Meet Tai-iba Hassanian

Tai-iba Hassanian's family fled persecution in Afghanistan, arriving in New Zealand as refugees and now Tai-iba is studying to become a doctor.

Tai-iba Hassanian
From fleeing with her Hazara family as a refugee at the age of three, Tai-iba Hassanian is now studying medicine.

Tai-iba Hassanian and her family fled persecution in Afghanistan and Pakistan, arriving in New Zealand as refugees when Tai-iba was only three years old. Now she is studying towards her dream of becoming a doctor.

Tai-iba, now 19, acknowledges the many challenges she and her family have faced and says scholarships, as well as the Equity Office Te Ara Tautika’s web pages for refugee-background students have been important forms of support.

Students from refugee backgrounds don’t usually have family members who have been to University in New Zealand, so they may not have people to talk to about tertiary study.

“Knowing there are these web pages specifically for refugee-background students is really helpful.”

Knowing there are these web pages specifically for refugee-background students is really helpful.

Tai-iba Hassanian

Tai-iba is one of more than 800 students from refugee backgrounds currently studying at the University of Auckland. The Equity Office Te Ara Tautika’s web pages offer information on forms of support, including student advisers and scholarships.

During Covid-19, Tai-iba felt challenged by the move to online learning. She contacted her faculty’s adviser with questions about her programme of study. The advice she received, plus support from her family, helped Tai-iba persevere through the year.

In her first year of health sciences, Tai-iba found support from the Refugee Scholarship, plus an Academic Potential Scholarship, enabled her to focus on studies, through allowing her to give up evening work at Nando’s takeaways and to live in halls on campus.

Now the RASNZ Sir Robert Jones Refugee Daughters Scholarship will enable her to continue living on campus and help with fees, relieving pressure on her father who is supporting his wife and six children, the youngest a baby.

Tai-iba’s parents made the decision to leave their village in central Afghanistan, because they are Shi’ite Hazaras, an ethnic minority who, as the Taliban gained control, were being persecuted.

Hazara are easily identified by their distinctive features.

They fled to Quetta in Pakistan, where Tai-iba was born, but still were not safe, as Hazaras have also been targeted by Islamic extremists there.

Seeking a stable place to live, the family travelled to New Zealand as refugees, staying first in the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre, and later moving to Christchurch for work opportunities.

Tai-iba’s father runs a car-wrecking business, despite having been a scholar in Afghanistan.

“My father was studying in Iran. He wanted to do a lot of things with his life, but given the circumstances, he has had to make the most of a different life.”

Tai-iba found it difficult growing up in such a different country.

“There’s a clash of the two worlds I live in. Outside, I have my English-speaking friends, but I also value my Afghani culture. I’m trying to figure out a life where both worlds are satisfied.”

I’m trying to figure out a life where both worlds are satisfied.

Tai-iba Hassanian

Her dream of studying medicine came about at a young age through travelling to health appointments with her parents, so she could translate for them from English to Persian and back.

“I realised I wanted to help people get better and improve their quality of life.”

Tai-iba's year 9 drawing of herself as a doctor.
As a year 9 pupil, Tai-iba knew she wanted to be a doctor and drew a picture of herself in the future (detail).

Plus, Tai-iba loved school and studying and was careful to choose the right subjects at Papanui High School to further her dream of becoming a doctor.

Now, Tai-iba is looking forward to medical school, where she is attracted to family medicine, as a family-oriented person. That’s something she will explore more in the next few years.