The Audacity of Hope: Attempting to have a Year Abroad in the face of Pandemic, Politics and Peril.
Ever since I found out about a year abroad at university, I’ve wanted to do one. If sixteen year old Ayelen had written a diary of her ambitions and dreams, this would have been the scenario she longed for (I know, I know, I was a cool sixteen year old)…
It’s a warm summer eve, we’re sitting outside drinking , talking, swapping between languages and laughing into the night. There’s a delicious breeze and I’m smiling to myself, like the smug language student I am.
There was something particularly attractive about taking off for a year and it helped that uni language students always have fabulous stories of partying in Cairo, whirlwind romances in Paris, and wild homestays in Taipei.
Needless to say, as a Persian student, I was well excited at the idea of spending a year in Tehran. I couldn’t wait to be swanning around the central bazaar, hanging out in coffee shops with new friends, hiking the Alborz mountain range and taking weekend trips to the coast, desert, nearby cities, etc.
Alas, it was not to be. I may have missed the small print on Edinburgh Uni’s website that states ‘you may have the possibility of studying in a Persian speaking country’. ‘Possibility’ being the key word here. Iran is not the easiest country for UK students to enter. As my teacher frequently likes to remind our class: we do not do Icelandic studies, we do Middle Eastern Studies.This means that when a tanker crisis pops off in the Persian gulf, it kinda throws a spanner into the year abroad works. I’m also not sure that when President Trumpster and Rouhani were exchanging a little tete a tete on the twitter sphere they were considering the fate of 20-somethings who were keen to go on a good old jolly and get their Farsi up to scratch.
As our hopes drooped and we accepted that there would be no visits to ancient Persepolis, or bartering for فرش (carpet), our teachers told us not to fear. After all, Iran is not the only Persian speaking country! So they sent you to Afghanistan? Errr no, not quite. Tajikistan! Extolling the fact that Tajiki is very similar to Farsi, and we would have the exciting opportunity to learn cyrillic script, we were convinced that this was a great alternative. After some extensive research, *cough* watching foodtube vids of Tajikistan with other FairlyCurrent members *cough*. I was fully ready to throw myself into the idea of pitching up in this sparsely populated and soak up the phenomenal natural landscape. We would be staying with local families and attending language classes with other Persian students. Brilliant!
And then…well, you know how it goes. Covid hit. Language students, all FairlyCurrent members included, anxiously waited for a decision about our year abroad. We reassuringly told ourselves that by September 2020, Covid would be over and we would all soon be living our best language-learning-lives. But one by one, our trips came crumbling down around us. Any hopes I had of arriving in Dushanbe were gone, but given the circumstances, it seemed the right call.
However, that did not mean I was going to let go of my LiFe LoNg DrEaM. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone, my Persian partner in crime and all round babe, Laila, was ready to join me for the ride. So we plotted our escape. The Farsi speaking world was out of bounds for the time being, so we began to explore other countries with Persian diasporas. We weighed up the choice of Istanbul and Greece, settling on the latter. We found a refugee organisation that wanted volunteers with Farsi language skills and now all we had to do was convince our university to send us…
And then, not one but two very special ladies entered my life. Well in fact, it was kind of the other way around, consisting of me calling and emailing them every other day. No, I wasn’t some kind of madly in love stalker. I was a madly persistent Erasmus funding stalker. Anita, Adele and me have been through it all. Unfortunately for them they manage the Erasmus Work Abroad fund, fortunately for me after one slightly emotional phone call between us about how much I cherished and valued the opportunity to go abroad, they accepted mine and Laila’s application. This meant that we now had funding, insurance and official permission to go to Athens. It was truly the holy trinity. And rather bittersweet, I thanked all the EU stars for enabling this adventure, knowing that this wonderful scheme had helped us but not the language students that would follow (Brexshit!).
One cancelled flight, a week of anxiety and an expensive PCR test later, Laila and I were boarding our flight bound for Athens. We could not believe it. It was only when the UK looked like a tiny model town far below us that I could accept that we were off.
It may have not been what I had in mind for my year abroad, but writing this, whilst sitting on my balcony in twenty degree heat (in fkin March) and knowing that my lunch will consist mainly of feta and ripe tomatoes, I feel like the smug language student I am.