In Paris, France during an internship at the Parliament
In Paris, France during an internship at the Parliament

At the age of 13, Maryam Bighash was the youngest female to pass the pilot’s licensing exam in France. Excelling in athletics, she was a member of Iran’s national gymnastic team at the age of 4 and played on the United States’ national handball team at 16. She speaks four languages, interned in the French parliament and graduated high school two years earlier than most people. “I’ve done a lot of what people call “amazing things,” she admits. Maryam seems, by many peoples’ standards, to have her life “all together.”

But Maryam would not consider these achievements to be the most impactful or significant pieces of her story. Most of these experiences wouldn’t have even happened had it not been for the day she stood at the gates of the Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport in Iran and turned to wave goodbye to her father and her country. She describes the day she left Iran as one of the worst memories of her childhood.

“I still remember the glass that separate(d) us. My parents told me we were going on vacation, but obviously not.”

Adaban, Iran
Adaban, Iran | Photo

Maryam describes another memory of her life in Iran, which she was able to recall with great detail. As a young child, she and her family were visiting her grandparents’ home in Abadan. Abadan is located right next to the Iraqi border, close enough for them to hear the sound of bombings. Her family decided to leave Abadan and travel to a different city called Behbahan, but on the way there they got in a car crash.

“I still remember, I was in the car and all I was seeing was a bright light, brown earth color, and I was hearing the sound of broken glasses. The car rolled over at least four times,” Maryam says.

In spite of this, her family had been fortunate.

“The south of Iran has a lot of gas and oil, so alongside the border you had the gas (pipes). So if we had gone a little closer, the car would have exploded.”

Maryam also remembers this as the day that she realized how much she loved her younger sister, who was around three at the time. She recalls, “Everybody was fine, except my sister. She had her entire nose open and it was really bad . . . even though we as sisters would always fight, I started crying and I was like, ‘I don’t want anybody to take my sister, please don’t die.’”

Maryam and her parents on the Persian New Year's Day.
Maryam and her parents on the Persian New Year’s Day

Although she has had her share of difficult experiences, Maryam still remembers pleasant memories from her childhood. One of these memories is of the annual trip her family would make to her grandmother’s house in Abadan, Iran for Nowruz, the Persian New Year. “We would celebrate and we would spend time together . . . I loved those moments because the entire family from my mom’s side would be there. It was my little heaven on earth.”

At the time, Maryam didn’t understand why her family had decided to leave a place in which she had been happy. But as a college student, she now understands the significance that the move has had on her opportunities and quality of life.

“My family made a lot of sacrifices . . . for safety, for opportunities, for education. There are a lot of things I could not have done in my own country.”

Maryam's tattoo of the word, "freedom"
Maryam’s tattoo of the word, “freedom”

Being in a different country has not taken away from Maryam’s love for her home in Iran. If anything, it has instilled in her a desire to help those who still live behind the country’s borders. She expressed this by saying, “I feel a lot of guilt. Why am I out? Why (are) other people not out? So I just feel a lot of pressure – I must achieve something big.” On the back of her neck, Maryam has a tattoo of the word “freedom.” The script is rough and appears to be scratched on. Maryam says she wanted it to look like that because freedom is not a beautiful, perfect looking thing. She chose the back of her neck to remind her of the people left behind without the freedom she enjoys. Maryam has a big heart for the Middle East and desires to make an impact on the people in the country. Her current fields of study include international relations and journalism, and she hopes to one day become an international journalist reporting directly from Iran.

In light of all her accomplishments to date, Maryam has maintained a humble outlook on life. When asked about her legacy, she responds, “I want to be known for making other people’s’ voices known.” Maryam also acknowledges a personal desire for humility. She says, “I know my nature – like  most humans, I love getting all the attention. And I kind of want to put aside my selfish desires. I want to be known for something that I’ve done for others. You know, make a real impact . . .” While pursuing this desire to help others, Maryam has demonstrated a tenacious appetite for learning. Over the summer when she isn’t in school, she finds herself “depressed” and craves the usefulness and motivation that comes with classes. When asked to describe a great day, Maryam answers, “the last day of finals.”

The achievements that Maryam has already made as a sophomore in college are a testament to the passion and effort she dedicates to her work. Out of her challenging past has blossomed a desire for change in the Middle East, and she is willing to make sacrifices in order to make that change a reality. With each challenge, each goal, and each breakthrough, she will continue to grow her wings and fly towards a freer future.

“I’m an immigrant, and I never looked at immigration as, oh, I’m going to go to another country to take advantage of their wealth or whatever. But I always thought, hey, I’m an immigrant, I’m going to  become something and help this same country that has welcomed me to become a better place, and also help the people who have always stood by my side.”