He arrived in New Zealand aged 7 after being rescued from a sinking fishing vessel off the Australian coast 18 years ago.
There were 430 people on board with Abbas Nazari, along with his parents and siblings.
He has gone on to the battle the odds, after not knowing a word of English, to yesterday being granted a Fulbright New Zealand General Graduate Award to study at Columbia University in New York.
The awards are valued at up to US$40,000 ($61,550), plus $4000 travel funding, for up to one year of study or research in the US.
Nazari, originally from Afghanistan and who now lives in Christchurch, will complete a master of international affairs degree after graduating with a BA (Hons first class) in international relations and diplomacy from the University of Canterbury in 2016.
He is one of three from the University of Canterbury to receive the award, part of a group of 21 graduates from across Aotearoa to be heading overseas.
Nazari and his colleagues will receive their awards in a presentation ceremony at Parliament tonight, hosted by Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters.
Nazari's accomplishment has received high praise.
Former Prime Minister Helen Clark took the time to congratulate him, along with Auckland Mayor Phil Goff who was foreign minister at the time the Tampa refugees arrived and welcomed them into the country.
Graduate awards are for New Zealanders with an undergraduate degree to go to the US to undertake further study or research, including towards a masters or PhD.
The Herald spoke to Nazari in 2014, when he was in his third year of a political and history degree at the University of Canterbury and had the goal of joining an international aid agency.
Asked about how he felt as the fishing vessel sank and was eventually rescued, Nazari said he was too young to understand what was going on.
"Because I was young and everything seemed like a really big adventure, but looking back on it now there was a huge, huge learning curve. Not just for me but for my parents because they were used to a certain way of living and their world was turned upside down, in a good way, but that took a lot of time and a lot of adjusting to get used to," he said at the time.
His sister had completed a medical degree while he was aware of another 24 refugees of his age also rescued by the Tampa who had completed degrees.