"My professors have helped to put me on the right track – I can ask them anything," says Sara.
"My professors have helped to put me on the right track – I can ask them anything," says Sara.
 

Master's student Sara Mehrabi came to Stockholm University from Iran to study Experimental Plant Biology. The high ranking among other universities worldwide is one of the reasons she chose Stockholm University. She has not been disappointed.

"My professors have helped to put me on the right track. I can ask them anything," she says. "Even if they don't give me the answer I would like, I know they are interested. Teachers here are in touch with students. We don't have that in Iran, it's more formal."

Research is another important consideration for Sara. "There are opportunities here for students to work on research projects," she says. "I am curious and like discovering new things."  This may help to explain why she has chosen a little researched topic for her Master's project. "Cyanobacteria is the way certain plant life absorbs light as compared with how the skin absorbs these same rays," she explains. "This research could help us understand skin cancer and how it develops in humans."

Before leaving Iran Sara worried she would be homesick, but she has found the people and the atmosphere at the university supportive.  "I feel I am not alone here" she says.

The wonders of modern technology help Sara stay in contact with her family in Iran. "I use Skype to talk to my family," she says. Cooking Iranian food with her roommate and celebrating traditional holidays also help maintain the connection to her culture.  "March 21 is the Iranian New Year," says Sara. "We are already preparing, cooking and cleaning. It is a time of renewal, of welcoming spring. In Iran there will be bonfires and public celebrations, Sara explains. "Here, of course, it will be more quiet and personal." 

Sara was born in Mashad in northeast Iran, and describes it as a "big city with cars and pollution like all cities," then adds "it is a religious city. The Imam is a descendant of the son of Mohammed."

When asked about the western perception of Iran, Sara expresses disappointment with media images which show only poor people or a man who has five wives, even though these are the minority. 

"Iran is a very modern country with modern women," she says with pride. "We can drive, travel, do anything a man can do!"

In her free time here, Sara likes to shop, watch movies, surf the internet. "Stockholm has good sales!" she says.

Part 2: the end of term

Photo: Sarah Hollister
Photo: Sarah Hollister
 

Master’s student Sara Mehrabi is positive about life in Sweden. “I love Stockholm,” says Sara. “I think it’s the combination of forest and water right here in the city. You’re always close to nature.”

Master’s student Sara Mehrabi will spend the summer in Iran with her family. “We will do some travelling together, maybe Turkey, Malaysia, or somewhere in Iran,” Sara says. “I am really looking forward to being home, spending time with my friends.” Shopping, picnics, going to restaurants and resting are also on her list of summer-time activities at home. Sara will be in Iran for nearly two months before returning to Stockholm at the end of August.

As far as Sara is concerned, life in Sweden is good. “I love Stockholm,” she says. “I think it’s the combination of forest and water right here in the city. You’re always close to nature. This is my first exposure to the Swedish spring, the long days and explosion of plant life. I called my mother one night just to tell her that the sun was still shining at 9 o’clock. My family had no ideas about Sweden before, the life here or the beauty of it. Now they want to come here, to see for themselves.”

Sara’s study focus is science so words like symbiosis and micro-organisms, plant intelligence and the environment are part of her everyday vocabulary. She spends at least a part of every day in the lab. “There’s no set time for laboratory work,” Sara explains. “It’s not like being an engineering or sociology student, where you can plan your day. You must work until the experiment is complete. One thing I have learned is patience. One day everything is working right, the next it’s all wrong and you must start over.” She knows it is all part of the scientific process. “I stay calm now,” she says.

Sara looks forward to continuing her studies in the fall. “My professors have made the difference,” she says. “They don’t disappoint. They always encourage us to try it again. It’s never bad or wrong.”

Part 3: A new term

Photo: Sarah Hollister
Photo: Sarah Hollister
 

Sara Mehrabi comes from Mashad, the second largest city in Iran next to Tehran. Although Stockholm lay under a heavy blanket of snow and although she is used to a warmer climate, it didn't dampen her spirits or her enthusiasm about her studies here.

It has been a year since we first met Iranian student Sara Mehrabi on Orientation Day Spring term 2009. Although Stockholm lay under a heavy blanket of snow and she is used to a warmer climate, it didn't dampen her spirits or her enthusiasm about her studies here.

Sara's study focus is Experimental Plant Biology so she spends a good deal of time in the laboratory. "I'm in the middle of completing my project," Sara explains. "I cannot see or predict whether my experiments work or don't work. But that is part of the excitement," she adds.

Fortunately for Sara, this term she was able to get a place in Lappis, the student housing corridor. "It's so convenient to campus," Sara says. "I can work later in the lab and walk home. I never get tired of working in the lab, says Sara.

Sara will continue working on her project until the summer, perhaps even through the summer, before returning to her country.

Last summer, Sara went home to Iran. She comes from Mashad, the second largest city next to Tehran. "I went with my family to the North of Iran on the Caspian Sea for ten days. It was a chance to relax," she says.

Here in Sweden, Sara maintains contact with a Persian community. They gather to celebrate important Iranian calendar holiday. "We celebrate traditional holidays," Sara says. "For example, on the 21st of December, there were about two hundred of us who got together to celebrate Yalda, the longest night of the year," she adds. "It helps us stay in touch with our culture".
 
"I will soon begin looking for a PhD position," Sara explains. She will complete her Master's program in Experimental Plant Biology in June 2010. "Of course, it all depends on what opens up, whether or not it is related to my field of study and project," Sara says. "It doesn't matter what part of the world. There is so much competition for these positions, one has to be open to all possibilities," she says.   

Text and interview: Sarah Hollister