A native of Afghanistan, Iranian born Shaqaeq was always curious and enthusiastic about learning. Iranian policy determined that as an Afghan, she was only able to attend private schools, and by the young age of six, Shaqaeq realised that obtaining an education would be a challenging feat.

This realisation first occurred at a classmate’s house party, where Shaqaeq had the door slammed in her face because she was not Iranian. She was left by herself outside the house for hours, waiting for her friend to return her school bag. It was while she was outside that she knew being different — being Afghan — meant that teachers, students, and most people did not see her as an equal.

“My parents explained that as Afghans were foreigners in Iran, we weren’t treated the same way as Iranians were. When I got my bag back that day from my friend, I realised from that life would be really difficult. I didn’t know how to respond being excluded like I was, I was simply too shocked.”

School life was not easy and it became even harder when Iran banned Afghans from legally attending school altogether. Upon lobbying her local school, Shaqaeq and a number of Afghan kids were permitted to attend, however, they had to remain unregistered.

During frequent school visits from the Iranian government, the children were forced to hide in the cleaner’s closet and students toilets — often for hours on end — in order to avoid being caught. Being caught would subsequently result in prosecution for breaking the law. Children and their families faced prosecution all in the name of education.

“Though I was a legal citizen in Iran, whenever the Iranian government came on school visits, I was treated like an illegal immigrant. During one visit, 15 girls were made to hide in the cleaner’s closet for hours —  getting caught would’ve gotten us into a lot of trouble.”

Though Shaqaeq was bright and studious, she was unable to receive school awards or achievements. Despite these difficulties, Shaqaeq refused to give up and continued to pursue her education as much as she could.

Despite the challenges, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. An opportunity presented itself for Shaqaeq’s dad to leave Iran in search of a better life. Shaqaeq’s dad initially moved from Iran back to Afghanistan, before heading to Dubai, Malaysia and then to Indonesia on a journey that lasted numerous months. To finally arrive in Australia, Shaqaeq’s dad embarked on a treacherous boat journey that lasted over six days.

When he arrived safely in Australia, Shaqeaq’s dad stayed at the Christmas Island Detention Centre as an asylum seeker for two years. In hope for a better future, the remainder of Shaqaeq’s family remained in Iran waiting patiently for the day they would receive visas to join her father in Australia.

When we knew that he was taking a boat from Indonesia to Australia we were all so scared. My family at home didn’t speak much — we were all silently waiting, praying for his safety, until he finally called us and told us he had arrived safely in Australia after six days at sea.”

Four years after her dad’s initial departure from Iran, the Australian Government called Shaqaeq’s family and gave them the news that they had been anticipating — their visas were approved. In a few short months, the family embarked on their new journey to Australia. But it was not just moving to a new country, it was the beginning of a new opportunity for the entire family.  

“I still can’t believe I’m in Australia sometimes. I’m so grateful to be treated fairly, to be able to speak my mind, and most importantly, be able to continue my education,” says Shaqaeq.

Grasping the opportunity to further her education is exactly what Shaqaeq has done. After taking Academy Xi’s User Experience Design course, Shaqaeq has been able to apply design thinking principles in numerous aspects of her life.

“It was so amazing being able to learn at Academy Xi. My fellow classmates are mature and I can engage actively with the instructor. It makes me feel comfortable and work effectively knowing that I am respected and are treated fairly. Everyone contributes and collaborates in the classroom, and is willing to help others learn and do well.”

“Now when I write an essay in school, I brainstorm all my ideas and place them down on post-its to look for patterns and key concepts,” she says. As a bonus, Shaqaeq landed herself a role doing customer experience research in fashion startup 21UP. By pushing through challenges with a can-do attitude, Shaqaeq’s life has dramatically transformed.

Read our professional tips on how to launch a career in User Experience Design here.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get the best tips and resources on design and tech, delivered weekly.