Gabriel Rody-Ramazani reflects on his summer on the Eurasian Regional Language Program in Dushanbe as a Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad scholarship recipient and his appreciation for Tajik citizens.
I will always be awe-struck by the intense and fascinating differences that I discovered in the experiences and thoughts of many of the Tajik people I met this past summer. I’ll also always remember intense moments of recognition and familiarity. After two months living among Tajiks, my understanding of a few of them and their life experiences (as much as people can ever be “understood”), informed by copious memories of both types, has finally begun to make sense. In some cases, this “understanding” can be expressed in the form of shared characteristics: The Tajiks whom I got to know value their personal and familial security deeply. They are unbelievably kind to guests. They see the world in a manner that does not place the U.S. at its center—a fact that was particularly hard for me to grasp. They have been through more than I could ever imagine.
I think that these shared characteristics are important. But at the same time, it may have been even more valuable to get to know a few individual Tajiks’ complex and unique personalities. I met several people this summer who inspired me hugely. These included members of my host family, my language partner—even the local pharmacist. All of them burned for something different, which it would be hard to figure out after only a few days of time with them. When I first showed up at my host family’s house, at four A.M. on a June morning, I was struck by the apparent rigidity and constrained manner with which my host father greeted me. By the time I left two months later, I had come to see this man as a caring father, a genuinely curious and serious thinker, and finally the owner of an awesome spark for life.
My language partner is someone I’ll never forget. We met once a week to practice Persian, and he was a great help to me in that respect. But he also became a real friend, and one who shared his aspirations and beliefs with me. Our meetings were unforgettable both for the familiarity, and for the mind-bending differences that they revealed in him. He loved to talk about social issues, and did so with ease and intelligence. “There are good people in every religion,” he liked to say. “People asked me, ‘are you a Christian?’ when I came to a church. But I was just there to learn.” And yet his journey to continue his education and follow his career aspirations was hard beyond what I could have imagined. We discussed these things frequently, and his ultimate success, which occurred just before I left, was one of the most exciting moments I can remember.
The language gains that I made during my ERLP stay in Tajikistan were also invaluable. The two or three-person classes were exhausting and rewarding, thanks to my smart and hardworking teachers. Every day was a real opportunity to make significant language improvements through the combination of classwork, homework, and interaction with the host family. As I go into my senior year of college, I think that my base in Farsi is finally strong enough to allow me to focus on specific aspects of my learning as I move forward, and to communicate confidently with native speakers.
Finally, I believe that it is vital for Americans to continue taking advantage of the Farsi learning opportunities available in Tajikistan. The large Farsi-speaking American population and salience of Iran and Afghanistan in American politics make the language a very useful one for a diverse range of students. And I think it would be hard for anyone to improve within the U.S. as much as they could in Tajikistan, during a similar period of time. I will always be grateful for my ERLP experience, the language learning I did there, and especially the people it allowed me to meet.
About Fulbright-Hays Scholarships from American Councils
American Councils for International Education has received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad, to provide scholarships for advanced overseas Russian and Persian language study. Learn more about the eligibility requirements here.
About Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad
The Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act, commonly referred to as the Fulbright-Hays Act, was made law by the 87th U.S. Congress under President John F. Kennedy on September 21, 1961. Senator J. William Fulbright and Representative Wayne Hays introduced the legislation, which represents the basic charter for U.S. government-sponsored educational and cultural exchange. 2016 marks the 55th anniversary of this landmark legislation. More information about Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad can be found here.