Ever since receiving her green card hours before the travel ban in 2017, Sarah is able to navigate between two worlds. With her residency card and on a path for citizenship, she can still visit family left behind in Iran while residing in the U.S. Working as a pediatrician in Iran for over 25 years, Sarah witnessed the cultural/religious revolution that set her beloved country back 1000 years. She dons the hajib when she arrives in Iran and then sheds it once she puts her feet back on U.S soil. A lifetime learner, Sarah has reached a fluency in English that is remarkable. Even though she considers herself retired from the work world, her thirst for knowledge never stops. During the pandemic, she enrolled in various online courses in everything from English to yoga. Libraries, community centers, whatever is available to learn more, Sarah steps up to the task. A lover of music, she hopes to learn how to play the santur, the Iranian instrument you hear in the background.
Ever since receiving her green card hours before the travel ban in 2017, Sarah has been able to navigate between two worlds. With her residency card and on a path for citizenship, she can still visit family left behind in Iran while residing in the U.S. Working as a pediatrician in Iran for over 25 years, Sarah witnessed the cultural/religious revolution that set her beloved country back 1000 years. She dons the hajib when she arrives in Iran and then sheds it once she puts her feet back on U.S. soil. A lifetime learner, Sarah has reached a fluency in English that is remarkable. Even though she considers herself retired from the work world, her thirst for knowledge never stops. During the pandemic, she enrolled in various online courses in everything from English to yoga. Libraries, community centers, whatever is available to learn more, Sarah steps up to the task. A lover of music, she hopes to learn how to play the santur, the Iranian instrument you hear in the background.
COMING TO THE U.S./02:09
Deborah: My next guest is Sarah from Iran. Sarah, welcome. Thank you so much for coming for this interview today. Could you tell me a little bit about your experience coming to the States?
Sarah: Yes, hello Deborah. Thank you very much. About my career. I am a pediatrician. I used to work in a public hospital in the capital of my country as a pediatrician for twenty-five years. Also, I had my private office for many years. Since I came to the U.S., I’m jobless. Actually, I didn’t try to find and start a serious career because I’m not an American citizen yet and I go back home a few months a year. Besides, I’m not permitted to practice in the U.S. For practicing in the U.S. I have to pass very difficult tests to get permission for practicing.
Deborah: What brought you to the United States in the first place, Sarah?
Sarah: First, my son moved to Boston for continuing education in American universities and then my daughter married an Iranian guy who had American citizenship so my daughter got her citizenship and she applied for us, I mean my husband and I. That’s why I tried to get my citizenship because my children who are living in the United States.
Deborah: Did you experience any kind of culture shock when you got to the United States? Anything that was a struggle or an obstacle, or seemed so different from your home country?
Sarah: Actually, there are a lot of differences between my country and here. Here is the land of opportunity and land of freedom. We have many forbidden problems like wearing hijab in my country and following some religious rules that we don’t have to do here. Truly it is the third world and the United States is the first world. There are many differences between my country and the United States.
Deborah: Well, that sounds like a big difference in terms of even what you need to wear.
Sarah: Yes. There are many rules for wearing and there are a lot of serious punishments for eating during the month of fasting outside. And there are many religious rules that we have after the religious revolution in my country that we didn’t have before that. In the time of the kingdom of Iran. I didn’t have so many problems. I didn’t have serious problems in my country. I thank God that my family doesn’t have any kind of economic or political religion. Some kinds of these problems. And I moved here mostly because of my children. My son came to the U.S. for a better educational situation and my daughter and her husband migrated here for a better life.
Deborah: What are some of the things that you actually miss about Iran?
Sarah: Fortunately, I have American permanent residency card and I’m able to visit my country, my family and my friends at least a few months a year. That’s why I don’t miss too much these past lives. I am lucky about that. That I have a green card.
Deborah: When did you get that?
Sarah: I got it in 2017. It was the last hours before the travel ban.
Sarah: Yes. Well, fortunately we could arrive in America in the last hours before travel ban laws implementation.
Deborah: Wow, that must have been a relief that you were able to do that.
Sarah: Yes, some of my close families could not get their green card. That’s why they are not able to visit their close relatives for many years.
Deborah: That’s sad. When you go to Iran, when you are able to visit, do you have to adopt the clothing restrictions and do you have to follow all of that?
Sarah: Yes, that’s terrible because especially in the summer, it’s very difficult to wear all of these hijabs and it’s very difficult for me. For example, I don’t like to exercise outside because of the warm weather and hijab and we are very limited.
Deborah: So you like to exercise.
Sarah: Oh yes.
Deborah: Tell me about that. What do you like to do?
Sarah: I used to do pilates, yoga, Zoomba. Some kinds of these exercises. It was my hobby in my country. And also, my other hobby was spending time with my relatives and friends. But now my hobby is learning English, browsing the Internet, watching live shows and movies, listening to music, and chatting with my family and friends via social media.
IMPACT OF COVID-19/08:05
Deborah: How has your life been impacted by the COVID-19 and the pandemic in terms of all kinds of things?
Sarah: I’m a patient person. That’s why I tolerate the situation. But I entertain myself with all of these kinds of hobbies that I told before. And I think it’s not just for me. It’s a period of time and it asks us and we should tolerate it and follow the rules. But sometimes I can’t tolerate not visiting my friends, my classmates who live in Boston. I just wanted to invite some of my family and friends here but I can’t do that. It’s just very special period of life for everyone.
Deborah: You’ve been continuing your classes from the Gardner online. How’s that been for you?
Sarah: That’s great. I like the class at Gardner because most of the classes around my house are intermediate, and I was happy that I was able to find an advanced class and my teacher Erica is a great teacher. I learned a lot from her.
Deborah: Yeah she’s great. She’s very passionate, very dedicated to her teaching that’s for sure. Have you been able to do any kind of exercise on through Zoom classes? They have some yoga and Pilates and everything online now?
Sarah: I received an email from the American Heart Association that introduced the gym classes online and I tried to do. I like the live classes that’s why I tried to exercise with the online classes.
Deborah: And how was that?
Sarah: That’s great. That’s about a half an hour. They have classes for workout and they have yoga classes in the afternoon And they have good instructors.
Deborah: So you’ve been able to maintain some kind of exercise during this time.
Sarah: Yes. I try to do.
NEW CAREER STEPS/10:39
Deborah: Do you miss your work as a pediatrician?
Sarah: Sure. Actually my age, I’m retired. I think I cannot work as well as before, for example, sometimes there were 36 hours. Day shifts and night shifts. It’s very difficult for me now, but I wish I could find some kind of research position in some of these hospitals or universities and something relationship in my education.
Deborah: Yeah, that would be great. Can you do that without taking all the tests and doing all of the training that they’re requiring?
Sarah: They don’t need passing the test but I must get my citizenship and then try to find a serious job.
Deborah: What’s your timeline for the citizenship since you have the green card? Is it certainly making it a little bit easier?
Sarah: I’m not sure about it being easier. But it should be five years after getting the green card. And for this five years we should have been in the United States for at least 30 months. We have two years left.
Deborah: So you’re getting closer.
Sarah: Almost. It’s close. Yes.
Deborah: So aside from the American dream or the kind of freedom and so forth that you talked about, what sort of personal dreams do you have for yourself right now?
Sarah: My American dream is the same one in the brains of most of the young around the world. I wish I could have studied in the United States but now I wish I had improved my English language skills and were able to speak more fluently. Once I was talking to one of the teachers at the public library I told him I want to speak English as well as my native language. He told me it might never happen. My eloquence is not perfect but I am not disappointed and try my best. Maybe it happens one day.
Deborah: I think you express yourself very well.
Sarah: Thank you very much. And my secondary wish if I had learned how to play an instrument, it could help me to enjoy myself, especially in this stay-at-home era. It works.
Deborah: What instrument?
Sarah: I have about seven instruments in my house.
Sarah: Yes. My daughter used to play piano and I have many friends but I like piano, but it’s not portable. That’s why I’m thinking about an Iraniun instrument by the name of santur. It’s not as difficult as violin. And it’s portable, and it has a very charming voice. Maybe I try. Yes. Maybe I tried that.
Deborah: And do you have one here in the States?
Sarah: No, I don’t have maybe next time if I learn a little, I bring it with me and try to continue learning.
Deborah: Lifetime learning is important. I’ve heard it said that learning to play a musical instrument or learning a new language is the best thing for our brain cells and preventing any kind of dementia.
Sarah: Yes. It’s a good kind of prevention of Alzheimer’s all kind of dementia. Yes.
Deborah: Even if you can’t play the instrument well, just practicing and learning how to read music or whatever is so good for the brain that, that it’s the action of it. That’s the most important thing.
Sarah: Great day. Yes.
Deborah: Do you listen to much music?
Sarah: I like most kinds of music. I love music. I was talking about my regret why I didn’t study in the United States, but when I think about my life, it was very difficult. It was not possible for me to come to the United States for studying because my country was mired in a war and I was studying medicine, and married at 23, and while I was doing my internship, soon I had two children. That’s why I couldn’t come to the United States and study here.
Deborah: And would you have studied medicine here?
Sarah: Yes. I loved to come here and study here, as I told you. It was not possible. Coming to America and studying in America was not possible for me.
Deborah: So you basically lived through the revolution and saw all of these changes happen. How old were you when this was going on?
Sarah: I was 21. I was studying medicine and we had eight years of war. After that all of the problems we had we had any kind of problems in my country and it continued up to now.
Deborah: How about the role of women and the ability for them to have a lot more freedom before the revolution, right?
Sarah: Yes. When we see the pictures before the revolution. If you see the pictures before the revolution, you cannot believe that how was my country how was our dresses. People were really fashionable, and it was completely different. It is seldom that countries go back to history. We were going back to 1400 years ago.
Deborah: To live through that. Must’ve been really, really challenging.
Sarah: Yes. That’s very that’s a very difficult situation in the history of my county.
Deborah: The culture is so rich, some of the paintings and the architecture and the calligraphy is magnificent.
Sarah: You know we had two thousand five hundred years of kingdom. One of the kings of the ancient time by the name of Cyrus. His name is in the Bible because he helped Jewish people to gather the pages of the Bible and he bought land for them and they were allowed to be together and to live together. His human rights are fantastic. Incredible. The women worked. Had holidays for their pregnancy. And they had insurance two thousand five hundred years ago.
Deborah: It must be difficult as you said, to see the country regress historically.
Deborah: Tell me Sarah, some things that you’re the most proud of in your life. I hope you’re proud of your English because I think it’s very accomplished.
Sarah: Oh thank you very much. You encourage me. I’m proud of my husband who is educated. He is smart and futuristic which I’m not as much as him. I’m proud of my daughter who is beautiful and smart and is getting her Ph.D in human rights at NYU.
Deborah: What is she getting it in?
Sarah: Her Ph.D. in human rights.
Deborah: Oh in human rights. Okay.
Sarah: Yes. I’m proud of my son who was educated at Stanford. I’m proud of my four-year-old, beautiful, smart granddaughter. I’m proud of my son who has graduated from Northeastern and MIT. I’m proud of my education and my success with my classmates, and finally, I’m proud of my family because of their educational background. I believe that the only thing that anyone anywhere in the world cannot get from you is your education.
Deborah: Do you mean no one can take it from you?
Sarah: No one can take it from you. Education helps you develop your character and talents and allows you to buy what you want. Education allows you to better understand what you need to live a better quality of life as evidenced by the many benefits you can get from your education that money cannot buy.
Deborah: Did you have some other things written down that you haven’t touched on yet?
Sarah: I just wanted to say about my wish that I wish I can travel more, I can travel around the world if possible.
Deborah: Where would you like to go?
Sarah: I’ve already gone to about 15 countries, and I visited east coast and west coast of America, but I like to visit more European countries, Canada, Australia, and other states of America before I get disabled and my eyes can see the beauties, my ear can hear the wonderful sounds of nature, my feet can walk and I don’t have pain. That’s my wish. And for the future I wish it can come true.
Deborah: Did you bring any object with you that maybe carry in your pocket or your pocket book or some personal little trinket or something, or good luck charm or something that you always keep with you no matter where you are?
Sarah: Every time I come to the U. S., I bring some kind of handcrafts like, you know, home handmade carpets, or woodcarving or enamel works or something like this. But I had a ring from my mother that’s always with me. I love it. I take it everywhere I go.
Deborah: Maybe you could send me a picture of it and I would love to have a picture of that instrument. Did you call it a santur?
Sarah: Yes, that’s name is santur.
Deborah: Does anyone in your family play it?
Sarah: Yes. My brother used to play santur. I have five brothers that all of them love music. One of my brothers plays guitar. One of them play synthesizer. One of them plays organ, and one of them is a good singer. We all love music.
FAMILY MEMBERS AROUND THE WORLD/22:54
Deborah: Are they still in Iran?
Sarah: One of my brothers lives in Turkey. He used to live in San Francisco for 40 years.
Deborah: 40 years. Four zero.
Sarah: But to now he has moved to Turkey. One of my brothers lives in Germany and my youngest brother lives in San Francisco for more than thirty years.
Deborah: Oh, wow!
Sarah: I have many family and relatives close and far relatives in the United States.
Deborah: Do you have more relatives in the United States than Iran now?
Sarah: My sister has a citizenship of Canada. She is half of the year in Iran and in Canada. Two of my brothers live in Iran. But I have some cousins in New Jersey and New York. Most of them are in San Francisco, San Diego. Yes many different states.
Deborah: What has been the biggest challenge for you overall spending most of your time in the United States, or some obstacle that you encountered that you’ve succeeded in overcoming?
Sarah: I love America. I like it here. I like especially Boston. I think Boston, Massachusetts is the state of education. I have a few libraries around me. I love all of these classes, community centers, libraries, and I think I haven’t been living in different states, but I think maybe it’s not available everywhere like here. And because of social media and WhatsApp and FaceTime and all of these I actually don’t miss many things in my country. Because my parents have passed away and my children live here and when I’m here, close to them, I’m more happy and the main reason I don’t miss too much my country and my relatives is because I have green card and I am able to visit my country and my relatives and family.
A LIFETIME LEARNER/25:23
Deborah: Right. So you, you can come and go or at least you’ve been able to so far, and you’re on a path for citizenship it sounds like for sure. Do you consider yourself a lifetime learner?
Deborah: Tell me in what ways that would define you.
Sarah: When I was four years old, I wanted to go to the school. After my older sister. I wanted to go with her to school. But when I went to school they told me, “You should wait. It’s not the time for you. You should wait for six years old.” I love learning. Any kind of learning in any aspect. And I’m happy that I have these opportunities here to activate my brain and learn. I have a very full schedule. About sometimes six days a week I go to different classes. In libraries, in coming to centers like this. Now that it’s shut down of classes, I try to join Boston Public Library online classes and they have four classes a week. Two classes for GPA and I fill my time with all of these classes and all of this homeworks and try to listen to the news in English. In my spare time I try cooking. I have to cook a lot, especially now.
Deborah: Especially now,
Sarah: Especially now. Yes.
Deborah: So out of all those classes, I know that some of them are about perfecting your English, but what are some of the other subjects that you’ve done,` that you’ve taken classes in?
Sarah: I took the class of computer Tech Goes Home and there was a gathering of book readers in the library that they chose a book and you should read it. And there was talking about the book I used to go there and also I used to go to the citizenship class.
Deborah: Oh. Okay.
Sarah: Yes. Citizenship classes. History of America. Sometimes when the teacher allowed me I tried to talk about the history of America or teach students.
Deborah: So you have, have you done some teaching too?
Sarah: Yeah, sometimes there, the teacher allowed me to teach.
Deborah: Well, you have a very full life.
Sarah: Ha Ha. Thank you.
Deborah: That’s great. Two children or three children? Two children because you said one was at Stanford and then MIT.
Sarah: No, my son-in-law studied in Stanford, my son studied in Northeastern and MIT and he graduated on Saturday online. Online graduation. And my daughter is still studying in her Ph.D. in human rights in NYU.
Deborah: Wow. Is she doing everything online also?
Sarah: She just finished her classes and she is preparing for Ph.D. exam.
A DARK MOMENT/29:35
Deborah: Wow. Very accomplished. I can see why you’re so proud of your children. It’s been excellent talking with you. Is there anything else that you would like to mention or say something about?
Sarah: Oh. I wanted to say that I am a lucky person. I had my dreams. My dreams came true. But I had some dark periods in my life, for example as a pediatrician, I was looking to having a grandchild and helping my daughter during her pregnancy and her childbirth. She had a very difficult pregnancy with hyperemesis gravidarum means severe symptoms of pregnancy such as vomiting and nausea, but unfortunately, I couldn’t get the visa or coming and visiting and being beside my daughter. And it was a very difficult time for me and certainly for my daughter. The second problem we have in my country we have because of the sanction we have many economical problems in my country and also, because of not having embassy in my country, we have to go to different countries to get the U.S. visa. And because of the travel ban, some of my family members and friends are not able to visit their close relatives. We were very lucky that we were able to arrive in America in the last hours of entrance permission.
Deborah: Well, I’m glad you made it.
Deborah: Well, thank you so much Sarah.
Sarah: Thank you, Deborah.
Mindful of the cultural differences between Iran and the U.S., Sarah’s patience and acceptance of the constraints of each country allow her to balance the best of both worlds. She brings Iran’s ancient tradition of the pursuit of knowledge, education, and human rights with her to the U.S.— a tradition that has distinguished her life and the lives of her adult children. Sarah is a very dear member of the GPA community and we are so happy that she is a part of it.