This fall I had the wonderful opportunity to work with the Inner Asia and Uralic National Research Center volunteering as a Persian instructor for the Bridges after school program. I have always enjoyed my Persian languages studies and saw the Bridges program as a way to give back some of the knowledge I have acquired here at IU over the years. Bridges is an after-school program which seeks to give students from Bloomington’s local schools an opportunity to learn a foreign language. This fall students had the opportunity to learn a plethora of languages such as Greek, Arabic, and Russian just to name a few.
With the current COVID-19 pandemic running its course I was surprised when I heard that the IAUNRC was looking for volunteers for Bridges. I knew a bit about the program because I have friends who’ve volunteered with Bridges in the past. They often created interesting language activities and even crafts which they would do with their students once a week. I was curious as to how this program, which relied on so much face-to-face interaction would continue under the pandemic. When I learned they planned to continue the program via Zoom, I felt that this was my chance to get involved in a productive endeavor and break up the monotony of my isolation in quarantine.
I was extremely lucky to work with Emily Stranger during my time with the Bridges program. Due to her past experience as a teacher, Emily was able to provide a guiding light for the students, and even me, in the virtual classroom. Teaching virtually was an interesting experience. Every week we had to brainstorm, thinking of ways we could get our students involved and engaged in online language learning. One of our primary goals was to simply introduce our students to Persian language, and culture. We often relied on finding videos of Persian songs online to give our students the opportunity to learn how native speakers spoke the language.
One of my favorite activities we did with our students was teaching them the Persian alphabet. We utilized the whiteboard tool on Zoom to draw Persian letters. Then we would attempt to turn our Persian letters into drawings of different animals. This allowed us to simultaneously teach them the alphabet and also introduce them to animal vocabulary. Our students loved sharing their own drawings from this activity every time we did it in class.
At the end of our program, we introduced our students to the Persian epic the Shahnameh. Emily found a children’s book which depicted a short story from the Shahnameh, the tale of Zal and Simurgh. When Zal was born as an albino, his parents were afraid and most unfortunately abandoned him to the wilderness. However, Simurgh, an enormous beautiful magical bird found Zal and raised him with its own family. Zal grew up with Simurgh and formed a life-long friendship which persisted even when he returned to civilization and to his parents, who were full of regret for abandoning their child. After relating this story, we showed our students a short Iranian cartoon depicting the tale of Zal and Simurgh in Persian. It was a fun way to simultaneously give them exposure to the language, but also teach them about Persian culture. I look forward to continuing to teach Persian with Bridges and the IAUNRC this spring.