MONTEREY, Calif. – While many a recent visitor to the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC) has stressed the importance of cultural training in conjunction with language learning, DLIFLC’s Persian Farsi faculty and staff used the occasion of Nowruz to share first-hand an important celebration of their culture.
Nowruz, or “new day,” spans across a wide range of cultures and practices and is celebrated as far west as Albania, Turkey, and Iran eastward, and through many former Soviet republics such as Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in south and central Asia.
The festival is recognized as the birth of spring and marks the official New Year on the Iranian calendar, which takes place on the vernal equinox, usually around March 21. Although no longer religious in nature, Nowruz originated in Persia as a Zoroastrian holy festival more than 2,500 years ago.
Students at DLIFLC typically spend long hours studying their new language, and jump at a chance to break from the norm and learn through doing. “After spending eight hours a day in the classroom, taking a break to learn about the culture refreshes our language learning,” said Airman 1st Class Abdul Madjid, a Persian Farsi student.
According to Goli, a Persian Farsi instructor, Nowruz “is the biggest national celebration of Iran. It lasts for 13 days and we celebrate it with families, friends and loved ones.”
DLIFLC’s Persian Farsi students learn about Nowruz right from the beginning. The instructors include understanding of religion and customs in the curriculum because “it is always part of their tests … and this is part of the culture,” said Goli.
“They are very happy to learn something totally different. They know all the names of the ‘haft’ items that we put on that table,” explained Goli, referring to the ‘Haft seen’ table set out as part of every Nowruz celebration. This table lays out items beginning with the letter ‘S’ for ‘seen,’ which symbolize elements such as life, health, beauty, wealth, happiness, enlightenment and fertility. The table also includes the Hafiz, a book filled with poetry and proverbs.
The traditional celebration is full of dancing, singing, eating, and visiting. DLIFLC students memorized poems and sang in Farsi in front of their classmates as part of the festivities.
In a video address to those celebrating Nowruz around the world, President Barack Obama spoke of the common humanity shared between the United States and the people of Iran, and added, “here in the United States, Iranian-Americans prosper and contribute greatly to our culture.”
The President ended his address by emphasizing “in the season of new beginnings, the people of Iran should know that the United States of America seeks a future of deeper connections between our people.” Luckily, a small part of that is taking place every day in the halls of DLIFLC.
Story and photos by:
Story by: Sgt. 1st Class Rebecca Doucette, Strategic Communications
Photos by: Brian Lamar, Strategic Communications and Kamran Dalaki
Photo 1: An instructor at the Combined Languages School of the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center passes cake to students in celebration of the Persian New Year of Nowruz, March 20, 2012. (U.S. Army photo by Brian Lamar)(Released)
Photo 2: A Haft Seen table is laid out for Persian Farsi students and instructors of the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in celebration of the Persian New Year of Nowruz, March 20, 2012. (Courtesy photo by Kamran Dalaki)(Released)