Alumni Profiles

Azadeh Esfahani & Alireza Farahani

Azadeh Hadizadeh Esfahani (Azi) and Alireza Farmahini Farahani (Ali) both from Tehran, Iran, earned their Master of Business Administration and Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from Sharif University of Technology. Coming from this background in business and science, arts and social science was completely new for the duo. But “SFU Urban Studies interdisciplinary approach was a good match for us. The faculty are from a variety of backgrounds, including history, political science, geography, public policy and more. The combination of interesting courses and different departments allowed for integration and contextualization of our previous education into the arts and social sciences realm” recalls Azi.

“In our MBA, we read and learned so much about learning for organizations but working in the field of regional development in Iran, I became curious about learning for communities and social learning,” writes Ali. Their interest in social learning, urbanism and regional development led them to discover research from several SFU Urban Studies professors. The couple decided that SFU’s Urban Studies program was a great opportunity to study abroad and have new experiences. “It was a unique experience to live in a city like Vancouver while studying urban studies,” says Azi.

It was a monumental decision for Azi and Ali to start their graduate studies, let alone relocating to a new country. “Aside from the courses offered by the Urban Studies program, the financing option for the program was also good in terms of affordability. For International students, like ourselves, this provided a feasible opportunity to study in Canada. The low cost reduces the barrier and provides reassurance for potential students,” says Alireza. “We also had a chance to work as research assistants for our supervisors which was really helpful financially and also intellectually… My master thesis was about a comparative study of Vancouver and Melbourne inspired by a RAship” writes Azi. Ali also worked as a research assistant on an interesting project about transformation of the workforce and land use on the New Westminster waterfront, but his master thesis was designed around the saffron economic exporting cluster in Khorasan, Iran.

The experiences of cities and neighbourhoods offered insight for the duo’s pragmatic approach to learning and their commitment to inspire social changes in the city. “Living in a new city while studying in the Urban Studies program has transformed the way I look at the world,” explains Alireza. “Relocating to Vancouver tested our comfort zone. Newcomers typically arrive with notions and perceptions established by media and word-of-mouth. But I can confidently apply multiple world views to my learning and work. When I was living in Iran, I was not exposed to different lifestyles, but now I’m empowered with a new sense of advocacy for justice and multiculturalism.”

Azi and Ali went on to Clark University and both received their PhD in Geography in 2020. Azi studied neighborhood initiatives in Tehran and their influence on emergence of new forms of citizenship and belonging and Ali focused on learning and development and how different assumptions about learning shapes development policies and strategies. From Tehran to Vancouver to Worcester, Massachusetts, and back home to Tehran, Azi found the different lifestyles she encountered inspired her to revaluate her lifestyle. “it was not only an intellectual journey, in many different aspects, personally, socially, culturally we have learned and experienced new things” says Azi.

For the pair, their experiences have given them inspiration to bring their worldly experiences and urban studies knowledge to their lives. “Learning from cities and about real-world issues is empowering. Having this learning experience and education repels one from falling into common misconceptions and generalized narratives of particular cities. We’re not perfect by any means, but we’re trying our best to solve social justice-related issues through pragmatism,” says Ali. Equipped with a fount of business, science, and arts and social sciences knowledge, Azadeh and Alireza hope to make social change in a world that belongs to their two daughters, Selma and Hannah, in their future endeavours.