says he has complete confidence in his former student. "Alex has the capacity to think about ideas in ways others don't even imagine," he said. "That's his most special attribute."
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