One World Week: Alsa Tabatabaei

Date published: March 14, 2018

One World Week: Alsa Tabatabaei

One World Week is a week-long celebration of different cultures.

As part of One World Week, we've asked some of our students to write us a guest blog post about where they’re from, their culture and their experiences at Salford.

Today we're featuring a blog post from Alsa, a student from Iran.

The morphing of a larva into a cocoon and a caterpillar into a flamboyant butterfly are telling of an instinctive desire to explore a new world. Likewise, as I have always desired to explore the unseen and go beyond the horizon, I left my country, Iran - Persia, as it used to be called - nearly a decade ago. Needless to say, it was not easy to leave the comfort and security of my home, especially when I wasn’t certain what the future would have in store for me. However, as an inquisitive person by nature, the temptation to grasp and learn new things didn’t stop me from this life-changing decision. Being solely responsible for my actions has brought me to the realisation that I have so much undiscovered potential that I hadn’t noticed when I was with my loved ones back home. The first chapter of my life abroad was written in Malaysia, where you don’t need to do anything for a light tan.

Unfortunately, a large number of people will be unfamiliar with Iran’s incredibly rich and long cultural heritage that stretches back thousands of years. ‘Norwuz’, for example, marks the beginning of spring and has been celebrated in March for over 3,000 years. Iran is wonderfully dynamic, with modern creative and cultural sectors. Iran’s buildings are large, with various architectural styles and colours. People lead modern lives, with technology being ubiquitous in the home environment. Perhaps this is just one of the reasons energy consumption in Iran - as in Malaysia - is much higher than in the UK. It may also surprise people to find out that Iran has one of the highest rates of female University enrolment in the world, which provides hope for the future. Young people in Iran want what those in the UK want: good jobs, the right to have fun and live how they want. They like Western cultures and want the freedom to express themselves and achieve their potential in society. It is not surprising to me that some may not know that the Persion language - or Farsi - is an Indo-European language, and not an Arabic language. More often than not, following a brief description of what life is like in my country, people realise that most preconceived notions of Iran were untrue. Making a cup of tea in response to a crisis with fancy biscuits on a plate for visitors, making a cup of tea when you have no time to drink or feeling extremely patriotic during sports events - especially football matches - are just a few of the social traditions Iran has in common with Britain. So, in a way, I feel eerily at home here.

When I was starting my master’s degree in software engineering at one of the international universities of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I was invited to teach programming languages at the university. Being a lecturer in an international university helped me to appreciate the importance of diversity, coupled with the significance of communicating effectively with students - as well as my colleagues. On the note of diversity, I learned to appreciate other cultures and traditions, and to embrace people from myriad backgrounds. Surely, I have had the challenge of balancing my personal life and my academic professional work. Yet again, a similar pattern of lifestyle is being repeated for me here in the UK. I still enjoy a tranquil evening, unwinding in front of the television - especially after an intense day of academia - away from the rattling keys of my computer and hours spent in the face of a glaring monitor.

Studying and working for quite a long time in Malaysia taught me how an ‘alien’ place could reshape my attitudes toward people, the world as I saw it, and even art. The influence of observing different types of cultures and visiting Mother Nature in all of her multifaceted glory could be seen in my art: my paintings and photos. I have to admit, at first it was not easy to adapt myself to new environments, weather, culture and even food, but I’ve learned not to question good things when they arrive. With cultural norms, both in the UK and Malaysia, it has taken me time to understand them and - to be honest - I have made several mistakes while learning.

Malaysia is home to several ethnicities with differing cultures who, to this day, still practice the faiths of their forefathers. For this reason, the Malaysian calendar is dotted with a number of festive events to enjoy such as Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, Deepavali, Wesak and Christmas. During each festive period, the streets and shopping centres are decorated thematically with food stalls and courts that make eating out very affordable during periods of celebrations, similar to the Christmas Markets in Manchester. You might find it interesting to know that - since the weather in Malaysia rarely changes - people don’t talk about it in the same way the British do. Therefore, talking about the weather at length is uncommon and Malaysians instead revert to talk about food, given the different cultures and cuisines the country is host to.

It was in 2016 that my discovery journey ended up delivering me to cloudy and wet Manchester where - unsurprisingly - wearing summer clothing at the first sight of sun is of high importance. The focus of this transition is to gain more academic knowledge and expand my horizons in the cyber security field. As I mentioned earlier, I have an Engineering degree, though it only really taught me one thing - I love coding and protocols. Still a kid at heart, I find joy and excitement in talking about new ways of breaking down the technological advancements that have swept over the world. To put it simply, I love the digital world - what can I say? I am an enthusiast looking for a career in cybersecurity and passionate about my research, I even go to university during the weekends while my friends socialise or prefer to relax in front of the telly. For others, education can be a sacrifice, for me - it is so much fun. I love it and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

In the UK I have learned to be confident as I traverse unfamiliar places and cities without the support system I had in Malaysia. It is so true that only when you are exposed to the daily challenges of balancing household chores, studies and other responsibilities that you learn to value the time and support that others offer you.

Studying as an international student has exposed me to various issues and concerns that I was previously unaware of, though I have discovered that the UK is a beautiful country where you can find kind people willing to help every step of the way. I’ve always found myself in good company and have received aid from my school and student house while bumbling my way through my research journey. I can confidently say that the biggest thing I’ve learned in the past year and a half of living in the UK is to embrace my originality. I will return home with a few adopted traits from the various nationalities I have spent my time here with. For instance, I value organisation and all the details that come with it whereas most of my friends in Iran and Malaysia are slightly more relaxed about these things.

There are days where I find it hard to be optimistic about whether the UK and I will have a future together. I certainly hope so. I feel as though I’m doing my best and I have seized every opportunity available to improve myself during my Ph.D. journey and am trying to prevent anything from dampening my hopes. As my beloved father has always said to me, “live life to the fullest, never give up on your dream, so that the world will serve what you desire to have and be. Be the driver of your life, instead of a passenger.” Therefore, I continually expand my knowledge, seek new opportunities, and use my experiences, skills and education to better our societies and world.

All in all, living abroad teaches humility, patience and selflessness. You become proud of your home country, as well as the country that has welcomed you with open arms. Let’s appreciate the unity in diversity and evolve as human beings in the fullest and deepest sense - by knowing that each culture has its own unique history and a way of understanding the world. Unlike travelling to the moon, this doesn’t require rocket science - only an open mind, not to judge people, to embrace difference and love yourself. In my experience, thinking globally and acting locally is the need of today’s world.

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