sheila sobchhik

Carving out personal identity in the fast-paced world of early adulthood, local author Azarm Ghareman lays out a mixed bag of cultural struggles and revelations in finding oneself with her newly released book: “Longing For A Land: The Story of a Persian Woman’s Individualization in America.”

“In her personal journey, Azarm illustrates principals integral to object relations theory, self psychology and the impact of culture on the psyche,” said Kelly Moreno, a Cal Poly psychology professor.

Moreno, who requires his advanced psychotherapies (PSY 568) graduate students to read Ghareman’s book, invited her to speak to the class Nov. 14 during International Education Week. As an expert clinician, teacher, writer and “observer of what it means to be human,” the perspective Ghareman presents the potential to help many people, he said.

A Cal Poly graduate, Ghareman left her home in Iran at the age of 16 and has since found her place in San Luis Obispo as a psychologist, a lover of poetry and ancient Persian heritage and in teaching her 8-year-old daughter’s friends new customs, she said.

Particularly, what she is most interested in now is sharing her book and its message with the community.

Through discussion with ethnic studies faculty, local high schools, informal book groups, Cal Poly’s international education programs, local media and her own readers, Ghareman wants to tell young people that within the 103-page story, a template can be found in finding who they are.

“It’s a psychological journey to find one’s self in this world,” Ghareman said.

Quilting, stitching different parts together is one metaphor for saving some cultural aspects she used in the book.

“You don’t have to give up some of your best parts,” she said. “Because the parts that are different are truly your strengths … that diversity is what truly makes us stronger people.”

These parts, sorting and sifting through them, are what Ghareman said are most crucial in shaping self-identity.

“You pick it up, adopt it. You say I like that, I’d like for that to become part of my repertoire,” she said. “This is how you can individuate and carve out your own unique identity.”

With an October guest spot on San Luis Obispo’s “The Aqui Show,” Ghareman was able to share cultural ideas that paralleled what the show’s producer, Jose Lemus, designed the show to portray.

“The show is meant to excite the community by cultural diversity – and her thoughts on self-identity are a good fit,” Lemus said.

Further reaching out into local media, New Times recently published a chapter of Ghareman’s book. She said a handful of students, immigrants as well as Americans, contacted her through e-mail reaching out to her for guidance because a specific message struck a chord in their own lives.

“They took the time out to talk to a stranger, I was touched,” Ghareman said.

In her book, Ghareman wrote, “- America is a young country. In the spectrum of world cultures, she stands and behaves as a teenager. The shortsightedness, obsession with youth, feeling of entitlement, tendency to rush, and the insatiable drive for ‘more’ -“

Catalyzed, intensified, they are the same issues everyone goes through, she said. But if students are feeling lost in their cultural identity, an extra layer of confusion is added.

“‘Should I lose weight? Should I dye my hair? Should I work or be married?’ – all of those dichotomies – all the things you want to do versus what is expected of you constantly negotiated,” she said.

If Americans feel rushed, “swimming in all the different messages,” Ghareman suggests they slow down by enjoying the little aspects, taking small bites of food and savoring them for example.

“Students finding trouble in shaping their world need to be aware – knowledge really is power,” she said.

When people are aware of a particular value about a culture and like it, Ghareman said that aspect resonates within self construction.

“There are parts of European culture I like, there are parts of Persian culture I like, and there are parts of American culture I like,” she said. “So finding a way to incorporate the best is the secret in becoming who you are.”

Looking back onto her years at Cal Poly, a young woman who had just learned English, she was in a moment of transition just like any college student who leaves home, she said. Ghareman’s advice is to look at situations differently, to wear fresh “lenses.”

“Finding cultural perspective in life is to recognize it depends on the lens you put on. And if you wake up and put on the American lens and see it all day, through that lens – sometimes its better to put on a bi-focal, a transition lens,” she said, “It gives you a degree of flexibility.”

Ghareman’s autobiography references many personal efforts that fine-tuned her individuality, but she said that everyone must walk their own path.

“What works for me may not be someone else’s up of tea,” she said. “What I’m saying is pick and choose what works and discard what is not you – this is true liberation.”

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