Six Months in Tajikistan

The following blog post is from Eli Pollock, a Fulbright-Hays fellow from the Fall 2017 Eurasian Regional Language Program cohort. For more information about the Fulbright-Hays fellowship, please visit our website.

At my home university, I study Farsi and international security. I am required to become proficient in a foreign language to graduate and had picked Farsi out of an interest in Iran. From early on in my college career, I knew I wanted to study abroad; the only question was where. I never expected to end up in a place as different from the US as Tajikistan, rather some Western European country. But, as I arrived closer to making a decision on studying abroad, I realized I wanted to push myself farther and make a serious commitment to my language study. I registered to study with American Councils in Dushanbe for a summer and semester term.

My flight got in to Dushanbe at around 4:00am. Everyone from the program gathered bags and made their way to a bus, which proceeded to drop students with their respective families. I had been out of school for about three weeks, so my Persian was somewhat rusty. As the bus dropped me off and I was introduced to my wonderful host mother, Jamila, who was smiling widely and speaking a dialect of Persian I could only half-understand. The newness of the situation shook me. I was exhausted and suddenly needing to speak Farsi across dialects in an at-home context I had never experienced before. I was stuttered my way to what would be my bedroom for the next six months, and passed out on the bed. I woke up several hours later, confused about what I had gotten myself into. I had almost no frame of reference to guide me, so every interaction was ad-libbed. However, things only improved from there. I came to embrace the challenges involved in living in this new environment, and enjoy feeling somewhat out of place. Eventually, I found myself completely at home with my family. Six months later, the prospect of leaving both them and Tajikistan seemed strange and somewhat saddening.

An American Councils staff member made a point of telling us that a key benefit of studying Persian in Tajikistan was the opportunities for language gain outside the classroom. One of the most rewarding experiences I had during my time studying abroad was working for the Border Management Northern Afghanistan (BOMNAF) organization. BOMNAF carries out a range of projects in Northern Afghanistan and Southern Tajikistan including trainings, the construction of border posts, and infrastructure to increase cross-border security and economic development.

I had the opportunity to perform monitoring and evaluation duties for a training of Afghan Border Police and Customs Department officers in Dushanbe during the summer of 2017. My partner and I developed surveys in Dari with which trainees could evaluate each session. We also communicated directly with instructors, translators, and the trainees themselves in order to improve future trainings. At the end of the training we compiled our data and produced a report reviewing the training in all its components.

However, the most rewarding aspect of this work wasn’t the traditional monitoring duties or extensive Persian usage, but rather the process of building rapport with the Afghans. We discussed their personal lives, the challenges facing Afghanistan, and their concerns and role relevant to those challenges. This process was often awkward or uncomfortable, but we were able to understand a little bit more of the complexity behind some of Afghanistan’s problems and come to care more personally for the outcome.

At my home university, I primarily study security and international relations. To that end, I feel quite fortunate to have been able to work for BOMNAF, brief as it was.

By: Eli Pollock

Term: Summer + Fall 2017

Program: Eurasian Regional Language Program

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