Stories of Young Urbanists: Meet Faezeh Mohammadi

07.06.2023, Regina Schröter

Faezeh Mohammadi is an Iranian urbanist and programme maker who started out as a Bachelor's student of Urban Planning & Design at the University of Tehran and moved to The Netherlands to continue her studies with a Master’s in Urban & Regional Planning. In this interview, Faezeh shares her experience of pursuing an early career as an international graduate in a “migrant destination” and gives valuable advice on how to overcome these challenges. # THE ROLE OF URBAN PLANNING PROFESSIONALS I initially wanted to study architecture but the results of the Iranian national university exams did not let me pursue this field in my selected universities, so I went for Urban Planning and Design instead. My best friend was studying architecture at the same university, so I saw the differences between the two and realised I enjoyed my degree more than architecture. Interestingly, some fellow students left the Urban Studies program in the first year due to the vagueness of the subject and future career prospects: What is actually the role of an urban planner and where do we engage in shaping a city? One of my teachers gave me very valuable advice: There are many different areas in urbanism, you can take a risk and go everywhere to gain knowledge in many different fields, but at one point you need to decide where to focus and take a deep dive into a topic. I realized that I wanted to understand more about human-centered cities, which led me to focus on studying cities from a social perspective. For my final thesis, I dove into the topic of active transportation and what is happening on the “lower” street level rather than researching the “higher” level of policymaking. {{Pic1: Amsterdam Canals. Photo by Faezeh Mohammadi}} # MASTERS IN “MIGRANT DESTINATIONS” Coming from Iran, a country of the Global South with political instability, it is widespread that Iranians choose a “migrant destination” for higher education where it is possible to build a long-term future after graduation. Canada has a very welcoming migration policy, where you can get a permanent residency after only 3 years. I sent most of my Master’s applications to Canadian universities and applied to programs in the Netherlands as a plan B – which turned out to be my “migrant destination”: I accepted the offer from the University of Amsterdam for Urban & Regional Planning. Time flies when you are doing a one-year Master’s program abroad. I am glad that I moved to Amsterdam in August 2020, the pandemic summer, although people told me to wait it out in Tehran. The first months I can only remember myself studying at home because there was nowhere to go and the workload was huge. It was challenging to connect with fellow students and find friends since we only studied in person on campus for 2 months. In Iran, I was very engaged in student associations, but it was hard to build the network here that you aspire to as an international. The programme opened new doors for me in terms of social aspects of urban studies and I wrote my final thesis on street experiments and reclaiming street space. This led me to work part-time as a junior researcher at Tehran Urban Innovation Center right after graduation where I delved more into the topic. I researched street experiments in depth and made a taxonomy of their context, standards and goals. The outcome of this research will be soon published as one of TUIC 101 open-source publications. {{Pic2: Campus of the University of Amsterdam. Photo by Faezeh Mohammadi}} # JOB SEARCH AS AN INTERNATIONAL In February 2022 I started working at Pakhuis de Zwijger, a culture and research institution, as an intern and then as a programme maker. Here I am learning about the topics of inclusive cities from a research perspective within our program “Designing Cities For All (DCFA)” while broadening my network greatly. Like most internationals pursuing a job after graduation in the Netherlands, I didn’t speak Dutch which narrows the options massively. Whilst many are simply trying to fit in, so that their employer can apply for their visa, I really wanted to find a place where I really like to work. Pakhuis de Zwijger didn’t have any vacancies, so I sent an open application and after 5 months of internship, I was offered a junior position. Soon it will be one year and a half since I have been engaged here in many different activities: From doing research to facilitating and organizing a whole event – one of the highlights for sure was moderating panel discussions of the “Designing Cities For All (DCFA)” programmes. The advice I would give to international students and graduates seeking a career in a migrant destination is that you need to believe in yourself more than you are believing. Having grown up in challenging circumstances and having made it to a country with more stability, we often downplay our expectations and dreams telling ourselves: I made it this far, I should not seek even more opportunities. This gets tangible by very often not applying for job roles where we don’t check all the boxes. We need to support each other to gain more self-confidence, because our self-worth is not determined by the economic and political situation of the countries we grow up in. {{Pic3: Panel discussion of the “Designing Cities For All (DCFA)” programme. Photo by Faezeh Mohammadi}} # CONTINUING THE JOURNEY IN ACADEMIA In the next months, I am planning to learn more Dutch to be able to speak and be better integrated into the local context and my work. I see myself continuing in academia, but, at this point, I don’t want to commit to a PhD, but have plans to apply for a second Master's. Studying and gaining work experience in the Netherlands gave me lots of ideas and inspiration for social-economic and ecologic topics in urbanism I want to explore, preferably in another context and country, so I am excited to see where my curiosity will take me.