Ashley Lane is pursuing a B.S.F.S. in Science, Technology, and International Affairs and Persian (SFS ’20). Ashley studied in Tajikistan during the summer of 2018 as a recipient of the Critical Language Scholarship.
“You’re going to Tajikistan? Where even is that?”
I became fairly accustomed to these bewildered, eyebrows-raised comments in response to the disclosure of my somewhat unconventional summer plans. I received a lot of spelling requests, a couple responses of “Wait, is that even a country?”, and ultimately found myself resorting to a map and a mini elevator pitch:
“I’m traveling to Tajikistan (a country in Central Asia) to study Persian with the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program through the State Department. I’ll be living with a host family and taking classes there for two months.”
Usually we had reached some level of greater understanding by this point in the conversation, but it was often followed by a much harder question to answer: “Okay, but why?”
This was an incredible opportunity to improve my linguistic skills and further my academic and professional goals. I have been studying Persian for the past two years at Georgetown, which I enrolled in my freshman year frankly based on a whim and an interest in the Middle East and Central Asia. What I found in these courses was beyond what I could have ever expected: I completely fell in love with the language and culture. I decided to pursue Persian for my language proficiency requirement and declared a Persian minor. Studying in Tajikistan would give me the chance to immerse myself in a Persian-speaking country, improve my language skills, and fulfill some of my academic requirements. I also knew that greater linguistic knowledge and abilities along with international experience would benefit me professionally in the future, given my aspiration to work in the government.
Yet even with this perfectly-crafted match and vision, I still found myself questioning several times throughout the program: “Wait, why am I doing this again?” The truth is, CLS Persian came with its fair share of challenges. From Tajik Tummy to struggling to understand my host family in the local dialect to difficult coursework and 107-degree Fahrenheit heat, I certainly wondered from time to time how I had willingly gotten myself into this. There were days where I felt like I was regressing, unable to speak or think with ease in Persian, frustrated by every minor annoyance that presented itself to me. But with these days also came those of small victories and visible progress, of joy found in both the adventures of this experience and the mundane moments of everyday life. It was the combination of these experiences – the non-linear path of cultural adjustment – but particularly the challenges of CLS, that ultimately taught me more about myself and contributed the most to my personal development.
My CLS experience provided me with the tools to achieve my linguistic, academic and professional goals, but it also provided me with something infinitely more valuable: the opportunity to engage with people in an area of the world I may otherwise never have been able to. Tajikistan, in all its complexity and contradictions, is one of the most beautiful places I have ever traveled to, filled with some of the kindest and most hospitable people I have ever met. I am beyond grateful for my host family and all of the people – especially the women – that I met who welcomed me into their spaces with open arms, and for those who challenged and supported me. It was really these people who shaped my experience and provided me with greater insight into Tajik culture and life in Tajikistan. This, for me, is where the true value of cultural exchange and the CLS program lies: a piece of my heart, another home, will always find its place in Tajikistan.
Ashley Lane, fourth from the left, pictured with her host family in Tajikistan.