Omeed Alidadi starts his day with a four hour all-intensive class, before heading to the English language learning center to teach his Tajik students English. To get to know them better, he adventures around Dushanbe with them, exploring the monuments and famous landmarks. When he isn’t teaching them in English, he’s speaking in Farsi, having conversations with locals, discussing politics and complex issues—all in a language he’s still learning.
One may wonder, “How did Alidadi end up studying abroad in Tajikistan?” The country, a place covered 93 percent with mountains, is certainly not a destination most BC students think to study abroad. With the language barrier and difficult terrain, it’s a far cry from the usual destinations.
Alidadi, MCAS ’18, knew it would be difficult to accomplish all he wanted to in Tajikistan, but that didn’t stop him. His semester abroad was part of the McGillycuddy-Logue Fellows Program, a selective multi-semester study abroad program in which students tackle global problems through the methods of service and justice.
If accepted, students participate in a class during the spring semester of their sophomore year, which serves as a platform for them to discuss privilege, poverty, and other important issues. The group then goes abroad during their junior years and is required to engage in volunteer experience in each of their respective countries.
“The purpose of the class is to engender change agents at Boston College and give us the tools to address issues that are occurring abroad and at home,” Alidadi said.
Going into the program, he wanted to study Central Asia, a region of the world that he thinks has little scholarship. Tajikistan specifically has fascinating cultural roots with both Iran and the former Soviet Union.
Traveling there also served as an outlet for Alidadi to discover his Iranian roots. As an Iranian, he knew how to write and read some Farsi but would sometimes struggle to communicate with his grandparents. He wanted to use the program as an opportunity to become fluent in Farsi and better understand his ancestor’s culture.
Immersing himself in life in Tajikistan was the only way to make this happen. He feels that many BC students take an opposite approach while abroad. They retreat into their BC friend groups and hardly engage with the unique culture around them. For him, as the only student from BC in his program, this wasn’t an option. He was forced to navigate the cultural differences and push himself out of his comfort zone. This affected even the most mundane aspects of his life. For example, every wedding, breakfast, and event required every family member to be present, since the emphasis on family is so strong.
After his daily classes—which forced him to master Farsi—he dedicated himself to making his English language classes unique and more than just a lecture. While much of his class aimed at preparing students for the TOEFL exam, which is for young people who want to attend English-speaking universities, he wanted to engage with his students outside of this. That meant spending time with them outside of class, instead of just returning to his host family’s house and relaxing.
“I played soccer with them, ate dinner with them, and went on some adventures around the capital, really experiencing a day in the life of a Tajik,” he said.
His travels took him around the region, including a week-long trip to the Afghan and Chinese borders. He and his classmates stayed at various homestays, reaching an elevation of up to 12,000 feet. From the vistas, the physical exertion, and even the shortness of breath, it was an experience unlike anything he had ever felt before.
The trip has left Alidadi an enthusiastic advocate for studying abroad. Having also traveled to Morocco to teach English through a Mizna fellowship and to Kuwait to learn about the Persian Gulf and oil politics, he believes nothing compares to seeing places like these up close and in person.
The value of a trip extends beyond scholarship. It has shaped his character and prepared him for a life of meaningful work.
“Before I went to Tajikistan, I was more afraid to take risks. After returning, I am able to take part in activities and try things I might not have otherwise done had I not went to Tajikistan,” he said.
He’s already put this into action. Instead of simply going home and taking a break during the summer, he took a job at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington D.C. The think tank was a fantastic fit for him because many of its scholars study Central Asian issues. It brought together his interest in politics and all the practical experience from his months abroad.
He has become more drawn to teaching English and learning about education in the Islamic world due to his trip. At the moment, he is writing a thesis on the state of education in the Islamic World and plans on using case studies in the Persian Gulf and North Africa.
Last year, he also founded an English language learning program for BC’s international graduate students. Noticing that BC tends to highlight the undergraduate experience and not the graduate one, he felt that international graduates did not have access to quality English language learning resources to help them become successful in classes.
He collaborated with a graduate student in the political science department and submitted a proposal to the Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences to put together a class to solve this problem. He received funding to hire Ph.D. students in the department to teach the class and buy textbooks. Once a week in last year’s fall semester, the program invited 12 graduate students in the social sciences department to the class to learn to write better.
“It was a great feeling knowing that we were able to pull in all of these resources that BC has to help a part of the community that is vulnerable and alienated from the rest of us,” Alidadi said.
When he started on his Tajikistan journey, he had to adjust to a new culture and a new language. Now he’s more than adjusted. He’s confident and ready to go back. He is currently in the process of applying for a Fulbright research grant to return to Tajikistan after graduation next year. Fluent in Farsi and experienced in teaching, he wants to explore whether Tajikistan has the capacity to invest in English language learning solutions that incorporate mobile technology.
He thinks that mobile technology is potentially the best tool with which to teach English. A couple of his ideas are to encourage Tajiks to create mobile applications and push Tajik telephone companies to sponsor Hackathons.
If this grant does not work out, he would love to volunteer with the Peace Corps. Then he hopes to attend graduate school for international studies. He ultimately aims to work in the public sector as a foreign service officer in the U.S. Department of State or in a multilateral organization such as the World Bank or International Monetary Fund.
On the whole, he believes it is of vital importance to be civically engaged and to understand the surrounding world, especially in today’s political climate. Despite its flaws and inconsistencies, politics shapes the course of our lives.
In addition, he emphasizes the importance of serving others as a part of a life well lived.
“BC helps you develop the inclination to help others,” Alidadi said. “It’s ingrained in the atmosphere and in my four years, I’ve become more conscious of the people around me.”
Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Staff