Outside the historic Battell Block that houses CCV-Middlebury, rain comes down in steady sheets of gray. Inside, it’s cozy. A small math class murmurs from across the hall. Students hunker over their work in the learning center. In the computer lab, Farhad and Amtul Khan sit side by side, nervous and eager in equal measure—they’ve ducked in out of the rain to talk about why this place means so much to them.
That “side by side” detail is key. The Khans are husband and wife, and they’re both CCV students. Surely they aren’t the first married couple to be here together, and surely they won’t be the last. But their partnership is unique. It begins, quite literally, with a wedding.
Both Farhad’s and Amtul’s families emigrated—separately—from Hyderabad, India. Farhad arrived in America in 1991, and Amtul seven years later. Farhad spent time in New York City and then followed his brother, and a growing dollar store business, to Burlington, Vermont. He eventually landed in Middlebury in 1995, and has been here ever since.
While Farhad was working hard to establish his own business, a new dollar store in Middlebury, Amtul was a New American high school student in southwestern Massachusetts. Like many of her classmates, she applied and was accepted to college. But unlike many of her classmates, she didn’t get to go—at least not right away. Instead, she took somewhat of a detour.
First, her family relocated to Cape Cod to accommodate her father’s work. Then her father and his business partner made a proposal: Amtul would marry the partner’s brother, a man whom she’d never met, a man named Farhad Khan. This was customary in their native cultures; elders would arrange marriages for younger family members.
Side by side, Farhad and Amtul decided to make their marriage a happy one. “We got married and we stuck together,” says Farhad. Life got busy: there were babies, three of them; there was the growth of their Middlebury store; there was a recession. “Then the economy crashed,” says Amtul, and she explains that this was the motivation for her finally starting college.
She and Farhad knew that having classes under her belt, and eventually a degree, would make for a reliable backup if something were to happen to their business. So she started taking classes toward an associate degree in accounting at the local CCV. Soon after, she convinced her reluctant husband to do the same. “I saw so many older people coming back,” she says, “so I encouraged him to come back.”
“She didn’t let up. She just kept after me,” says Farhad. And despite feeling uncomfortable sitting in a classroom once again after so many years away from school, he knew it was a wise investment. “When business was doing very well, you never think about plan B. And in my entire life I don’t know what it is to work for somebody else. I’ve always owned businesses. Even in India, my dad had our business.” But recently, he says, things are changing. “I’m facing the reality for the past five years, business has gone down, it’s hard to pay bills. I have a lot of experience in business but nothing to show for it. So if I have to close the store tomorrow and go apply for a job, I can’t show any credentials. That is a big challenge for me, and that’s when CCV came in to help me.”
While it’s sometimes difficult to keep up with assignments, Farhad says he “feels like a kid again” being in class, where he’s outgoing, talkative, and engaged. And describing his time at CCV reveals genuine gratitude. “College was not even an option,” says Farhad of the perspective he held while growing up in India. “It was just a dream that I could not fulfill.”
Amtul jokes that despite having started her studies two years before her husband, “he is way ahead of me.” That’s because he’s using his business experience to earn credits through CCV’s Focused Portfolio Development class, in which students create a portfolio demonstrating skills and knowledge gained outside the classroom. Farhad earned 17 credits for his first portfolio, and he’s well on his way to a business degree.
The Khans work side by side not only at their store and in school, but as parents. Today, their three children are 8, 10, and 13. Farhad and Amtul agree that being in college sets an important example for the kids—“they’re seeing us doing homework,” says Amtul—but balancing school on top of running a business and raising a family is not without its challenges. And today, the pressures of work-life balance mean something different for Muslim families. The Khans express concern for their children—“We live in an era where there’s a twenty-four hour news cycle. So we can’t really hide this from the kids,” says Farhad, who recently served a three-year term as president of the Islamic Society of Vermont. But he also expresses confidence in his children’s ability to navigate school and social environments. He and Amtul do their best to promote understanding. “It’s a very open house for us. We keep all the conversations open, especially about the political situation and the religion, because we have to balance being an American and a Muslim.”
And therein lies the success of this partnership. The Khans are adept at balancing work, school, family, and religion. They treat their community with the same care and respect as their family, and they’ve felt that care and respect in return. “[We are] a reflection of the community we live in,” says Farhad. “The community has been super great to us. They have opened their arms to me…To the credit of [CCV staff members] Anya and Jennifer—we know them outside of CCV also—they have been very very encouraging. They’re opening doors for me.”