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Sahba, Iran

For me as a woman, biking is not allowed in the city I grew up in. I would be arrested immediately. Cycling is now one of my favorite activities. It gives me a feeling of freedom that I didn’t experience before. By the way, making money for myself was also very difficult. I lived under constant stress with the notion that life is not worth much.

In our country I am oppressed because I am a woman and because I belong to a religious minority. I belong to the Baha'I, which is the belief that the prophets of the different religions are representations of one and the same god. We believe in the unity of humanity, equality for all, the power of diversity, and in peace. Baha'i started in my home country almost 200 years ago, but has followers all over the world now.

In Iran, Baha'i members are not allowed to continue their studies after high school. We are rejected from universities without further comment, or expelled after the first year. That is why we have our own informal university, which I also attended. It is known as BIHE, the Baha'i Institute of Higher Education.

We don't have our own building and meet for classes at people's homes. The locations are secret and are shared by email. The institute collaborates with many teachers and universities from abroad. When I was applying online for the master’s program in Leiden, I was delighted to see that our clandestine university was listed among the options of bachelor's degrees that were accepted. In my country that certificate is worth nothing. But it is recognized internationally.

Here in Leiden I live with a family that is also Baha'i. They were going to offer me a home for the first weeks until I would find something myself, but that was more difficult than we expected. Now we have agreed that I can stay with them for the entire period of studying. Every Saturday we meet in their living room with other Baha'i from the region. We don’t usually have typical church services.

My parents support me in my desire to stay in the Netherlands, so that’s what I’m going for. When I lived in Iran, I was never able to plan more than a few months ahead. It was a dark period for me. Since I live in Leiden, I see a future in which anything is possible. My great wish is to be an inspiration to others.

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