Persian Immersion

Madison, USA
June 16, 2014

This update will have to be my last until a Friday. I've signed a "language agreement" promising not to speak, read, write--or even listen to music--in any language other than Persian over this summer. The sole exception permitting me to fall back into English is from the afternoon through the evening after the end of each week of class.

Once again, I've enrolled myself in an intensive language learning program. This summer I'll be attending Persian classes at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. It's a similar situation to other places (Qu├ębec City; Urumqi; Bloomington, Indiana) where I've studied assorted other languages, previously. Here, as in those other settings, every morning starts with four-and-a-half hours of class. However, this program, "APTLII" (Arabic Persian Turkish Language Immersion Institute,) additionally requires all particpants to live on campus. Not just my fellow language students but all of our program instructors have become neighbors living along the same floor of a university dormitory. We take three meals a day together. With the exception of Friday afternoons we are expected not to use any language other than Persian.

I've enjoyed acquainting myself with Madison. One of my first days here I made a run around town with other students to buy essentials basic for moving into new housing. (This was before we had signed the language pledge so were yet able to communicate with one another at a normal level.) After picking up household items such as kitchen towels and cleaning supplies we dropped into a tobacconist that happened to be in the same strip mall where we were shopping. Given the provenance of languages being taught I wasn't surprised that several of the other students in this program have also brought their hookahs here. It's common to see students gathered together seated around a fragrant, smoldering hookah pipe in the plaza between our dormitory (Philips Hall) and the cafeteria where we take most of our meals (Dejope Hall.)

I'm slowly starting to get a sense of who the other students are. I'm not sure the exact number of students taking Arabic or Turkish but there are 22 of us enrolled in Persian courses spread across 5 different class levels. Even with so few students the places from where everybody has come span nearly the entire U.S.. I've spoken with students from Maine, from Florida, from California, from Hawai'i--even one or two from my hometown of Seattle. I am one of just two students who live outside the U.S. but not the one who has traveled the farthest to attend this program. That prize goes to the sole foreign student, a classmate who has come from South Korea.

My foremost impression is that some of my fellow students appear to have pretty solid levels of Farsi. (Not I--it's been literally decades since I last studied the language in earnest.) My second strongest impression is how quite a few fellow program attendees seem so... young. A topic of conversation on our shopping expedition was the plight of being under legal drinking age. One classmate showed me her fake ID, replete with faux holograms. Studying up at McGill I had felt that I was accustomed to being around typical university students--though now realize how most of those I share classes with or interact with at any serious level back in Canada are older, graduate students. It seems like there are more than a few undergraduates enrolled at APTLII.

Yesterday was the placement exam for all except the utter beginners. I haven't taken a Farsi course since I was an undergraduate myself but did manage to get through quite a lot of the test. We'll see just where they place me.

I'm excited to see what this summer brings: excited to meet new people, excited to discover an area (Wisconsin) where I've never spent time, and excited to study more language.