Travel to Tehran in Jan. - wisdom, folly?
September 1, 2006 6:22 AM   Subscribe

An old schoolmate has just been offered a job teaching in Iran for the month of January, at a university in Tehran, teaching some Comp Sci topic. He's an American Catholic, sensible, knows not a lick of Farsi of course. Good idea?

His parents (aaah, parents!) are worried for his safety, and my reaction is: Well they're not at war or anything. My second reaction is: Shit, by January they might be.

I know nothing of Iranian culture, but I'm given to understand that as long as you're not in the middle of an anti-clerical riot you can find a cosmopolitan secular class to move quite happily in. But since I don't know where to look for personal experiences of this sort, I turn to you, HiveMindFilter, for advice. What's Tehran like these days for a friendly American lad who in a pinch can flip on a reasonable BBC-newsman accent?
posted by waxbanks to Travel & Transportation around Tehran, Iran (24 answers total)
Shit, by January they might be

it's FAR from certain. many think it's not even likely. but then, if the parents are really worried and your friend is not dying to go, well, then your friend should choose a different, less potentially dangerous destination. it's not that teaching for a month in Iran is going to make his resume teh awesomest evar, anyway
posted by matteo at 6:34 AM on September 1, 2006

Just how much money are we talking here? It would have to be quite enticing to get me over there, and I'm highly risk tolerant.
posted by CRS at 6:41 AM on September 1, 2006

I was offered a teaching job in Turkey years ago and turned it down. I've regretted it ever since. A month in Iran is a chance of a lifetime. I would urge him to go.
posted by kdern at 6:44 AM on September 1, 2006

Response by poster: No idea re: the money. As much as anything: is the experience of traveling to Tehran worth it now?
posted by waxbanks at 6:45 AM on September 1, 2006

I would go in a heartbeat. From what I understand (second and third hand), regardless of our respective governments, Iranians really like Americans. Many speak English, especially at a university. If you aren't involved in political dissent, I don't think you are going to be in any danger, especially if you follow the lead of Iranians, who have lots of experience breaking their own government's laws productively. (One of the biggest hobbies in Iran? Home brewing.)

It's a month. It's an awesome opportunity. And regardless of what people want you to think, it isn't terribly unsafe. Plus, you'll come out with a better understanding of current geopolitics.
posted by dame at 7:05 AM on September 1, 2006

I think it'd be really interesting to see Iran. And I don't think a war will break out their anytime soon, despite all the rhetoric. Who is going to fight it? America? Israel? I don't see either party interested in that. Tehran sounds like a cool place to see, and he may have the chance to travel around the country.
posted by chunking express at 7:15 AM on September 1, 2006

I was just telling my wife I would love to go to Iran, look up some pictures of the place via Google and you'll see how beautiful it is. The road less travelled by...
posted by Vindaloo at 7:20 AM on September 1, 2006

Oh, definitely go. Tehran is lovely, and the people are very friendly. Really.

Also, little known bonus, there will be great skiing and snowboarding in January.
posted by DangerIsMyMiddleName at 7:28 AM on September 1, 2006

U.S. State Department Travel Warning for Iran. I am merely pointing this out, not making any claims as to its accuracy.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:30 AM on September 1, 2006

Do it.
posted by rbs at 7:47 AM on September 1, 2006

UK Foreign Office travel guide - geared to British interests, but I imagine much the same would apply to Americans. They recommend that you don't travel to some parts (particularly near the borders with Iraq and Afghanistan), but not all.

I'd do it.
posted by altolinguistic at 7:53 AM on September 1, 2006

the way things are going in the world, i don't think i'd do it ... it's a pity, because otherwise it would be an interesting experience ... but this could become a little too interesting
posted by pyramid termite at 8:08 AM on September 1, 2006

I'm no expert, but just for a month? I'd do it. He'd regret it for the rest of his life, if he didn't.
posted by empath at 8:29 AM on September 1, 2006

If it were a year, I'd have more reservations. But a month? Go.
posted by desuetude at 8:31 AM on September 1, 2006

For what it's worth the State department has a travel advisory out for Iran. Also the US doesn't have an embassy or consulate in Iran so if things engage the rotary air handler their isn't a US presence to help you out.
posted by Mitheral at 8:35 AM on September 1, 2006

It might make flying in the US more difficult for the foreseeable future but I would consider going.
posted by leafwoman at 8:56 AM on September 1, 2006

For a month, it seems to me the thing to do is take it, and bug out if when January comes around the war is on or imminent.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:31 AM on September 1, 2006

Without an embassy I wouldn't do it. The political climate is very touchy right now, and unless Iran gives up their nuclear refinement (unlikely) it's hard to see how the situation will improve.

The point is, if things go from bad to worse while he's in Iran, then he's entirely alone. In a foreign country. Where he doesn't speak the language. It'd be hard for me to come up with a worse situation.
posted by sbutler at 11:44 AM on September 1, 2006

Best answer: I'm an American living in London and I've traveled all over the Middle East and Africa (and Europe but that's besides the point).

I've spent lots of time in the Developing World, including nations without US Embassys and a small number where the shit might fly at any time (think East Africa). I beg to differ, you are NOT "entirely alone" in Iran as US interests there are served by the Swiss Embassy in Tehran. Besides access to diplomatic services via a proxy, you'll have an employer and lots of students who will be very curious about Americans.

Register upon arrival, be aware of the geopolitical situtaion, polite to everyone, non judgemental of what you might see, keep your eyes open, your mouth shut and you'll have the experience of a lifetime. The Iranians will take very good care of you.

I can easily think of many worse places to spend a month.
posted by Mutant at 12:20 PM on September 1, 2006

If you don't have time to learn Farsi, try Tajik! It is similar to Farsi, but written in Cyrillic, hense includes vowels.
posted by k8t at 12:42 PM on September 1, 2006

(Offtopic) k8t: that's a brilliant idea! I've always been too intimidated by the alphabet to learn Farsi, but I speak Russian and never even thought about Tajik!

(Not offtopic): I absolutely agree with the other advice to go. If your friend does go, I guarantee he'll be talking about it for months, and with regards to the travel warnings linked above, most of places they warn against visiting (the border areas) are impossibly remote. I think your friend would have to make a substantial effort to put himself in any real danger. Be aware though that some travel insurance policies require you to follow official travel advice, no matter how absurd (eg. avid large gatherings etc)
posted by claudius at 11:22 PM on September 1, 2006

I would jump at this amazing chance. It's a perfect length of time -- not a serious commitment or lengthy time away from his established life, but just long enough to get comfy and connect with people in some extent. He should go for it!
posted by allterrainbrain at 9:35 PM on September 5, 2006

I've been in Iran in much more troubled times than ours (one of the longest conflicts of our times, the Iran- Iraq war), and have, as I've mentioned elsewhere on this site before, particularly been to the areas which saw military action.

While I certainly lacked an adult perspective on the events happening while I was there, I certainly returned with a greater appreciation of the Iranian people and their charming ways of tehzeeb (if that's the Farsi word for 'ettiquette'; I tend to get confused between Farsi and Urdu) that they bestowed upon us foreigners. In fact, most shopkeepers often used to refuse to accept payment for the things we bought; we were honoured guests, they used to say, and because we were helping (my dad was associated with a trans-national medical team there) their community, they couldn't really take money from us.

Of course, it was only much later that folks told us that they were merely being polite; ettiquette demanded that we, in turn, praise them for their services to the community, and offered them exactly whatever they expected as a price.

The point of this narrative is this. Iran's a great place, and Iranians are a great bunch of people, but it takes a certain openness and a fair amount of cross-cultural people skills to truly pull it off.

I personally wouldn't be afraid for your friend in a security-sense (no bombs as yet), and certainly, I wouldn't think he'll face, say, hostile crowds on the streets or anything, but allow me to make a broader philosophical point here:- the point of international travel is about feeling comfortable putting yourself in a completely new environment. Being anxious, and apprehensive about a new country is normal, but how comfortable are you with that apprehension?

My generic rule-of-the-thumb in such matters is to trust my instinct; I first make a list of the things that trouble me (down to even silly things like not having toilet paper in public toilets, or missing good coffee for a month). I then think through the list one-by-one, mostly talking with ex-pats (there are quite a few in the US) , or reading up in Lonely Planet and their wonderful discussion fora on their website. I then take a broad, macro look at all those scary things I've written down on my sheet of paper and ask: does all of this excite me, or does all of this scare me? I try to be extremely clear out here; it is either "exciting" or "scared", no "excited, but..."'s allowed.

If I say, 'excited', I go ahead and buy my ticket without looking back again. On the other hand, if I hesistate even for a few seconds looking at the list, after I've done my research, then I don't do it. I just tell myself that I'm not ready for the excursion just as yet, that I'll probably do it in another year or so. Always remember: it's completely okay to say 'no' to yourself; travel, especially travelling alone, is one of those things that is entirely a personal experience, what you get out of it depends entirely on how you react to it.
posted by the cydonian at 10:49 PM on September 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

off-topic: the cydonian, I think the term for that strange Iranian faux-politeness is tarouf. (It is possible that tehzeeb is also correct, but I haven't heard this word before. So you may be right in thinking that's the Urdu word for the same phenomenon.)
posted by chunking express at 1:22 PM on September 6, 2006

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