One of our primary goals at the IAUNRC is to educate others about the Central Eurasian region through a variety of live outreach activities. Every year, IAUNRC graduate assistants visit local schools and libraries to give presentations about the regions and peoples that we love so much. We also participate in various cultural events, such as the Lotus Blossoms World Bazaar and International Night at The Project School. As the graduate assistant outreach coordinator this academic year, I was in charge of organizing the center's activities for these events, which included making Tibetan prayer flags, stamping paper pishtaq doors, and fashioning yurt Christmas ornaments. It was always fun to watch how engaged and involved the children became, especially when they had the chance to play with glitter!
However, I think my favorite outreach activity this year was being an instructor with IU's "Bridges: Children, Languages, World" project. During both the fall and spring semester, I taught Persian to young children throughout Bloomington. Prior to coming to the Central Eurasian Studies department, I was a k-12 teacher; I taught mostly middle school throughout my time as a Language Arts teacher here in the U.S. and as an ESL instructor in both China and Vietnam. Thus, I initially thought that teaching Persian would be simple. In retrospect, it wasn't incredibly difficult, but there are definitely a whole different set of challenges that come with teaching a language other than your native tongue.
Since I had only studied beginning levels of Persian, I was at first nervous but fortunately I had amazing co-instructors who helped me plan and implement lessons. Since I had taught English as a Second Language before, I had some experience in the pedagogies that are used to teach language learners, but I also had always had access to a large supply of materials. Not surprisingly, there are few resources available for teaching the Persian-language to nonnative Persian speakers. Thus, I had to create a lot of the materials myself. I spent several hours each week making flash cards, activity sheets, and game boards. As tedious as it felts at times, I am happy that the IAUNRC now has a collection of Persian-language materials and lesson plans that future teachers can use.
During the Fall semester, my co-instructor was Jermaine Butler. Every week, we headed to the Monroe County Public Library on Monday evenings to give our Persian lessons. We had a small class, but our students were highly engaged and a lot of fun! Two of our students, a brother and sister, were enrolled in our class because their mother was from Iran and she wanted them to develop and practice their Persian skills. On our last day of class, it was sad to say "khodafez" to our small but tight-knit group.
For the Spring semester, we inherited a new group of students by bringing our program to Girls Inc. of Monroe County. This time, my co-instructor was Sean Hall. Unlike the library, we had a larger groups of children to work with, so we were able to play more games. My favorite activity, however, was teaching the girls about the Nowruz holiday. For that particular lesson, we made paper Cheharshanbe Suri bonfires.
As a certified educator with both domestic and international teaching experience under my belt, I didn't think creating lesson plans for Persian would be difficult, but I found myself humbled by volunteering with Bridges. The experience has helped me approach language learning from a different angle, and it has helped me develop new ideas for lessons that I can use should I choose to return to the classroom again. Most importantly of all, however, is that volunteering with Bridges helped me improve my Persian.