Stronger together – identical twins' journey from Iran to VU

From the womb to the classroom, twins Zahra and Fatemeh Sayahi have been through the highs and lows of life together. 

They fled their country of birth, Iran, as teenagers, bound for Australia. And after secondary school they chose the same study pathway from TAFE into a Bachelor of Criminal Justice.

Zahra and Fatemeh recently celebrated securing academic Asylum Seeker scholarships that include accommodation on campus at UniLodge Victoria University.

We chatted about their career dreams and the common misconceptions people have about them.

A pathway to a dream career

Why did you choose this study pathway?

Zahra: We decided to begin with TAFE studies and work our way through, beginning with the Certificate IV in Business [BSB40215]. We loved the TAFE environment – it really suited us straight out of school. The teachers are so supportive and interactive e-learning is a great way to study.

Fatemah: Thanks to VU’s pathways, we've now begun the Bachelor of Criminal Justice. We’re really excited about a future in law enforcement.

How’s your experience at uni so far?

Zahra: We both love the Block Model. There’s no panicking leading up to assessments, and we have time for everything else going on in our lives.

Fatemeh: We’re always sharing ideas and studying together. With Block Model you finish your subjects faster. We’re used to studying all the subjects at once, but Block Model allows you to focus on one unit at a time; and three classes per week gives you time to study outside of uni.

I’m really looking forward to doing the work placement in second year – it will help us build connections and get experience in the workforce.

What does getting the scholarship mean to you?

Zahra: Getting the Asylum Seeker Scholarship has had a really positive impact, both financially and emotionally. We were encouraged and supported throughout the process from nomination to application and enrolment.

Fatemeh: I was so happy to get the scholarship with my sister. With the one year of accommodation at UniLodge included, we have a quiet place to study close to the campus.

What do people get the most wrong about you?

Fatemeh: They assume we’re the same but we’re totally different – our appearance is where the similarities end. Zahra is calm – but she’s so innocent, people take advantage of her! Whereas I’m more feisty. We fight a lot but we balance each other out. It’s hard for people to tell us apart – at school teachers made us wear different clothes; but our personalities always come through.

What’s your dream career after uni?

Fatemeh: We both want to work in law enforcement. There are a lot of options – and we may take different paths – it could be policing, special agency or even border control.

Practising Taekwondo is teaching us self-defence and confidence to prepare us for a career in law enforcement.

Zahra: Oh that’s another thing people get wrong about us – they don’t realise how tough we are!

What’s it like to be the first in your family to go to uni?

Zahra: Our whole family is so proud – our parents, uncles and aunts. It’s particularly meaningful for mum; she would have studied in Iran, but women are not allowed to get an education. She’s made a huge sacrifice for our family, dedicating her life to raising us and our younger sister.

Fatemeh: If we were in Iran now we wouldn’t be permitted to study. Our lives were at risk – as Arab people in Iran our cultural traditions were in danger, and so were we. So we came to Australia to be protected. From secondary schooling in Broadmeadows and gaining our valuable higher education, we know the sky’s the limit.

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