By Allison Hodge – Staff Writer
The Middle East has been in the news since 2001 when the war against the terrorists of 9/11 began. The media has captured every moment of destruction and poverty in the countries of Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and more. Newspapers have shown the American people what terror looks like through pictures and words, but is that what all of the Middle East is like? One Professor from the University of Maine at Farmington (UMF) knows first-hand what it is like; he grew up there.
Dr. Alireza Geshnizjani is a relatively new Community Health professor at UMF who moved to Farmington last spring to begin teaching. He grew up in Esfahan, Iran, and lived there with his family until the age of 19. His parents and sister still live there today, he said. Esfahan is in the central part of Iran and one of the most historic cities and is also the second largest.
Dr. Geshnizjani moved to the United States when he was 19 years old to pursue a higher education. “I went to the University of Indiana to pursue my undergraduate degree in Biology,” said Geshnizjani. After getting his undergraduate degree, Geshnizjani went on to get his first masters in Genetics at Purdue University, a second in Public Health at Indiana University and his PhD in Health Behavior, also at Indiana University.
Dr. Geshnizjani said his childhood was like a normal child’s is in America. He went to school K-12, but did not have the same high school graduation ceremony like typical American high school graduates do. The only big difference was that there is no freedom of speech in Iran, someone could be sent to jail if they spoke badly about the government. The government is run by religious leaders and he said, “I wasn’t threatened because I wasn’t politically active,” said Geshnizjani.
In Iran the native language is Farsi or Persian. Iranian children take English classes like American kids take French and Spanish, though they don’t learn enough to speak the language fluently. It took about a year of living in the US for Dr. Geshnizjani to speak fluent English. It was hard to understand the professor’s lectures at first, he said, and so he ended up going to almost all of the office hours to get extra help.
Since moving to the United States twelve years ago, Dr. Geshnizjani has met many people who have shown him a great amount of kindness. “I’ve been here for 12 years but never seen people so kind and generous,” said Dr. Geshnizjani. He plays volleyball with friends in the community at the Rec. Center and says his neighbors even help him plow the snow.
In Iran, Dr. Geshnizjani says, the people really like Americans. They watch American movies and keep up on the latest fashions. Even though skin color may be different, place of birth and the traditions, kindness and honesty are the same all around the world. “I feel that the US is my second home; I really love the United States,” said Dr. Geshnizjani who found himself naturally routing for American athletes during the 2004 Olympics.
“Don’t believe everything you read and hear in the news,” said Dr. Geshnizjani. Kindness and hospitality are shown in a country of war, too. “People are more similar than different and over one million Iranians live the United States,” said Dr. Geshnizjani. Even though our governments are at war, it doesn’t mean the people have to be as well; especially if people share the same underlining beliefs about kindness and respect.