Voices on the New Diasporas - an MIT student journal

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First Kooch*:
Oxford Days

by Orideh Behrouzan

*Kooch: A Persian word meaning moving of a bird from one habitat to another, according to seasonal changes.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Like birds who...

It is nearly two years now, since I packed and decided to land in this beautiful city, whose outstanding history and unique beauties raise eyebrows. Having been brought up in a totally different country, I can probably call this Kooch, the main turning point of my life so far. Even frequent trips to UK during my childhood couldn't ever have made it any easier to settle down in another land, with different traditions, different schools of thought and different upbringings. I was lucky though to have had the chance of getting exposed to the Western world in a proper way since I was a little girl. But no matter how intellectual your upbringing is, you will still feel like an alien when you end up in Oxford for the first time. That is how I felt when I entered Gloucester Green station, on the very first days of February 2003. A lot has happened since then, a lot of words are on my mind when I want to talk this period. The only thing I know now, is that I couldn't have been Me--the way I am now--had I not made this move. There is this word "Kouch" in Persian, which means migration of birds in winter. I feel just like those birds that leave temporarily and experience a new life in some other place. In my case, that place was probably one of the best places one could get. It is through Kouch, that one can observe cultures realistically. Even more than that, I reckon one can have a much more profound understanding of his/her own identity and culture when it comes to living somewhere else. It is as if you are wearing a pair of different lenses than the ones you had to wear at home.

Had it been any other way, I would never have the opportunity to unite with people from various backgrounds, to human beings. Now, this is my Oxford life. Be it brief or temporary, I would like to remember every single day of it. I just feel the urge to live these moments consciously, and to make this Kouch, a different one... Voila’! These are a migrant's inner chats and outer stories…


Had I not been here, I wouldn't have the chance to look at my own culture this way. It was through the Oxford friends and scholars that I discovered the diversity of perspectives, and I realized where I was standing in this circle as a Persian girl. It was through our never-ending discussions that I felt how different my identity was from the image given by the world media. We always ended up learning from each other how amazingly rich the other one's culture was, and how a new angle of looking at the world was missing. My Pakistani friends--mostly Rhode scholars--were mostly into politics, and their broad knowledge of the Middle East was eye catching. My anthropologist friends looked at "us" in a very different way, searching for that lost "Self" in our Oriental lives. My European friends were the ones who made me realize that I should re-evaluate my history, and provided me with ample stories to compare every aspect of my upbringing with theirs. My American friends though were far from what I expected, much different from what we had learnt back home. And yet, the most fascinating part was my experience with my new Persian friends, mostly raised abroad; the ones called Diaspora’s second generation. I found myself in a totally different situation in this circle. I had to re-define my own culture, as for what I was proud of, what I was concerned about, and what I was ignoring. I can't be more grateful for this opportunity to think aloud, and to absorb new words, surprisingly not from books or the media, but from my everyday encounters. Once I had been told by a dear friend/scholar back home, that no matter what degree I got from Oxford, I would become culturalized here since “one could breathe culture in the air”. When I think of these seemingly exaggerating words now, I feel her words to marrow. I cannot compare my social education here to the scientific one. Sometimes I find myself analyzing every single thought as I am cycling on these cobble-stoned streets; and those ancient monuments are silently watching grow up...

Friday, October 29, 2004

So to Remember

The city is excited for Halloween, and pumpkins are lying on our staircase. I was just wondering if all those Saints do still come down to earth this week, and if so, whether can they help us a bit to make sense of what is going on in our word these days…

There is a lot going on these days, from the USA Presidential Elections on Tuesday to Halloween Bops* in every single college. I should remember to take some photos from the quad before the colorful leaves are gone. My window is framing this beautiful tableau: the falling leaves and slightly embarrassed naked trees. Sometimes I wonder what this thing is which bonds me to this small college. Is it the MCR (Middle Common Room: common room for graduate students) with its everlasting friendly ambiance, or is it the beautiful old-fashioned rooms with fireplaces and wooden multi-drawer desks. Is it just that people are creating such a small international world which comforts any stranger like me, or is it the collection of memories we share?

The truth is I love Oxford. I love its beautiful Cafes and its ancient pubs. I wish I could frame the picture of our nights in Tarbouch, sipping mint tea and chatting, Shiva and I. I made the best friends ever here. There seems to be something in common, an experience if you may, which we all share although coming from different places. I have grown up with Naty, Vanessa, Shiva, Basak, Dan, Nat, Kevin, the St Margaret's house's people, the MCR and a lot more...

Such is my Oxford life. I just thought I should write it down somewhere, so that I will never forget how unique this period of my life was. I am looking forward to a future out of here though, and I hope that will be even more beautiful. But here in this page, I am supposed to talk about Oxford more than anything else. Am I not? By the way, just a brief mention of how proud and happy I feel when I see our small Oxford Persian Society, toddling its first steps and starting to run. Running the Per Soc is one of the best memories I will take away with me. We are few, but things have worked so far. I hope one day, Oxford will embrace many more Persian student each year. I really do. May my country step out of this unwanted isolation for God's sake, and may we live in peace and harmony... My biggest dream is to see my kids off for this city... Dreams will never end, will they?

* Bops: regular student parties in Oxford colleges are called Bops. Don’t ask me why.

Sunday, December 26, 2004


It is such a long time I haven't updated this page. Really busy. Besides, I am updating my Persian weblog almost every night, and writing here –obviously in another language- sometimes feels like a redundant effort. Lots of work on my list, and now holidays. All my friends are off home, and I am staying in the absolutely vacant SPC (St Peters’ College). Although, I spent the Xmas eve with a dear Persian friend--Chery Joon, and we had a great time. The college had its Xmas dinner at the end of the term, together with, of course, the Secret Santa tradition of the MCR. I got my little Bailey's bottle and a funny poem from Vanessa, which was a treat! (I am putting her poem at the end of this post).

Not much about Oxford recently, except for red and green, trees and lights and Xmas songs everywhere, plus loads of shopping! I love this Xmas ambiance, though we do not celebrate it back home. But I think regardless of which calendar you are on, the new year is always a good time for communicating, for caring, for making others happy, for get-togethers and above all, for looking back and evaluating the past year. I did so, and there is a lot I realized about myself. 2004 was such a hectic year for me, lots of good and bad moments, and yet I am happy to have lived every single moment of it. I just love this cozy feeling that comes with all these greetings, cards, presents and good wishes. It is the same with our own new year, and when you think about it, our traditions are more or less the same in logic if not in the way they are kept.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The Sky Is the Same Colour Wherever You Go…

Another friend just left Iran for the US to study, which is great and I am so happy for him. Yet it makes me think of where we will end up… who is left there, back home I mean? All my friends are scattered around the world, leaving each other beautiful memories of good old days … My beautiful country seems to have gotten stuck in a quite unpleasant chapter of its history. But we will turn the page one day, I am sure we will. Anyways, Good luck for everyone who braves the difficulties of Kooch.

Such a wonder is life. Sometimes I cannot recognize myself when I look back, many things have changed, many priceless experiences life has offered me. But many things are still intact, many things like the image of that girl who used to drive fast in Tehran's highways while listening to Shahre-Ghesseh (a renowned Iranian play with lots of pun and great music), who lived the magical moment of listening to Mark Anthony and Lara Fabian in her on-call nights in Shariati hospital, who enjoyed her days in the balcony of Shouka (a hot spot cafe in Tehran), and who one day decided to leave everything behind, and did so. But after years, she is just realizing that some things are never left behind, and will always remain with her even in Oxford, even when drinking mint tea in Tarbush, even when she cycles along the riverside and listen to Ojos Asi. Such is life, rich and complicated.

The number of casualties of Tsunami has gone beyond hundred of thousands, many kids are abducted and families are desperately looking for their kids. This happened in Bam too, when over 500 kids were lost; this is the most horrible things that occurs after disasters... People are donating generously, unlike governments. Such a disgusting game is politics at time. Tons of money is spent on wars at the same time, and “democracy” is being delivered generously to that “other” part of the world…

Well, that is all for now. Not much to say...


Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Two Years Already…

It was exactly 2 years ago, that I left home. We were sitting up ‘til morning with my sisters and my brother. I can see my packed luggage by the door, and then I see myself, on the escalators of Mehrabad airport, which took me to the gate... I can see all those faces covered with tears in the airport, and I can see that girl who had no idea where she was heading. Now, I look back and I feel I have lived two lives, one is mine and one is that girl's. This is how my Kooch started; this is how I ended up in Gluster Green station, on a freezing cold Sunday afternoon in February 2003. Kooch has its own highs and lows, and the first 2-3 months are full of lows. But then after that, my life just took a different direction, things changed and there I was, living in the beautiful St Margaret's house, having the most wonderful friends, and running a small Oxford Persian Society which is now much larger and much more active. I cannot put my unique experience of Oxford into words. All I can say is that Oxford changed my life for good. A while ago I wrote here about Identity, and now when I look back, I am so very grateful for this new Me, for this new conception of my world and people, and above all, for knowing myself in a way that could not have happened, had I not faced many challenges, the way I did. This small beautiful city will always remain my first Kooch's home, with the memory of that lovely house, the nights we spent talking and talking with Naty and Basak, the MCR and its BOPS and Guest nights, Wonderful friends, beautiful moments shared with Vanessa who was my first dear friend in Oxford, Tarbouch cafe and the nights Shiva and I shared our highs and lows over a cup of mint tea, those cozy cafes and that beautiful river, our punting days, summer and all those tourists and those open air Shakespeare’s plays, St Gile’s Fair, my world in this college room, people I know, Chery and her husband and the sense of family that they gave me, special days and nights that were special, only because of special friends...

Had I not experienced this Kooch, I could have never known this new Me, the way I have so far. It is exactly 2 years now, since I started this journey, which is still going on, god know for how long... I look in the mirror and see her, in all those places, sitting in different cafes, cycling along the river, talking to different people, laughing, crying, losing, starting afresh, making decision, carrying all these questions on her shoulders, trying new things, experiencing new worlds, finding new ways...

I look right into her eyes; she is a bit tired, yet determined. “Well done girl! For all these days and nights, for 2 years of Kooch and for all the good and bad moments you lived..." Looking right into my eyes, she smiles.

Friday, April 22, 2005

My Decision

There are times to laugh; there are times to cry. There are times to run and times to just sit down and reflect. There is something funny about human beings, like wanting to be what they are not. I have now decided –and it was not an easy decision- to be what my dreams have been urging me. That bench in the molecular genetics lab, that PhD in Genetics, is so great, but yet not the end of what I want from my life. My heart is -and has been- elsewhere; and I have finally found the courage to believe it. I guess there is something going on around me, in every single moment of my life. I have been through my highs and lows recently, challenging with the decision; and for some reason, I just find these days different from ever before. There is some kind of metamorphosis happening in my life, in my soul and in my mind. I finally made the big decision, as big as it could have been at the time. I am going to follow my heart, to spend the rest of my life doing what I am passionate for. I am sure one day I will look back and I might see things differently. But I have learnt so far that life is about moments and about choices. I am stepping into an unknown path, one drastically different from any ever before. I am moving again, like a migrant bird, and I have a feeling that this move will change my life for good. I don't know how I will feel about this shift between two different careers, in say ten years time. But all I have to remember is that it felt so right at this very moment. I am listening to this calling, which has been there for a while now. I am not turning my head away anymore, I am not following the safe route anymore, and yes, I am taking a big risk. But I do believe that taking no risks is the biggest risk ever. Maybe this is what I had to learn from my Oxford experience, with all its beautiful moments of challenge and enlightenment. Perhaps this is a new chapter of that story, about a girl who always dreamt of making a difference. Perhaps I am making a difference, at least in my own life and for the sake of my own growth.

Life is all about choices, and at one point I just made a choice. A choice of studying human beings and social issues, , a choice of living my life as if there will be no tomorrow. Right now, at this very uncertain plot of my story, I am just hoping for a brighter tomorrow. I am happy for what I have done so far, for both Genetics and Medicine broadened my horizons and put me in touch with human beings in an unimaginable way. As much as I learnt about myself, I went through a unique stage of self-awareness. Meanwhile, and along the way, I had the opportunity to discover this thing, which is creeping under my skin; this thing, which wakes me up in the middle of the night and puts me at my desk to write down some words that I have no control over; this urge to Do something that I can be satisfied with--deeply and honestly.

Long way to go bird! There are still loads and loads of roads to go, perhaps many more than I ever expected. But now I know that life is not about fantasies. There is much more to life, there are dreams, actions and passion. There is honesty and devotion. There is courage and zeal. There is love, and indeed, there is faith.

I wish I could frame this beautiful picture of my Oxford life in an antique wooden frame and take it away with me. I owe a lot to these cherished moments of friendships and miracles. I owe a lot to every single person here who has left a footprint in my life. I owe to this old fashioned room of mine in my college. I owe to all those laughter and jokes, which lightened up my life. I owe to all those tears of fear and confusion, which made me stronger in the end. I owe to all those bops and formal halls for bringing into my life a new perspective of social life. I owe to my very first friends and my very last memories of them. I owe to those who made me realize what I want from my life. I owe to every different challenge, which made me realize life was not easy. I owe to the hardship of being a migrant bird of winter, and I owe to the joy of being a member of this international family. I owe to these beautiful photos of two extraordinary years of my life, which couldn't have passed in a better place than this. I owe to my best friend, the God who wrote this chapter of my life. I owe to myself also, for realizing how lucky I am to have been through this; I could have easily ignored what I was granted.

There are times to laugh and there are times to cry. There are times to sit down here, by this window, which opens to the quad, and to ponder. There are times to realize that life is all about having faith in your dreams; and what is the point of having dreams if you are not going to try to make then come true?

Oxford--St Peters' college

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Some People

Some people lecture beautiful words and thoughts. Some people write beautiful words and thoughts. Some people copy beautiful words and thoughts. But some people simply live them...

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Une Nuit Differente...

You know when sometimes you plan life, as if things can ever be in your hands, and then you sit back and wait for your plans to work? But the thing is, sometimes plans are just there to make you realize that you have no control over life, whatsoever. Everyday may bring about wonders, even if it is the last day of your journey, even if you have to pack and get ready to move. No matter what the end of these days will be, I am just looking at this quad through my window, and think about the remaining days of my countdown: I will be gone in four weeks. I will never forget this quad, as it made me realize tonight, that life is about wonders, about moments, and about realizing how different it is from your objective plans. The quiet night of May is gone by, and here I am, “je suis confusé”, had I really not noticed that look? Now I remember, he stayed longer than usual after the Dean’s talk, to help me clean the MCR, but why didn’t he say anything then?

Looking at my desk calendar with its picture of the city from Radcliff camera, I realize I am only left with four weeks to live this city, to live this experience and to live this orkideh. Lots of places I haven’t seen, lots of things I haven't done, but above all, lots of things I haven't noticed, and lots of things I haven't said. Maybe this is why I ended up sitting in the quad, feeling the cool breeze on my skin, so that I can remember how in disguise we can be, how naive and how off. Many things have been happening around me, and I have not even noticed them. Did I ever look into the eyes of my friend who is now telling me he has had a crush on me? “It has been a while”, and no matter how long this while is, I have been blind. Is it because I am leaving that I am feeling life under my skin? It has been a while, since god knows when, last week, last month or even the Hilary guest night or the Ball. It has been a while, and now here I am, always the last person to realize the tender tension in the air. Now I guess, it is time to realize that time goes by, be it my way or the other, I will be off home in a month, then Montreal, and finally I will land in Boston in a few months. Am I really leaving? Living in the US was never a part of the plan, and here we go, life is not about plans.

I will be off soon, and this quiet night of May will be history. At this very point, I am just wondering if it is ever going to make sense, the way I experienced this quad, this college, and this story. “Le monde, c'est petit”. Paths will cross, and we ourselves, are the ones who define each path. I am just feeling how life can be exclusive to some moments and not to others. How unpredictable some moments can be and how different things could be from your perceptions. Some people have dreams and some don't. Yet there are some people who live for their dreams while knowing that each moment could carry in it a big dream, one that has not yet come true. Being the one who believes each moment can be the last one of my life, I am surrounded by moments, each different from one another, and each telling me how badly I should live each to the end.

Life reminds me of the ocean, how quiet and calm it can be one minute, and how stormy the next. No matter how in control of your boat you are, sometimes the waves just carry you along, be it your way or the other, all you can do is to sit still and wait for the tides to define your way, and to take you along. Sometimes life is the best plan, yet you might not be the one who planned it. At this point, maybe it is best to let the plan of life take over. At times, life's plans are much more real than yours.

Saturday, May 21, 2005


How can I ever forget these last days? Seems like every single moment is trying to tell me something. It took many of us a While - no matter how long - to realize that this season is coming to an end, and all of a sudden there is a lot of unsaid to be said. It was tonight at Freuds where I realized life would move on, no matter how badly I want to stick to the memories of St Margaret's house, the MCR and my friends. Naty was right; all those people who were dancing in Freuds would leave oxford one day. A bunch of last year's SMR residents were in town today for their graduation ceremony, and when I saw Tania and Kevin and Voitej and Carolina, I was bursting into tears, just the way I was when I stepped into the St Margaret’s BBQ last night and realized my days in that house are history now. My window was shut, and the garden was still the same, and there the smell of rain and burgers reminded me of my happy days of sitting up late with Naty and Kevin and Basak, talking and talking and talking.

There is a lot more to these last days than hasty farewells and goodbye drinks. It seems all of a sudden there is a lot to be said, a lot to be felt. And in the shadow of every single moment and every single wonder, there seems to appear a new realization of my feelings. It took me a while to finally believe life really Is about moments.

Sometimes words are just useless. Sometimes it is all about feelings, which might be left unsaid and unexplored. At times, we might be so wrapped up in ourselves that we just don't notice wonders floating in the air. At times, we just wait for the wonders to come by, not knowing that the moments are just there. At times, when we are still searching for those moments, the moments just pass by.

All I want to do with these last days is to live moments thoroughly. We passed Pierre Victoire –the posh French restaurant on Little Clarendon Street- tonight and Dan was making a joke, which ironically applied to life: It is not a matter of how many times you get to be there, it is rather a matter of how many times you actually Want to be there.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


There are times to just look back at yourself and to feel like looking at a different person, someone else who has once lived in you. Walking in Notting hill Gate, passing Holland Park Avenue in London, I was wondering how beautiful life could be at times, and yet how meaningless Time could be when each of those buildings would be a part of your life for good. After taking care of some official work in London –on my last trip to London, I spent some time at the wine bar in Selfridges, spending one of the most peaceful evenings with nothing on my mind, but the concept of Time. They were playing ABBA in the bar "One of us lonely, one of us is only, waiting for a call wishing she had never left it all…" , and ironically I was suddenly thinking of the Mama Mia play, and of many more beautiful London memories. I still remember the Alumni Science Conference in St Peters' last September, I remember my friend Notts, I remember cold late evenings of the Tube station in Notting ghill, the Turk Exhibition at the British Museum, Linton House and those marvelous nights of fall and many other beautiful things. I also remember how stressful my schedule and my life was in those days, and I cannot help but wonder if I could have lived a different way, had I not been going through such a hectic time at work. But now, all that matters is the beautiful memories I am carrying with me, the beautiful memories that London will always remember, and the beautiful moments that only I am aware of, and no one else can feel the way I felt when in the heart of each moment, I was getting to know more about myself. Today, London, beautiful and seductive as usual, was lying under the sun, seeing me off after all this time. I took a long walk in Bond Street, went all the way to Piccadilly, I went to Zuma, and finally found myself in Notting Hill Gate. Was I looking for something? Or else, was I finding something new in a city that I had known since I was a very little girl?

Time flies, and what remains is only this feeling, when you look back at yourself, and you can't help smiling and closing your eyes and taking a deep breath, thinking to yourself what an amazing life you have lived...

Thursday, June 09, 2005


I need words, I am running out of words these days.. Time is still running ahead of me, and here I am, sitting here looking at this quad which is suddenly so empty.. This is how I am finding each place, each day, suddenly empty. Suddenly we are not there anymore, but this college and this quad are, and will always be.

Richard Head's memorial, Rob and Andy's brilliant lectures, My Persian rug becoming the centerpiece of Rob’s talk!, the Brit making fun of my funny speeches (Andy, hopefully one day you will have to deliver a speech in Persian, I will get back to you then!), photos, the cool breeze, the beautiful summer night, the music room and the opening of the memorial, the damp grass, time, trinity term and our catch phrase: Nature!

There is a lot lying in the heart of each moment, and suddenly even moments will be gone, empty and far.

I am running out of words, even in my own language...

Wednesday June 15, 2005

Just a Few Words

For long I tried to convince myself I am still sane. It suddenly hit me tonight that life is not about being sane at all. Maybe life is really about living. As words were floating in the air on St Gile's road, I was breathing them in. I was breathing in the air of this summer night of Oxford, which happens to be one of my last nights in the city. Maybe life is also about timing. Maybe life IS really about living, in which case I am not the best person to comment on it, specially when I walk out the station, close my eyes and let the cool breeze wipe my tears.

…This Thursday was the Ladies day in York, at Royal Ascot Races. I am so grateful to Richard, my mentor who invited me to Ascot and put a beautiful end to my UK experience. The day was beautiful and the Royal family was there too, to give a parade in the beginning of the races (This nation is obsessed with the royal family by the way).

Just to remember, Oxford has given me the best friends one could ever have, Thank you guys, for being there

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Time to go...

I am writing the very last words from this room, which is now empty. Packed and ready to go, I am leaving this room, the Vice-President’s Room. Yesterday at the SMR house where we had the goodbye BBQ, hugs and tears, laughter, the smell of grass and grill, the exclusive smell of the SMR house and corridors, games, photos and finally the sunset, were all telling me that it is soon time to go. At one point, I just looked at us and thought I had it all, I had all my friends there, I had the SMR house, I had all these tender feelings in my heart, what more could I ask for? I also got the most unforgettable bike ride from Ruairi, all the way from SMR to BarRisa, and feeling the cool breeze on my face, I was thinking to myself if I am ever going to forget this night of twenty-first of June.

Now, sitting in the empty room 24 of staircase four, I am writing my very last words from St Peters' college. This is how the first Kooch was supposed to end, and I am grateful for every single moment of it. I hate goodbyes; some of them are extremely difficult. But yes, it is good to leave when things are great.

Goodbye St Peters', Goodbye the green quad, and goodbye Oxford. Goodbye cobblestones, goodbye locked bicycles around the Radcliff Camera, goodbye rain, goodbye sunshine, goodbye long black gowns, goodbye formal halls and Tuesday night High Tables, goodbye Guest Nights, goodbye the MCR, goodbye BBQs, goodbye SMR, goodbye friends, goodbye the most beautiful bench of Oxford, goodbye New Inn Hall Street, goodbye Christ Church meadows, goodbye Tarbuch nights, goodbye old cafes, goodbye wonders…

Goodbye me, the “me” who lived in Oxford. Sometimes, you should just put the blinders on and move on, the wind will dry your tears anyway. Tonight, I feel so place-less, yet so at home in this big world. Overwhelmed by feelings and emotions, I am just so grateful for the beautiful moments that life has granted me. Good night Oxford, sweet dreams and bright days ahead. I still believe in dreams, and maybe this is why I have to leave you. You will always be in my heart, always.

Goodbye Oxford, Goodbye me, the me who lived this dream...

Orkideh 22 June 05
St Peters' College

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