Wananga landing Wananga landing

Alumni Q&A: Zahra Emamzadeh

24 August 2023

After completing her undergraduate and master's at the University of Tehran, Zahra and her family emigrated to Aotearoa to embark on a new adventure. Once successfully completing her PhD, Zahra is now working to support ethnic communities in her role with the Ministry of Education.


Completing your Bachelors and Masters degrees at the University of Tehran, what brought you to the other side of the world to undertake you PhD?

After successfully completing my Bachelor and Master degrees at the University of Tehran, I was drawn to the other side of the world for my PhD for two exciting reasons. First and foremost, my husband and I were eager to embark on a new adventure, seeking fresh experiences and embracing a different way of life. My husband and I also wanted our daughter to explore and embrace a different culture and gain a broader perspective on the world. Additionally, I had the incredible opportunity to work with a fantastic supervisor who shared my research interests and whose guidance I greatly admired. It was an exciting and friendly decision that promised both personal and academic growth.

Can you give us an overview of what your PhD topic was?

I've always had a keen interest in media representation, and for my PhD, I wanted to take it to the next level by focusing on the fascinating intersection of politics and media. My research revolved around a comparative study between American and Iranian media, specifically examining how their editorials represented the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) during a certain point of a time. To conduct this research, I employed Teun A. van Dijk Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) methodology, along with Stuart Hall Representation theory. These frameworks provided valuable insights into the underlying ideologies, power dynamics, and discursive strategies employed by the media in shaping public perception/understating of the JCPOA. By examining how the media in both countries presented and framed the JCPOA, I aimed to gain a comprehensive understanding of the similarities, differences, and potential implications of media representation in the context of this significant political agreement. The exact topic of my thesis is :The Newspapers’ Editorials as a Tool of Legitimisation: A Case Study of the US and Iranian Newspapers’ Editorials.

Since graduating in 2022, you’ve stayed in Aotearoa - what does your role with the Ministry of Education see you do?

The position I now hold is 'Senior Advisor - Community Partnerships' at the Ministry of Education (MOE). In my role, I am responsible for supporting various ethnic communities to run a Learning Community Hub (LCH) program. The LCH was developed by the Ministry of Education Christchurch office in response to the 15 March 2019 terrorist attacks in Ōtautahi. It was modelled after the successful Talanoa Ako program for Pacific communities, which aims to empower parents, families, and communities to champion their children's education. The initiative also aligns with the findings from Kōrero Mātauranga with Ethnic Communities, which highlighted the desire among parents and families to be more involved in education and enhance their understanding of the New Zealand education system. The overarching goals of the Learning Community Hub are as follows:

  • to provide parents and families with access to and understanding of the New Zealand education system to enable them to champion learning and education aspirations for their children and young people
  • to facilitate and build capability, knowledge and confidence of parents and families to partner with schools in supporting good learning outcomes for their children and young people
  • to provide opportunities for culturally appropriate, purposeful and inclusive responses to meet local needs of ethnic parents, families and their children and young people (eg. support good learning outcome through bilingualism, understanding of bi/multiculturalism, wellbeing and relationships)

By working towards these goals, the Learning Community Hub strives to create an environment where parents, families, and communities actively engage in their children's education and contribute to their overall success.

What highlights or memories stand out when looking back at your time at UC?

When I reflect on my time at UC, there are several standout highlights and memories that come to mind. I had the privilege of having an incredible supervisor, Professor Donald Matheson, who provided unwavering support and mentorship throughout my journey. His guidance during challenging times will always hold a special place in my heart. The completion of my PhD stands out as a significant milestone in my life. It was a period filled with immense challenges, as I balanced work, study, and the complexities of immigration. However, the process of conducting research, collaborating with professors and peers, and immersing myself in my field of study was both demanding and fulfilling. The connections I formed with fellow students, professors, and mentors have had a lasting impact on me. Engaging in thought-provoking discussions, participating in group projects, and receiving guidance from knowledgeable academics enriched my learning experience and shaped my academic growth.

The campus itself holds fond memories for me. Exploring the picturesque grounds, attending engaging seminars and workshops, and immersing myself in the vibrant academic community fostered a sense of belonging and excitement. Lastly, UC provided numerous opportunities for personal and professional development. Attending international conferences, presenting my research findings, and engaging in academic discussions expanded my knowledge and helped me build confidence in my abilities. Looking back, my time at UC was defined by intellectual growth, meaningful connections, and personal achievements. These cherished highlights and memories continue to shape my journey and serve as a reminder of the transformative power of higher education.

What advice would you give to people around the world contemplating moving to Ōtautahi to study at UC?

As someone who has lived in different countries, continents, and travelled extensively, I would highly recommend considering Ōtautahi and studying at UC to anyone contemplating such a move. New Zealand, in general, offers a unique and bountiful land with warm and welcoming people. Ōtautahi, specifically, is a vibrant city with a thriving academic community, and Choosing Ōtautahi as your study destination means immersing yourself in a city known for its natural beauty. The University of Canterbury provides excellent educational opportunities, renowned faculty, and state-of-the-art facilities that foster a conducive learning environment. In summary, as someone with a global perspective, I strongly advise considering Ōtautahi and studying at UC. The combination of a picturesque environment, welcoming people, and top-notch educational opportunities make it a compelling choice for those seeking a transformative study experience.

Media contact
  • Email
  • Phone: (03) 369 3631 or 027 503 0168
What to read next
Privacy Preferences

By clicking "Accept All Cookies", you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyse site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts.