Nima Eshaghi weaved, pink marker in hand, back and forth across the white board. First, in English: right to left. Then, in Farsi: right to left. Finally, the phonetic spelling in the Latin alphabet: left to right. Eshaghi is smartly dressed — leather shoes, shirt tucked in. His black hair is thick, with strong eyebrows and a smile that’s quick to present itself over a sharp v-shaped goatee.
“In America,” the chemistry junior said, “everyone says ‘what’s up.’ In Iran, we say ‘Salam.’ Sa-lam.”
For an hour on Friday, the MultiCultural Center became a provisional classroom and hosted a class in conversational Farsi (calm down, no credits). In the lounge area, beige event flyers advertised gender equity training and Queer Women Thursdays, juxtaposed against the deep purple walls. Red living room furniture sat along a wall. The office-space-turned-safe-space-turned-classroom initially felt peculiar; however, the relaxed atmosphere and Eshaghi’s positive reinforcement made the experience all-inclusive.
The classes have been going all year, but Friday’s was the first biweekly meeting of the quarter.
Eshaghi, who instructs the class, was born in Iran and lived there until four years ago, when his immediate family moved to Los Angeles. He came to Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, largely to improve his English. Eshaghi found it easier to learn English outside of his Persian community in LA, where the mother tongue is still widely spoken. Last quarter he transferred to Cal Poly and joined Poly Persians.
“I joined them and they asked me if I could teach them,” he said.
According to English senior and Poly Persians co-president Mehra Gharibian, the conversational Farsi meetings came as part of Poly Persians’ renewed effort to increase their visibility on campus.
“The club got really revitalized this year so we decided to bring it back,” Gharibian said. “It’s really fun, it’s really informal. People from the club stand up and lead a lesson.”
With a school of one dominant demographic background, clubs like Poly Persians are valuable for everyone. They exist as structures for the minority students at Cal Poly.
“For the meetings a lot of people might come one time,” Gharibian said. “Then, they won’t come for a month. Then they might come back when they’re missing their family or their culture. It’s support. It’s a place to find community and have fun too.”
They also exist as a resource for non-members to understand and enrich themselves with another culture. Eshaghi sees himself as a representative, someone who contrasts what people might see on the news about Iran.
“I am standing here. They can see someone who’s grown up overseas. They can see the culture.”
Chemistry senior Millad Pessian also attended the meeting. He’s in his fifth year and said he’s seen a demographic shift across campus since his freshman year; he thinks the school is diversifying.
As Cal Poly continues to commit to its promise to promote and increase diversity on campus, clubs like Poly Persians and people like Eshaghi will find themselves in more and more important roles. Those institutions and people will serve as conduits of contact between different people of different cultures.
For now, Eshaghi will keep teaching the class.
“Mercy,” he said. It means “I’m well.”