A short summary of a language student’s time in Iran
When we think of Iran our minds naturally drift to the imagined historical Iran – The Iran of the Zoroastrians, the Great Persian Empire – with marvels such as Persoplis, Masters of Poetry, Philosophy and Spirituality such as Hafez and Rumi. We too, think of Iran now, as it exists in its more current historical depiction, from its representation on news channels surrounding it’s political policies and relationships with the world.
As language students, having spent time abroad previous to this, we were already aware that preparing mentally for life abroad in a culture different from your own is impossible. It is best to limit expectations and imaginations. Though of course, reports of other experiences, films, music and media do tend to work against this.
Even on a subconscious level you can not help but arrive to your intended destination to have a jolt of ‘Oh, this is not what I thought,’ followed closely by the observation that you had not realised that you had held any ideas to begin with. But of all my experiences abroad, it has been my time in Iran in which this jolt was felt the most, from the very first day of arriving in Mashhad, to all of my experiences which followed. I was told by a friend prior to leaving that in Iran I would fall in love, but I could not have anticipated how much real contentment I would experience during my time here and how much genuine connection I would find. Thus, I will be sharing (just a few of) the aspects which I most enjoyed and I hope through sharing these observations and memories I will be able to give a just a snapshot of Iranian youth culture as experienced through the eyes of another.
The biggest initial difference for me In Iran was the amount of time I spent alone -practically never. If I had chosen to spend the day alone it would neither start nor end in this way, and it was rare for me to eat alone. As someone who spends a considerable amount of time alone back in the UK, the idea alone of spending close company at almost all hours of the day with others, would have been in itself exhausting – and at first it was. Life in Mashhad was incredibly social – and being a foreigner certainly enhanced people’s interest in meeting and hanging out. Surprisingly though, as someone who has always craved personal space, this dynamic quickly became normal and even desirable.
My Iranian friends, I found, were not tiring company but instead energizing and engaging. They, with ease brought us into their group – eating napping and studying and heading out for fruit juices and ice cream, without the dreaded ‘awkwardness’ which seems to be so ever present in many of my UK interactions. During one breakfast with a dear tehrani friend of mine, we were discussing this concept of awkwardness. There is no real translation in Farsi. I observed how I had over the months been in many social interactions where they really seemed no point to the interaction other than just the passing of time together, and at times with people very unfamiliar to me. However despite this I had always relaxed very easily and even felt quite rested in these situations (especially when being sent off for a nap). She laughed and admitted that when spending time with friends or family she did not particularly feel pressure to make sure they had a good time (although she did admit that now in dating this feeling certainly exists).
Whilst they might not feel so much pressure to entertain, let it not be said that my Iranian friends did not know how to have a good time – I was privileged to a considerable amount of tafrih and quickly lost my routine of ‘early to bed for an early start.’ During my time in Mashhad and Tehran I regularly spent evenings walking around and chatting at the many beautiful parks or lakes such as park-e mellat, koohsangi park, ab-o atash, chitgar lake and shahr-e bazi where many families would be out until late picnicking.
During gatherings at home, song and dance was a big part of the night. My friends with surprising regularity would share beloved childhood songs, teach iranian dance or quote at random one of their favourite poets. From ‘taa bahar-e’, to old lullabies written and sung by shepards when alone in the mountains, it was a genuine delight to have been shared with so much, their feeling of heritage and identity with their culture and history. It too, was wonderful to be witness to their current active and creative community.
I attended Rap in Tajrish, found classes for contemporary dance and aerial yoga and more via instagram, went to many markets which sold so much unique and beautiful handmade jewellery (check out some insta pages for jewerllery here @dima_handmade, @dastadast) pottery, paintings and all other sorts of nik naks.
Travel and spending time in nature too is a large part of life. Aside from mountain hiking and rock climbing and skiing in Mashhad and Tehran, I also travelled a lot. In Chalus, I spent a day of ‘Ab Baazi’ in the sea with a friend and camped several nights next to a very large and beautiful lake, an hour’s drive up the mountains.
In Hormuz Island too, I camped the night next to the sea, went to the caves late at night experiencing the most darkness and silence I have ever encountered before, and had my first experience of Bandari music and dance when we came across a local boat party one evening.
In Yazd, we were invited by a very friendly and lively group of Tehrani tourists on a tour to visit a zoastrian temple, a preserved yakhchal, traditional pottery workshop and most importantly, they introduced us to the most delicious sugary crispy bread known as naan yazdi.
Additionally we visited Nishapur, Shiraz and Isfahan, and my final trip with a couple of Tehrani friends was to Varzaneh (check out the guesthouse here). There we visited the salt lake before making juje kebab and camping together in the desert. Waking up early, I had my first experience of sand boarding down the dunes – the most enjoyable morning I’ve had to date.
I could write many more pages. I have had an incredible experience, in a country with such diverse nature, rich history and welcoming, engaging and energetic people. It has been an experience ultimately though of such connection and easy acceptance, therefore conveying this succinctly and without being completely sentimental would be impossible. Many thanks to the Iran society who helped support this experience and if I ever have the privilege to experience and explore Iran once more, I shall be sure to share as much as I can once more.