“I want to give back to the world everything I have received”
Iranian alumna Negin Mirzaghavam successfully completed her Master's degree in Data Science and Society at Tilburg University in August 2023 on a scholarship granted by the Tilburg University Fund. "Without the scholarship, I would not have had the opportunity to pursue this degree program. It is thanks to other people’s generosity that I am standing here now."
Initially, Negin had not set her sights on Data Science. After obtaining a Bachelor's degree in Transportation Economics and a Master's degree in Economics in Iran, Negin worked in tourism. Starting in Customer Service, she climbed the ranks to become team lead and eventually department manager. She then established a new branch of domestic tours for international tourists in Iran that highlight the country’s splendor and hospitality. Until Covid-19 happened. "I had to change direction and felt that it was time to follow my heart. I grew up in Iran, love the country, and cherish my culture, but I felt I needed to choose me. It was time to spread my wings."
Negin explored the options for studying abroad. "Through agents and alumni from various universities, I gathered information. I was admitted to a university in Canada on a full scholarship, to the University of Oslo - where I could study for free - and to four universities in the Netherlands. I heard a lot of positive things about the Netherlands. It is a welcoming country with a positive atmosphere, people are open-minded and accept differences, and people can be themselves. This was the country for me, but without a scholarship I would be unable to study there."
Best degree program
It was then that Negin found out she could apply for a Tilburg University Fund scholarship. "The scholarship would enable me to study Data Science in the country of my choice. The degree program I selected stood out for me: I wanted to explore a field that keeps up with developments, is one of the best programs in the world, and has a societal component. When I heard that I had been admitted and had been awarded a scholarship, I was overjoyed: five spots were available for international students, and I had secured one of them!"
I want to foster the beautiful aspects of my own culture and embrace both the beautiful and less beautiful aspects of Dutch culture
Her studies began in early September, but Negin already flew to the Netherlands in July. "I wanted to take the time to find my way in Tilburg. I was curious about the culture. I had also heard that I should not miss TOP Week because it is a good way to meet people. That was completely true: I formed friendships with international and Dutch students who now feel like family. We studied together and still keep in touch. I made so many friends that I can't count them."
Her studies began in September but, at the same time, she was very worried about the situation in her home country. “I remember once walking in the street, feeling distressed, and someone gave me a smile. That lifted my spirits. People need to realize that a small gesture can sometimes make a big difference."
Enjoying every second
Negin worked hard to complete her Master's despite setbacks. "I caught Covid-19 three times, fell off my bike, dislocated my shoulder. As a result, it took me two months longer to finish my Master's, and yet I enjoyed every second of living here." During her studies, she seized every opportunity to connect with others. "I realized how important networking is. Besides, I really wanted to integrate here in the Netherlands. I want to foster the beautiful aspects of my own culture and embrace both the beautiful and less beautiful aspects of Dutch culture."
I came to the Netherlands to carve a place for and discover myself. I think I have succeeded.
Alumnus Franc Beekmans received Negin in his own home to introduce her to Dutch culture. "I met his wife and children, ate at their table. I also learned that, in the Netherlands, I can, indeed I must, say what I want. And that I can be direct. People in Iran don't do that: we are more concerned with the possible needs of others. And I learned about the work-life balance. In the Netherlands, people are good at maintaining that balance. When they are off work, they have real downtime, and they go on vacation as much as possible. In my case, the boundaries between work and private life are still a bit blurred." Franc also introduced Negin to the Stichting Natuurlijk Mobiel (a charity that helps people with a physical disability to enjoy nature), where she became a board member.
"I came to the Netherlands to carve a place for and discover myself. I think I have succeeded," Negin asserts. "I like the person I am in the Netherlands. In essence, I am the same, but here I can do more of what I want. And I can make plans for the future. There is more certainty here and a system to rely on. In Iran, for example, I qualified as a voice actor and gave painting lessons. I can do both as side jobs and won't have to worry whether that's allowed. At the same time, I miss my family and they miss me. I help others by providing information about the opportunities here. In the future, I hope to bring my sister and eventually my parents to the Netherlands."
I see myself as an ambassador of positivity in the world
After completing her studies, Negin immediately started working as a consultant at Popay, a company that provides solutions for HR issues. "I also work for the Dutch Council for Refugees (Vluchtelingenwerk Nederland) with a group of graduates. As part of my studies, I participated in the Societal Challenge course and, together with another group, our group won with our solution to an issue submitted by this Council. We are now further elaborating that solution."
Her dream is to use Data Science to improve the world. "I want to give back to the world everything I have received - knowledge, a scholarship, a smile. I see myself as an ambassador of positivity in the world." Negin spoke about her gratitude and the impact of small and large gestures on other people during a lunch organized by the University Fund. "I believe in humanity. We are all connected. Together, we form the pieces that show the whole picture. When we help someone, we help ourselves. Who knows, later on, I can contribute to the University Fund myself to give a student the opportunity to develop their full potential as well. It has had such a positive impact on my life, and I wish that for other students, too."
Publication date: 6 February 2024