This Iranian PhD graduate is more than grateful to return to Australia

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In January 2021, Daneshfar travelled back home to Iran for data collection for his research and when the pandemic peaked, he was unable to return to Australia. Source: Samran Daneshfar

Samran Daneshfar has been passionate about teaching for as long as he can remember. Just after graduating high school, he began working as a primary teacher in the remote villages of Piranshahr — one of Iran’s oldest counties. To continue his interest in teaching and research, in February 2019, he pursued a PhD in Education at Monash University in Australia.

In January 2021, he travelled back home to Iran to collect data for his research. As the pandemic peaked, countries around the world started imposing strict travel bans. He was then unable to return to Australia and had to complete his PhD studies remotely. Thankfully, Australia’s government announced that from Dec. 15, 2021, onwards, fully vaccinated international students would be allowed to travel to the country. Daneshfar was thrilled. 

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Daneshfar is set to return to Australia in early January 2022. Source: Samran Daneshfar

Today, he’s there — and thriving. Below, we talk to him about the factors that influenced his decision to study remotely and the hurdles that came with it:

Is there a story behind your interest in teaching and education?

I’ve had a love for teaching ever since I can remember. Just a year after graduating high school, I started working as a primary teacher in remote villages surrounding my hometown of Piranshahr, Iran.

It was one of the happiest times of my life being able to nurture young minds. This experience led me to pursue teaching as a career. 

Eventually, I taught English in secondary schools and later taught adults too. I was really curious about the best ways to teach multilingual students so I pursued a master’s in English teaching. 

From there, I went on to pursue a PhD in Education at Monash University in Australia. Now, I have two passions — teaching and research.

What made you choose to pursue your PhD at Monash University in Australia?

Choosing Australia as my study abroad destination took a lot of deliberation. The thought process behind it came from my wanting to study in an English-speaking country. 

I had looked at other options like the US, other EU countries, Canada and finally, Australia. I was very mindful of uni rankings, scholarships and (the very important choice) supervisors. 

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“Choosing Australia as my study abroad destination took a lot of deliberation. The thought process behind it came from my wanting to study in an English-speaking country,” he says. Source: Samran Daneshfar

Quality of life, career opportunities and visas were also taken into consideration. With all of this in mind, Australia and Monash University ticked all my boxes. 

My first year went smoothly and all the deadlines were successfully met. I was able to extend my network with fellow PhD peers, senior academics and uni staff. 

I also volunteered as a convener of the Monash Education Research Community and here was where I was able to begin my networking process. I was able to learn different skills which were very valuable for me. 

I got to settle down in Melbourne and understand more about the people and culture. In January 2020, I travelled back home for the data collection process for my work.

My research focuses on English language learners with a Kurdish background living in my hometown. I was in Iran when the pandemic began and Australia announced its travel restrictions. 

I’ve been stranded outside ever since and to say it’s been a challenge, is a huge understatement.

Not being able to enter Australia must have been tough. Walk us through some of the obstacles you faced as a stranded PhD student.

The biggest one was being thousands of miles away from Monash University. This physical disconnection quickly provoked a mental disconnect as well. 

It’s been isolating and, despite everybody’s best efforts, the absence of belonging took place. It’s very difficult to continue researching when you’re not present in the academic context and the time difference between Australia and Iran exacerbated this.

Along with mundane problems, like internet connectivity and a series of rolling electricity cuts, it all added to the burden of remote studying. My ambition to work in academia suddenly felt no longer feasible — staying positive and engaged was tough.

However, I’m a resilient person in the face of challenges. The passion for my research and fostering my future career are big motivators. So, I had to dig deep.

I maintained a close connection with my supervisors and we remained loyal friends throughout the whole journey. I engaged with other scholars and their research through LinkedIn and Twitter. This helped me stay in touch and inspired me to continue my journey.

I replaced the lack of research assistant and teacher assistant experience with writing. Writing has been a pleasure for me and replaced the lack of academic opportunities I’ve missed out on being stuck overseas.

Beyond working on my PhD thesis, I’ve published a number of new articles which has been a great addition to my resume.

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“My research focuses on English language learners with a Kurdish background living in my hometown,” he says. Source: Samran Daneshfar

Describe your feelings about your return to Australia. What are the steps you need to take as an international student?

I’m so happy I managed to survive this roller-coaster journey as Australia’s borders finally opened to international students. A big part of this was accepting the many things happening were beyond my control. 

It was a difficult lesson — I had my bag packed for the first nine months of the travel restrictions — particularly in taking care of my mental health. I’m very much looking forward to being able to be back on campus, working in a quiet space and reconnecting with the Monash University community.

International students should be aware of all the rules and plans announced by the Department of Home Affairs prior to their arrival in Australia. They should read updated regulations and stay in contact with their destination unis. 

Another thing would be to check visa validity, confirmation of enrolment, international vaccination documents, and so on.

Now that you managed to enter Australia, what plans do you have?

I started my degree in February 2019 and I arrived in the middle of a hot Australian summer from a cold Iranian winter. That was a big shock. 

I was super excited to see Monash University so I drove directly to the campus instead of exploring the city. Then I went with a friend to the supermarket and bought tea as we love tea in Iran.

My plan is to take things quietly as they come. Everybody has had a tough time because of COVID-19 and I just want to settle in, find my own place and get back to my research. 

This time around, I also want to see some more of the beautiful Australian countryside with my friends there.

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“I got to settle down in Melbourne and understand more about the people and culture,” he tells Study International. Source: Samran Daneshfar

Lastly, what would you say to those who want to study in Australia?

I see bright horizons for you! COVID-19 was a strange and unpredictable time but I still think Australia was one of the best choices I made. Be open to building an extended community of colleagues as it will allow your study and personal life to flourish.