Still, it wasn’t just TU/e’s supposed quality that made the charming, cheerful Iranian lady decide to embark on a trip to the Netherlands. It also had to do in part with the windmills she had seen in cartoons back in her childhood and a tin featuring a woman in traditional Dutch attire in which the Hosseini family kept cocoa powder for their hot chocolate.
She’s a sophisticated lady. Both her parents are surgeons, her grandfather has a PhD from France, and she grew up in metropolis Tehran, the capital of Iran with more inhabitants than all of the Netherlands combined. For Elham Hosseini Nejad and her younger brother -a computer software engineer student- it was quite normal to continue their education. Her parents could not reach consensus on whether or not she, too, should become a doctor, but in the end it was an easy choice: she couldn’t stand the sight of blood, and decided to take up chemistry. After a Bachelor’s in Applied Chemistry and a Master’s in Organic Chemistry, she did her second Master’s in Australia. She got the hang of English at a private language institute. “We did learn English at school, but the classes weren’t all that great. At the institute, I really learnt how to speak American English, and German and French as well.”
She misses her many girlfriends in Tehran with whom she went out and ate American-style pizzas - not those thin, Italian-style ones they have here. She wouldn’t mind going back if the economy picks up. It doesn’t bother her that she’s required to wear a veil (for now) in Iran while in the Netherlands she doesn’t have one. “Many Iranian women wear a beautifully-colored scarf around their heads loosely, so some part of the hair is still visible. It has become a fashion item. The strict religious rules in Iran are no reason for me not to return. Many foreigners unfortunately have a limited understanding of Iran, but it’s a beautiful country that offers safe and easy travelling to boot.”
Prior to her coming to the Netherlands, Elham did her second Master’s in Australia, which is a common choice for Iranians because of the language and the high-quality laboratories. “After that, I wanted to go to Europe, to do my PhD and for the adventure.” The Netherlands were an obvious choice: “The country has a good reputation, and it’s neither too hot nor too cold, although I did have to get used to the strong winds. And then there was the Dutch cocoa powder.” The rankings she checked had TU/e in the top-100. “That was important to me. If you can do better, you should do better.”
Ever since she left Iran five-and-a-half years ago, she’s been trying to visit her family around Persian New Year, which coincides exactly with the beginning of spring, as often as possible. “It’s an ancient tradition. The start of the New Year is always celebrated on the 21st of March, but at a different time. Sometimes it’s at six, and next year it may be at twelve o’ clock. It’s all meticulously calculated based on the sun’s position.” For the New Year celebration, Persians put together seven things starting with the letter S, each of which represents one of the following: rebirth, affluence, love, medicine, beauty/health, sunrise, and age/patience. Her organizer contains three calendars; apart from the ancient Persian one, Iran also uses the Islamic and Western calendar.
She’s animated, open and straightforward. And ambitious, always aiming for the best, although she isn’t fully aware of that particular characteristic. “I do aspire to be someone useful. To invent something that’ll improve people’s lives.” In light of the latter, she participated in a competition organized by printer company Océ. She and her team won at once. “We were given 72 hours for the design of a plan to adjust an existing printer so it could print two times as fast without losing any of its printing quality.” When Cursor failed to contact her after her victory, she contacted Cursor herself. “I thought it would be cool to be in Cursor, since it’s a nice way to present myself to the outside world, and I don’t mean to the people on campus exclusively. People from the industry might spot me as well.” This lady knows what she wants all right.