Baha'i News -- Student's drive to flee Iran leads to success at adult centre

Focused on an education

Student's drive to flee Iran leads to success at adult centre


Montreal Gazette
Atabak Zare Seisan has come a long way since he first emigrated from Iran almost three years ago. Recently elected chairman of the Woodland Adult Centre's governing board, Seisan plans to study computer science in college this fall. Here he stands framed by a mural in the hallway of the Woodland Centre in Verdun.

Atabak Zare Seisan gave up his family, his homeland and risked his life - all because he wanted an education.

This earnest young man from Iran arrived here almost three years ago with nothing but the clothes on his back and a dream of being an engineer.

He came knowing nothing about Canada, knowing little English and no French and, foolishly, without checking what our weather is like.

He's now pulling off marks in the 90s, was just elected chairman of the Woodland Adult Centre's governing board, and plans to study computer science in college this fall.

Oh yeah, and that History of Canada and Quebec high-school leaving exam that so many students struggle with? Seisan got 100 per cent.

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Seisan, 21, grew up in a wealthy family in Iran, but faced persecution because he wasn't Muslim and practiced the Baha'i faith. He was thrown in jail when he was about 16 and beaten. His high school also threw him out because of his religion.

Seisan found himself looking at a future that offered little hope.

"I decided that I had to escape and come to a country where I could continue my education," he said yesterday.

With dreams of Australia dancing in his head, Seisan planned a daring and dangerous escape from Iran with the help of a few people who knew the way to Turkey. For 15 long and cold hours, they trudged through the mountains in search of a better life.

Somewhere along the way, Seisan dumped his 50-pound knapsack because it was too heavy and decided he would have to start from scratch when he got to Turkey.

Once he arrived, Seisan was able to get refugee status. Then he found himself facing a whole new life: living alone, supporting himself, going through the immigration process to get into Australia.

He finally got a good job selling cellular phones but then Australia turned him down and he was devastated.

The immigration counselor suggested Canada was open to accepting people who wanted to study, so he applied. When word came that he had been accepted, he had only three days to pack and leave.

For the second time in his young life, he left everything he had behind and ventured into a new and strange world.

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His first impression of the Woodland Centre in Verdun was that it was really old. Now Seisan views it as old in the kind of comforting way one views a worn but comfortable chair or a favourite, ragged T-shirt.

"I love this high school," Seisan said. "One day, I may have to give up my clothes and TV again, but I got something here I can never lose - an education."

With plans to go into engineering in university, Seisan is grateful to his high-school teachers who always gave him help when he asked.

"We really got him through from the very bottom," said centre director Glen Colwell.

"He will be whatever he wants to be. He has a goal and will find a way to get there."

While Seisan is proud and honoured he was asked to head the school's governing board, he found himself not only involved in running the school, but in saving it.

It is supposed to be moved by the Lester B. Pearson School Board to a building in LaSalle, something the students and school administrators are fighting.

Seisan's one regret was that his mother never got to see a picture of him with his diploma. She died in Iran on Tuesday, after an eight-year battle with cancer.

It was just one more hardship for this driven young man.

"If you've never had hard times, you can't appreciate the good times."

- Karen Seidman's E-mail address is

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