Even though this blog is intended for private use, I decided to type up some information about studying at the International Centre for Persian Studies (ICPS), aka Moasesehe Loghatnameh Dehkhoda, Tehran. I had a lot of questions before starting the course, so I hope this helps people. I once saw a review of the school in Esfahan so I’ve copied that guy’s format.
Background info: I am Australian, and I studied Persian at my home university for two and a half years before coming to Iran. I studied the Summer intensive (July-August), and am halfway through the Autumn intensive (September-October).
It is legitimate. Don’t worry. Dehkhoda is a branch of the University of Tehran, though the Dehkhoda building is far away from the main university campus. Dehkhoda is located in Northern Tehran, on Valiasr St, near the Tajrish end, behind Baghe Ferdows (this is how you describe to Iranians where it is). The main university campus is in the centre of the city, on Enghelab St, about a 40min bus ride away.
The admin staff at Dehkhoda (at time of writing) are all very helpful and kind. They speak English; I’m not sure if they speak other languages.
There is a cafeteria. You can buy breakfast at 10:15am for about $1 – a piece of bread, some cheese, tomato, cucumber, and a date. You can buy lunch after class finishes at 12pm, and it changes every day. Its quality is pretty… cafeteria-ish. It’s very cheap. There are also snacks like chips and chocolate, and water/soft drink.
There is a small library, with four slow computers with slower internet (with the filter, of course). Still, if you have no internet at home, beggars can’t be choosers.
Your fellow students are from all over the world. There is always a large corpus from China and to a lesser extent Korea, often here because their jobs at the oil company sent them or because they hope to get jobs in an oil company. There are a lot of Turkish and Lebanese students. Finally, a large number of blonde European hippies (jk… but they do have flowing locks of hair) can be seen floating around. Many of them seem to have wandered to Iran in their travels, fallen in love, and decided to stay. In the summer intensive there were quite a few Iranian-Americans too. It’s a pretty cool place to hang out. Students tend to be younger, in the 20-30 age group, but there are a number of older students as well.
Getting the visa
If you are reading this, you are probably well acquainted with the pitfalls of Iranian bureaucracy. Getting a student visa is much harder and takes much more time than getting a tourist visa. This goes for all of Iran- as I type, my two friends who applied for a student visa for Esfahan in March are yet to receive them (it’s September 25).
The website makes it clear.
- You fill out some forms and send through some documents to Dehkhoda (note: scan and email everything. The fax machine never works.)
- Dehkhoda apply on your behalf to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for an authorisation code.
- They tell you the MFA have accepted you, and you continue to wait for your authorisation code
- When they receive it, they will send it both to you and to the embassy you nominated on your application form.
- The embassy will then give you a one-month entry/student visa (I think valid for 3 months from date of issue, but can’t remember, too lazy to check my passport).
- Once you arrive at Dehkhoda and enrol in your classes, you are given an appointment time with a very nice lady who will take your passport and extend your student visa for three months.
- Every time you want to re-extend your visa, you see aforementioned nice lady, who will extend your visa on the condition that you are currently enrolled in class, you passed your last classes, and you haven’t missed more than 4 days.
Due to my plans for study in Syria falling apart spectacularly with the country, I only applied for my Iranian visa 2 months in advance. I was EXTREMELY fortunate to get my visa in time. But I paid for it. I was a nervous wreck for at least 3 weeks beforehand. The authorisation number arrived 5 days before my flight, and I jumped on a plane to Canberra the next day to pick up the visa.
I hassled the poor admin guy constantly by email (I apologised as soon as I saw him, luckily he is a chilled dude). I hassled the embassy in Canberra. My Persian teacher even went to Dehkhoda and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to hassle on my behalf, even though she is a gentle soul and had a fever of 40 degrees. Bless her. I have no idea whether any of this helped or whether I was just lucky. I don’t recommend you hassle the Dehkhoda staff, there is really nothing they can do and they are nice people.
I HIGHLY recommend you apply 5-6 months in advance. I have not heard of anyone else who got their visa applying 2 months beforehand.
While I was frantically pacing around cafes, my Persian teacher spoke to the embassy in Canberra and offered me a backup solution. She said that if you have been waiting a decent amount of time for the authorisation number and you are due to jump on the plane to Iran next week and the visa has not arrived, your embassy can give you an ‘entrance visa’ (this is NOT the same as a VOA). Basically, you give the embassy a letter from your Persian lecturer, and they give you a one-month visa that is conditional on you turning up to Dehkhoda and enrolling. You go to Dehkhoda, they check that you are indeed on the verge of getting your authorisation number, and I think
NOTE: I have not done this myself. I know that Esfahan Uni will not accept students on this ‘entrance visa’, because my friends have asked. I don’t know if countries other than Australia offer it. It’s also not a lazy way to get into the country, it’s if you have been waiting a long time (say 5 months. Not 2, normally.) for your authorisation number and you are pretty sure it’s going to come next week. I don’t really know what happens if the authorisation number never comes, but it’s worth a try maybe?
You can’t apply with an American passport. There are plenty of Americans here, but they all have dual citizenship, and applied with the second passport. If your dad is Iranian you are automatically considered to be Iranian as well.
Have visa, want to study
When you arrive, you enrol, pay, and take a quick placement test. They get you to write a little about yourself and verbally explain a cartoon. The levels are listed on the website. After two and a half years of pretty half-arsed study (4 hours a week, complaining upon being given a weekly vocab list of more than 15 words), I was placed in Advanced 1, which was the right level for me. My reading and writing was OK but my speaking and understanding was very poor.
I’ve found the classes to be excellent. I read somewhere on the Lonely Planet forum that the classes were way too grammar-based, but this was not my experience at all.
The Advanced 1 class was too big, so we were split into two very small classes. My teacher decided that we didn’t know enough practical vocabulary, so we spent every class talking and reading about sports, ways to describe people, the environment, jobs, travel, animals, etc.- everyday words that you think we would know, but we somehow missed. We did a little bit of grammar where the teacher could see we were lacking, but I think by Advanced 1 you should have grammar down pat, Persian grammar isn’t very complex.
Advanced 2 is for reading the newspapers. This is the class that Iranian-khareji (usually Iranian-American) who are fluent speakers but just want to learn how to read and write get dumped in, much to the frustration of everyone else. I’m very fortunate that my class has none of them, but the Summer intensive was full of them. It’s a great class, and very useful for me. It sounds formal and ketabi and some of it is, but we end up learning a lot of practical vocabulary as well since we talk about everyday topics like sport, the environment, local news, science and health, politics (nothing too exciting, sorry polsci students), art and culture etc. Good stuff.
In both classes you will get a little bit of homework every day. In Advanced 1 we had to write five sentences using that day’s vocab plus finish a sheet. In Advanced 2 we have to read and then verbally summarise a small newspaper article, plus finish a page of our booklet.
Hearsay about other classes:
I have heard that the lower-level classes are much more book-based and grammar-based, which often frustrates students who are only in Iran for a short amount of time and want to practice speaking as much as possible. I understand their frustration, and felt the same way studying Persian in Australia, but to be honest it’s probably the job of any decent institution to teach you the language’s grammar (discussions about pedagogy aside). My suggestion for beginners to Persian who want to practice speaking more is to do it outside of class. Class is only from 9am-12pm every day. You are free for the rest of the day to get out on the streets and start chatting to Iranians. Do it.
The ‘normal’ classes are much more relaxed, only 3 afternoons a week. The students who take them are usually living in Iran for a longer period of time, and prefer not to have to study every day because they have work or because they want to socialise more or they just don’t like being stressed.
Finally, there are a number of additional classes.
- Reading & Writing 1 runs at the same time as the Intensives but after class (1-3pm I think), and is for people who really don’t know how to read and write but can speak.
- Reading & Writing 2 is more complex, it’s suggested you are at Advanced level before you take it. It also runs after the intensives at 1-3pm.
- Calligraphy: not sure, it runs in the afternoon sometime.
- Literature is for once you’ve finished Advanced 2 or can read and write Persian fluently. It runs at the same time as the ‘long terms’, I think. I hear it’s tough but enjoyable, the students who take it are only there for the love of the language, which makes for a great learning environment.
- According to the website there is also an art and culture class, but I haven’t heard anything about it?
Getting pretty tired now, my altruism is waning so this will be brief. You will be offered a place in one of the many khabgahs (dormitories) if you want to take it. Be aware that these are filthy, expensive, lock you out after 10:30pm, and you are going to be living six to a room. Some can hack it, some can’t, I haven’t actually lived in one just basked in the horror stories. If you are lucky you will be placed in nearby Velenjak, but many (usually the boys) are sent off to the middle of the city where it takes them an hour and a half to get to uni every day.
Areas near to Dehkhoda: Velenjak, Shemiran, Niyavaran, Farmaniyeh, Chizar, Qeytarieh, Elahiyeh, Zafaraniyeh, Asad Abad, Mahmoudiyeh. You can probably live as far as Vanak, about a 30min busride away. Any further and you are facing a long commute to make your 9am class in the Tehran morning traffic jam. You may have no other option though.
You have two other options: renting a room from Iranians, or (if you are going to be living here for a long time), renting your own apartment.
- Renting from Iranians: there is a noticeboard outside the level 4 office at Dehkhoda with notices for rooms for let. If you feel brave, stay in a hotel for a couple of nights when you first get here (or Couchsurf) and then try to arrange one of these. Typically you will live with Iranians, just renting one room from them. I am not sure how much a standard renter pays, but on the Lonely Planet forum I’ve seen about US$600 a month suggested as a price. My friends have had mixed experiences, much the same as renting in any sharehouse in Australia probably.
Keep in mind that if you live with a family, particularly one with older people, you are probably going to be bound to their rules. This might include coming home very early or constantly being asked what you are doing. Also keep in mind that the culture is different, so if you are a girl, I would try to avoid living with Iranian guys until you understand the rules a little better.
- Renting your own apartment: I have no idea how you would go about doing this. I personally wouldn’t do it until you have lived in Tehran for at least a month.
My circumstances were unique (I stayed with some extremely kind, wonderful friends of my family) so I am probably not much help to you. I lived in two houses, in Niyavaran and Chizar (Qeytarieh), both about 40mins walk from Dehkhoda. I didn’t have any problems, my change of house was pre-arranged. Living with Iranians is the best thing you can do for your language. Not only are you forced to speak, but you also have access to TV/radio which is great for practising your listening. Both the families I live with also speak English, so when I got really stuck they were able to explain what they mean. I relied on this a lot in the first house, but now that my understanding has improved dramatically, I find that I’m not using English at all in the second house. I also was very fortunate to be fed delicious Iranian food by both families, this is an added perk if you can stay with a family!
This is hard. Actually it depends. If you are a blonde young dude, you are not going to have any problems making friends. The ladies will throw their numbers at you. If you look Iranian, like me, nobody is going to look twice at you in the street. As I mentioned before, Dehkhoda is only for khareji, so you are not going to be hanging around Iranians your age. There are no clubs or other ‘obvious’ points for youths to hang out (they cruise around the streets or have house parties or go to the mountains- none of which you can do until you make friends with them).
If you come during the university year, you can join university clubs, like mountain climbing, or pilates, or whatever. Whatever floats your boat. Dance classes are illegal but flourishing, I hear there is hiphop somewhere near Valiasr, find it. Couchsurfing is another good way to meet Iranians, who are often happy for you to practise your Farsi with them – you don’t actually have to sleep at their houses, just meet for coffee. Ask your teachers if they know someone you can practise your Farsi with. Go to art galleries. Do the same thing you would do upon moving to a new city. Iranians will be very keen to practise their English (or French if you speak French) – try to strike an even balance.
Girls, for the love of god do not give your number to any Iranian boys (unless you are genuinely interested). Not even if you just want to make new friends to hang out and practise your language with. They will harrass you until you change numbers. Islamic state means nothing, sexual harrassment is alive and well in Tehran.
- Money: Foreign cards don’t work. I brought in American dollars, in cash, and have been exchanging it slowly at the saraffi (money exchange). I find I go through about $100 every 2-3 weeks, I mostly buy food (snacks and lunches out), taxi fares, and phone credit. Occasionally I buy clothes and jewellery. I learned the hard way that chocolate and flowers are more expensive in Iran than in Australia. You will also need to pay for your course in riyal by putting in a money order (don’t worry, this is easy and the staff will explain how to do this to you).
Foreigners can open a bank account, but it’s not worth it unless you are going to live in Tehran for at least a year.
- Phones: easy to get a sim card from Tajrish square. MTN Iran or Irancell is good. Only Iranians can buy a simcard, but they will sell them to khareji and just put it in their name. You must get a sim card, phones are important to social life here.
- Clothes for women: A quick Google search will answer your queries. You technically do have to wear a manteau and rusari in class, but most teachers don’t care, and I strip off as soon as I enter the classroom. Do bring a pair of heels, important for parties.
OK, I hope this helps. If you have any questions feel free to leave me a message, I think comments are enabled. I’m travelling around Iran after my course finishes soon but I will answer everything eventually.