by guest blogger, Josh G. ’15
Recently, my International Baccalaureate (IB) Art class was posed two questions that took us off guard. The first was to write down 10 things that we knew about the Persian Empire, the second, to write 10 things that we knew about modern Iran. My thoughts immediately flew to ideas about my interpretations of current events: poor relations between Iran and my own country, the possibility of the Iranian government possessing nuclear weapons, and my little knowledge of Iranian culture and religious ideals. I had an advantage, in that throughout November and December, my IB Higher Level (HL) Literature course had read the autobiographical graphic novel, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. The story was of Satrapi growing up in war-torn Iran during the 1980s. The novel was an excellent way to begin to understand Persian and Iranian culture, and it was only the first step towards the beginning of my understanding of Iran.
There were still a lot of things that I wanted to know about the Iranian culture, and Mr. Bowie’s class provided the opportunity. The beneficial thing about taking an IB art class is that not only are we learning artistic skills, but we are also becoming more cultured students, bringing a more secular perspective towards both our other classes at Harrisburg Academy, and into our own personal lives. In addition to a number of documentaries, Mr. Bowie offered us an opportunity that was too great to pass up — to Skype with Iranian students studying in Sweden that he had met through social media. Our class was going to be able to ask questions and hear some firsthand accounts of what Iran is like.
I was excited to share Mr. Bowie’s plans for our class with Mr. Frengel, my literature teacher. It was truly wonderful that several of my teachers were going above and beyond to allow their students to broaden their horizons. Even more remarkable was how the lessons coincided with each other so well. It worked out that my English class would also be able to attend the Skype session. With the addition of these students, new perspectives and ideas would be brought to the discussion, with new questions and understandings.
The day finally came, and it was time for the Skype session that I had been looking forward to. The two Iranians we interviewed were artist Ebrahim, and graphic designer Maryam. They are currently in Borås, Sweden, studying in their respective fields. Huddled in front of the Smartboard in Mr. Bowie’s room, my classmates and I introduced ourselves, sharing our age and ambitions in life. At first, I was skeptical because of the language barrier between Iran and the United States. As it turned out, both were impressively fluent in English. After seeing anti-American demonstrations in Iran both on the news, on the Internet, and in the documentaries that we watched in art class, I was curious to see if either of the two had ever participated in one themselves. Their answer surprised me. Ebrahim quickly said that western culture and America have had great impacts on his life. He told me that many members of his own family lived in the United States and that many Iranians understand that the United States is not evil, and it is only a sliver of the population that is represented in the news and shown at demonstrations. Throughout the entirety of their presentation, Ebrahim and Maryam reminded us that even though there may be different races, cultures, and languages in the world, people are people, and they all deserve to be treated fairly and with respect.
Coming from a country in which their theocratic republic controls many aspects of life, to be reminded that equality must prevail, for the two presenters to be so open, honest, and justified, was a beautiful thing. Ebrahim always had something to say, and was very enthusiastic, wanting to make sure that he conveyed his points fully. Maryam was less talkative, but when she did speak, her wisdom was empowering, as she was genuinely interested in what we thought of Iran. Ebrahim and Maryam also taught us about Iran, and how it is not truly as restrictive as it is conveyed in the media. They love their country, and their patriotism was honorable. When we asked about Persepolis, Ebrahim told us that he also grew up in Iran in the 1980s, and that the novel was a very accurate representation of how life was, and I was able to appreciate the novel at a new level. Both encouraged us to live our lives to the fullest and to always be focused on helping others.
I found the Skype session to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my seven years at Harrisburg Academy. To be able to communicate with people halfway around the world is incredible, and it turned out to be a fantastic opportunity. I truly believe that my classmates got a lot out of the discussion, as well as Ebrahim and Maryam, as they were also able to experience a different culture. There is only so much that can be obtained by watching documentaries and reading books. This personal interaction was a fabulous way to learn about Iranian culture, and my classmates and I were very fortunate to have been given this opportunity. The integration of curriculum across classes along with the exceptional opportunities to become more cultured students is only one of the reasons why Harrisburg Academy is preparing me to be a successful college student, and adult, with the ultimate focus on seeing past differences, and understanding the importance of treating others equally.