Elham Mohammadi and Merhdad Lashgari

Profile picture of Elham Mohammadi and Merhdad Lashgari

“Life-changing” is how Iranian couple Merhdad Lashgari and Elham Mohammadi describe their experience at DCU as part of its University of Sanctuary programme. 

The couple, who came to Ireland as international protection applicants, both received master’s degrees on Friday at the University’s Spring Graduation ceremony in The Helix. Elham graduated with an MSc in Bioprocess Engineering, while Mehrdad received an MSc in Climate Change: Policy, Media and Society.

Their journey to this achievement wasn’t straightforward. Merhdad arrived in Ireland in 2019 as an asylum seeker, while Elham remained in Iran. “You know, that was difficult,” says Merhdad. 

It wasn’t until two years later that Elham was granted permission to join her husband in Ireland.

Elham had a chemical engineering degree while Merhdad had a degree in Design, but neither could find work in their area. They decided that further study would advance their career prospects in Ireland, but the cost of returning to college was prohibitive. “It’s so expensive as an international student in Ireland, so it was literally impossible for us,” says Elham.

In 2022, they were both successful in getting scholarships to study at DCU, under the University of Sanctuary programme, which assists international protection applicants in pursuing their higher education goals.

When Merhdad started his MSc in Climate Change, the freedom of expression that Irish students take for granted was a real eye-opener compared to Iran. “It was mind-blowing. You could question everything.”

“At first I couldn't communicate,” admits Merhdad, who found studying Climate Change through English was a challenge. “So I had to work harder. To be honest, I was living literally in the library.”

As a new arrival in the country, English was also an issue for Elham, but DCU’s University of Sanctuary team organised language classes to bring her up to the level needed to take on the MSc in Bioprocess Engineering.

“My course was so nice. I really enjoyed it,” says Elham. “It broadened my horizons.”

She earned a first-class honours degree, coming second in her class. However, finding work was difficult until she was put in touch with DCU Careers Service. “After 2 or 3 weeks I got an interview and I landed my first job.”

Merhdad says his degree inspired a real passion for addressing climate change issues, as well as a better understanding of Irish life. His thesis, about attitudes to solar farms in rural Ireland, led to interviews and interactions with the farming community.

Merhdad believes his experience on the Climate Change course at DCU was crucial for his integration into Irish life. He is currently active in a variety of ecological organisations and community groups and is also a member of RTE’s audience council. 

“I want to tell you that my life has changed because now I’m part of different communities,” he says. “Now I feel that I exist in this society.”

Read about DCU's University of Sanctuary