Expat Life Expressions and Idioms Iranian Culture

Studying Persian and Traveling in Iran: An Interview with French Student Aurore

One of the greatest things for me since starting this blog is the fact that I’ve been able to connect with so many of you readers! Sometimes it’s through email or social media, but it’s even better when I’ve actually gotten to meet some of you while you’re traveling in Iran. And recently thanks to my blog, I got to meet Aurore, a super cool French student studying Persian in Tehran. After meeting up a few times, I thought it would be interesting to have her share her story for My Persian Corner. So read on as Aurore shares what made her interested in Iran, her experience studying Persian at Dehkhoda Institute in Tehran, and living and traveling in Iran as a female. She just might give you that extra push to travel to Iran now!

What made you interested in Iran? What did you think about this country before you visited? Did your opinion change after you spent time here?

I got interested in Iran about 10 years ago. News events caught my attention. At that moment I knew nothing about Iran and Iranians, and my curiosity led me to watch Iranian movies. The first one I watched was No One Knows About Persian Cats by Bahman Ghobadi, and it had a huge impact on me. I quickly continued watching all of Jafar Panahi’s movies and then other directors and, just like that, I became fascinated by this society which appeared so complex to me.

I took me almost 10 years to come and visit Iran. I knew I would, but I wanted this trip to be special. I didn’t imagine myself just going from hotel to hotel and visiting like I used to. I wanted to meet people and get to know this culture better. So when I had the chance to make a longer trip, I planned 20 days in Iran, and I went on this trip alone, for the first time in my life. Of course, I had in mind the beauty of Isfahan, the greatness of Persepolis, and the lands of desert, but my desire and my goal when I came for the first time was to encounter people, to challenge the vision I had of Iran. I saw this country as full of paradoxes, sitting somewhere between Asia and Europe, between a deep craving for modernity and really strong attachment to its tradition, both for good and bad. And I never thought of it as a dangerous place, contrary to lots of my friends and relatives who didn’t know Iran.

After two trips and now almost three months here, I wouldn’t say that my opinion changed. Things are probably a bit more complex to understand than I first thought, and that’s what I like. Also, my vision now is less stereotyped I guess because I live in Tehran which is a really modern city.

Sistan and Baluchistan is the place in Iran where I encountered the biggest generosity and hospitality.

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What has been your most memorable or surprising experience so far?

One of my best experiences in Iran took place during my second trip (8 months after the first one). The reason I came back is that I wished to visit the south of Iran, especially Sistan and Baluchistan, and Qeshm island. I met Mina, an Iranian woman, and we hit the road together. It was an incredible experience traveling there. It’s not touristic, so don’t expect buses, hostels, or people who speak English! And the region has this unfair reputation for being unsafe, but this is the place in Iran where I encountered the biggest generosity and hospitality. Everywhere we went, there was always someone with whom we would chat and would finally do a part of the trip with us or host us.

In this interview, Aurore from France tells us about her experience studying Persian at Tehran's Dehkhoda Institute and living and traveling in Iran.

Darak beach, a small piece of heaven unknown by lots of Iranians and even locals, where the desert meets the sea. © Aurore

One night, we decided to camp at Darak village (where there is this wonderful beach, Darak Beach). As recommended by some locals, we started to set our tent close to the mosque. Then Mina asked a passerby where (and if!) we could buy food. When this man, Ayoub, realized we were two women alone, it was unthinkable for him to let us sleep outside. He invited us to his house, and we spent the most amazing night, surrounded by all the girls of the village, exchanging about their life, wearing traditional Baluchi clothes… This night was something out of time for me. This experience deeply moved me, and I owed it to Mina, who, furthermore, is now a dear friend of mine.

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In this interview, Aurore from France tells us about her experience studying Persian at Tehran's Dehkhoda Institute and living and traveling in Iran.

Baluchi girls from Darak village using my camera to check the pictures they took of us. We spent lots of time with those girls aged from +/- 7 to around 13. I was astonished by their strong tempers and their bright personalities. On the left, in the blue traditional Baluchi girl is Arezu, the daughter of Ayoub. Ayoub seemed to be someone highly respected in the village and with some sort of authority (I mean he was like the boss over there!) and his daughter seemed to have inherited from him a really strong temper! © Aurore

 

In this interview, Aurore from France tells us about her experience studying Persian at Tehran's Dehkhoda Institute and living and traveling in Iran.

We were supposed to camp under a tent and we ended up hosted in the best conditions, treated as family, by a family from the village. Here is the dinner they offered us: fried shrimp, rice and doogh. One of the best I had. And of course, trying to finish the plate only resulted is them wanting to bring more! © Aurore

 

Now that youve been studying in Tehran for a few months, how does living here compare to just passing through as a tourist?

I’ve been living in Tehran for only two months, but I feel like my vision of Iran has nothing to do with the one I previously had, as I expected. It is now, of course, less idealistic, but I like it more, probably because I can understand better how things are and how people live.

The first time I visited Tehran, I really hated it. I just spent a day and literally fled. Now, I just love it! It’s a big crazy city, always crowded, polluted, noisy… but it’s so full of life, there are plenty of things to do and places to discover. There is a huge sense of creativity that you can feel here, whether it is the theaters, the galleries, the cafes, or on the walls of the streets. Probably this city requires some time to tame it, but that’s exactly the interest in living here in comparison to being a tourist here.

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Another difference is that it made me understand better and in a practical way, which difficulties Iranians have to face daily, due to the economic situation.

People also behave differently towards me. When I was just a tourist passing by, I mostly had Iranians asking me how good Iran was, and to tell people in my country that it was a safe place. Now, the reaction of most of them goes from astonishment to incomprehension that I want to live here.

In this interview, Aurore from France tells us about her experience studying Persian at Tehran's Dehkhoda Institute and living and traveling in Iran.

Kids from Darak village. After spending the night at Ayoub’s, we left in the afternoon and tried to hitchhike on the small road which goes through the village. We struggled for a long long time to find a car, and meanwhile, all the kids were staying with us by the road <3 © Aurore

 

Another thing is that I can speak a little bit of Persian language, but not enough to understand things clearly. So, when you’re a tourist and you just say Kheili mamnoon (thank you) and Khosh mazeh (delicious), you will see stars in the eyes of people. But if you know two more words, then, when you buy something, or in the transportation, lots of people won’t make any further effort and consider that, well, you understand what they say, period.

What has been your biggest challenge or the hardest thing for you to adjust to?

I think the hardest thing for me is not that related to Iran, it’s just due to the fact that I live in another country: it takes time to settle, create new habits… And of course, I miss my friends which I used to hang out with a lot! And because I don’t speak Persian yet, it sometimes feels like I would never be able to connect with people.

Otherwise, of the biggest challenge for me in Tehran is to face its hugeness. I waste a lot of time in transportation, and it really affects my daily productivity. I used to live in Paris, which is quite small, but here I had to realize that just meeting someone somewhere requires way more organization and time.

Then another challenge would be related to gender inequality and harassment. It’s of course not something specific to Iran, but it takes different shapes than what I’m used to. And I really struggled to discuss this topic with many people who are less (or even not) aware of what it simply is. There is a gap in our thinking that is challenging for me.

And now the question everyone gets- What do you like about Iran?

It’s a difficult question for me because there are no logical or big reasons. It’s more an amalgamation of different things I’m attracted to, many of them unconsciously I think.

Many aspects of Iranian culture, which is so rich, aroused my interest: whether it’d be the “noble” aspects of it (like cinema, literature, poetry, music – all those being too huge to pretend I know anything about it) or more “common” ones, like its traditions, values, and way of life. The latter are sometimes really familiar to me and sometimes so far away from my own culture. So it’s really interesting to go deeper into it, to understand how people think and why they act accordingly.

I also have a deep interest and curiosity for its recent history, over the last 200 years. And of course, I’m in love with the Persian language, which I first found extremely pleasant and soft to the ear. And now that I started to learn it, it’s an endless delight to explore the meaning of many expressions and sayings.

In this interview, Aurore from France tells us about her experience studying Persian at Tehran's Dehkhoda Institute and living and traveling in Iran.

Morning breakfast by the road, in Chabahar. The men are cooking a specialty from the region, a sort of crepe upon which they had eggs. Of course I I have no idea what it’s called… © Aurore

 

Lets talk about your experience learning Persian. You study at Dehkhoda Institute in Tehran. Tell us a bit about your classes there.

I follow the “intensive courses”, and I started from the beginning, on Elementary I, even if I had learned some basis before.

The courses are held every morning from 9:00 to 12:00.  We usually have homework to do in the afternoon, and, in my opinion, it requires a lot of personal investment if you want to get the most out of it. The teaching method may be a bit traditional and can some days be a bit boring (lots of repetitions), but in the end, I’m surprised how effective it is. The atmosphere in the classes are quite good and benevolent, and the institute is located (Bagh-e Ferdos, Tajrish) in a really cool area. So all in all, it’s rather pleasant and a nice experience for someone like me who starts learning from the beginning.

The aspect that could benefit from improvements would be the administrative part. It’s often hard to understand the exact process of something, there is lots of paperwork, and few people who speak English well! So, lots of easy stuff can turn into confusing ones. But, I feel like it’s how Iran is!

 

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What made you want to learn Persian?

It’s a really practical reason actually: being able to come back and stay longer in Iran. Indeed, after my two previous trips, I really wanted to know this country better, and I couldn’t see any better way than living here for some time. But finding work and getting a work permit without speaking the language is tricky. So, because I’ve always loved learning new languages I immediately thought Dehkhoda could be a great experience.

And now that I have started, honestly, I just wish to complete the whole course because I enjoy learning and being able, step by step, to understand and speak a little more and more this beautiful language.

I’m in love with the Persian language, which I first found extremely pleasant and soft to the ear.

What do you find hard about studying Persian? Easy?

As a French speaker, I think the Persian language is not that far from my own: lots of commons words, but moreover, the structure of the sentences is often close and thus a bit intuitive. The grammar doesn’t seem that hard (at least for now…).

So obviously at my level, the hardest part for me is related to the alphabet. Reading is still complicated (and why do Iranians omit vowels, why?!) as well as writing. Plus, the fact that the spoken language slightly differs from the written can be confusing in the learning process.

In this interview, Aurore from France tells us about her experience studying Persian at Tehran's Dehkhoda Institute and living and traveling in Iran.

Classroom at Dehkhoda © Aurore

 

What are some techniques you use and/or your favorite language resources to help improve your Persian?

When I was in France, I did my best to be constantly exposed to the Persian language, which wasn’t difficult! Watching Iranian movies, listening to Iranian music and even Iranian radio broadcasting to get used to hearing people speak and recognize words here and there. I also practiced with a method called “Assimil”.

Here, my current biggest issue is to find a way to memorize all the vocabulary I learn, and for that, I’m using an amazing app called Memrise. Other resources I would recommend would be a website called Forvo to have the pronunciations and this one for the verbs.

You have to find your own fun and pleasant way to learn- the best being hanging out with your Iranian friends 🙂 Thanks to them, you’re gonna learn lots of vocabulary and expressions that you would (and should) never hear in class (but you may find some here, on mypersiancorner.com !)


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Have your ever-improving Persian skills enhanced your experiences traveling in Iran?

Regarding my little skills so far, I don’t think there is a huge difference! Right now I’m in that weird situation I mentioned earlier where I can be able to express myself a bit, understand easy sentences to buy something, ask for a direction, (struggle to) give my location to the Snapp driver…, but if it gets more complicated, then I’m lost!

What’s your favorite Persian word or phrase?

It’s silly, and I don’t know myself why I love it so much since I learned it, but, well, I love it:
چون چه چسبیده به را 
(chon che chasbide be râ

Probably because I never have a good answer to explain anything I do, so this one is quite effective!

(چرا – cherâ– means “why” in Persian, and this is one answer to the question when you have no other answer, literally “because che is stuck to “)

What advice do you have for someone considering visiting Iran and someone learning Persian for the first time?

For someone who wants to learn Persian, I would definitely recommend Dehkhoda Institute. I think there is no better way than being in the country to learn a language, and in my opinion, their teaching is good. Plus, you have time in the afternoon to discover Tehran, and you can also travel on the weekends. So that can only be a great experience.

But if you apply to Dehkhoda, do your best to avoid the summer session. There are so many students coming here during the months of July and August that the organization is a bit messy, finding a dormitory can take several days, and the classes are probably more crowded as well.

For someone who wants to visit Iran for the first time, I would simply advise buying a flight ticket right now! I would recommend staying at least 15 days, which would allow you to visit at least one city out of the traditional route (Tehran-Isfahan-Shiraz-Yazd). Gilan province is easily accessible and beautiful, and the south of Iran is also a must. I recommend people to be flexible because there is no need to book everything in advance: transportation and housing are easy and cheap for foreigners, and as a tourist, most of the time you’ll find someone to help you. So, just go with the flow, and visit Iran! 

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In this interview, Aurore from France tells us about her experience studying Persian at Tehran's Dehkhoda Institute and living and traveling in Iran.

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