Cultural Diversity: An Iranian student’s story

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Continuing the theme of cultural diversity, I spoke with Soudeh Oladi from Iran. Soudeh is a PhD student in Education at UNB. She first came to Canada in the early 90s with her family when she was 11 years old. Her father was doing his PhD in Forestry at UNB. Soudeh was accepted to UNB at the age of 15, but after studying for one year, her father finished his PhD and they went back to Iran. Years later, Soudeh returned here with her own 11 year old daughter to continue her education.

BR: Soudeh, what do you wish people knew about Iran?

SO: Despite all the negative things you may hear in the news, Iran is a lovely country whose people are exceptionally hospitable and friendly. The majority of people in Iran are Muslim but they are considered to be pretty progressive. There is also a considerable Christian, Jewish, and Zoroastrian minority in Iran.

While Iran is usually defined in terms of its Islamic culture, Iranians are also proud of their pre-Islamic heritage that dates back at least 3,000 years.

Poetry plays a huge part in Iranian culture and when friends and families get together for a major holiday, they are bound to read a few lines from the famous Persian poet Hafez.

BR: What could people do that would be helpful to someone coming here from Iran? 

SO: When a person comes to live in Canada, they leave a whole life behind – extended family, friends and loved ones. So it would be reassuring if they felt welcomed. It’s always great when people ask you real questions about where you come from and your culture, instead of superficial comments about general things they may have picked up on the news.

I personally would appreciate it if I could talk about my country so people would know that Iran is so much more than the [what you see in the] news (which usually has to be extreme to make the headlines).

[…] Normal life goes on, despite economic hardship and political tension. Iranian food is not spicy and we use lots of fresh herbs in our daily regimen. I would even want them to know that drivers in the capital city Tehran are among the most skillful yet impatient drivers in the world, as all of them believe they have the right of way!

But when there is little room for a real conversation, I would only want to paint a picture-perfect image of my country instead of a realistic one.

BR: That’s understandable; I think anyone who loves their homeland might feel that way. What else would bridge gaps between cultures?

SO: Schools and universities could hold cultural fairs that go beyond a one-day snapshot of life in a different country. But most important of all, it is the feeling of belonging and acceptance that every single individual who sets foot in Canada yearns for.

BR: What is unhelpful, that you wish people would not do?

SO: The most important thing for anyone coming from a different country to Canada is to be acknowledged and accepted. Being branded as “different” […] can take its toll on a person’s feeling of belonging.

I would encourage people not to be afraid to get to know those who may look or dress differently and accept them as who they are.

Stereotypical portrayals of Muslims have led some people to presume that Muslims are forgiving toward extremists. [This] couldn’t be further from the truth. With over one and a half billion Muslims in the world, the few that make the headlines bring nothing but shame for the rest of the Muslim population.

BR: How can people ask about Iranian culture to learn and get to know you?

SO: I don’t think any question should be branded as stupid. I think the real problem is that by being too politically correct, we avoid getting involved in real conversations about different cultures.

Former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami introduced the idea of “dialogue among civilizations” as a precursor to a peaceful world. I say before civilizations get involved, we need to start a dialogue at a more basic level involving everyday people. Maybe then, we will embrace difference and the world will be a much more unique place to live in.

BR: Soudeh, thank you so much for sharing your views of Iran with us, along with your wish for us to understand and embrace our differences.