‘I’m happy to be in Ireland because it’s a woman-centred country’

New to the Parish: Maryam Moeim Mehr arrived from Iran in 2019 to be with her husband

Maryam Moeim Mehr was 35 years old when she sat her Leaving Cert this year. “I felt like I was 18 again,” she says with a smile. “I had really good communication with my classmates and drew on their energy. Of course, sometimes I’d get tired, but they encouraged me to keep moving, and it made me feel much younger.”

Originally from Iran, Mehr had already studied many of the Leaving Cert subjects back home. “The chemistry was completely familiar to me, so I didn’t need to go to the classes; I just studied it myself at home. It was the same with applied maths. I also did physics, biology, maths and English.

Early in their lives my parents wanted to emigrate to Europe, but unfortunately they couldn’t travel after the revolution

“It was tough adapting myself to a new educational system, but the material itself was not actually that difficult. The entrance exams for university in Iran are very challenging, and you have to be skilful in all the sciences, especially if you want to get into a course like medicine, which is what I wanted.”

Born and brought up in the city of Qom, south of the country’s capital, Tehran, Mehr was encouraged to work hard at school. “My father is a professor in the university, and my mum was the manager of an elementary school. I was born into a very open-minded family. As far as I know I’m the first single girl out of all of my relatives to emigrate for education.”


Mehr dreamed of becoming a doctor, but competition to secure a place in one of Iran’s medical schools was tough, and she struggled to get in. “I really wanted to care for people. I also wanted to use the mathematics of my mind to create new ideas for treatments and prevention through medicine.”

Eventually, Mehr decided to travel to the Philippines, to improve her English, with a plan to return to Iran and pursue her medical studies. “I showed all the people around me that you can be a Muslim traditional girl but also travel, discover, educate yourself and find new and fantastic things in this world.”

In the Philippines Mehr started speaking via Facebook with a young Iranian man called Husein who lived and worked in Ireland. The pair became close and, after meeting in person, decided to get married.

Mehr was initially unsure about moving to Ireland to be with her husband. “I first I said no, I want to pursue my education in Iran. But he emphasised that I could get a new education in Ireland.” Mehr’s father also encouraged his daughter to try living abroad.

“Early in their lives my parents wanted to emigrate to Europe, but unfortunately they couldn’t travel after the revolution [of 1978-9]. My dad was really nervous and scared for me when I first went to the Philippines. He wondered if I could handle life alone and abroad. But I overcame those difficulties, and my parents advised Ireland was a good option.”

The couple married in Iran in 2015 but spent the first four years of their marriage apart while Mehr waited for her visa to be processed. “That was a difficult time. I was used to being independent, but I couldn’t continue my education in Iran because I was married and waiting for my visa.”

I really just want peace for people around the world, but especially for women, because life is hard for women

Mehr eventually moved to Ireland in April 2019. She found the Irish climate very harsh, however, and quickly discovered studying medicine at a university was more complicated than she’d anticipated.

“I had really bad asthma and difficulty breathing every night. I couldn’t sleep or lie down in my bed. And I couldn’t continue my education either. I’d read that Ireland consisted of small cities but with brilliant universities. But after I arrived I discovered there were lots of extra exams I had to pass to get into undergraduate medicine.”

Mehr also learned she needed to spend at least three years in Ireland to qualify for financial support and avoid spending €50,000 a year on fees as an international student.

“I’d ask myself, ‘Why am I here? I’m usually a funny and talkative person, but I didn’t understand the Irish slangs or idioms; I couldn’t communicate comfortably with people. I’m from a dry, hot country, but now I’m here where I can’t communicate or even breathe properly at night.’ I started to feel depressed and thought I should go back to Iran.”

Her husband, who had lived in Ireland for more than a decade, encouraged his wife to keep trying but added that, if she was really unhappy, they would return to Iran. When Covid hit, things became more challenging, as Mehr could no longer meet people. She kept busy by translating books to further improve her English and started taking further-education courses. She was taking an English course at the local college of further education and training, as part of the Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board, when a teacher suggested she take on some more subjects and sit the Leaving Cert at the college.

A year later, on September 2nd, 2022, Mehr collected her Leaving Cert results. Despite securing excellent marks in many subjects, she did not secure the points needed to study medicine and so opted for midwifery. She is now living in Oranmore — the only place she could find a room to rent — and commuting to the University of Galway each day. Although she has not yet achieved her dream of studying medicine, Mehr is excited to become a midwife.

“For me the delivery room is the happiest part of the hospital. I want to share in that happiness, bring calmness and help women to do their best. I’d really love to be an expert and specialist in that area. I’m not sure where I’ll end up with work, but I’ve learned during my time in Ireland that I can never be sure about the future.”

Mehr adds that she’s now happy to be in Ireland because “it’s a woman-centred country”. “Irish men trust women to handle different aspects of society, and I love this about Ireland. I really believe women do more important things during their life than men, one of them being delivering a baby. No man will every feel one second of that in their life.”

Mehr is reluctant to comment on the ongoing protests and unrest in her home country, for fear of repercussions for her family back in Iran. Watching videos and news reports is extremely difficult, she says, adding that she often cries on the bus home from university.

“I really just want peace for people around the world, but especially for women, because life is hard for women. But if women live in peace and happiness, they can develop their society to the top of the mountain. I really hope for that peace ... especially for my home country.”

Mehr also hopes her own story of perseverance and hard work will inspire other immigrants in Ireland not to lose hope. “I’m really satisfied with my life now, but it’s a difficult mountain I’ve climbed. I’d really like if my story can help other people.”

We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past 10 years. To get involved, email newtotheparish@irishtimes.com or tweet @newtotheparish

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast