A strong Iranian wind brings Saba ‘good news:’ A successful CultureWorks ESL program, entrance to Western University and a new home in Canada

ESL school
Saba Serat on her experience at CultureWorks: “It was a great experience for me. I got to know Canadian people, like my teachers. It was a good first impression of Canada.”

“(Saba Wind) is a wind that blows in the spring in the morning,” Saba Serat said. “He (Hafez) uses my name a lot in his poems: ‘Saba Wind, bring me good news.’”

Saba Serat is a recent graduate of CultureWorks ESL program in London and these days she is biding her time in Canada before she enters Western University in the chemical engineering program in September.

Her name, Saba, comes from the often-used term in Hafez writing. The legendary Persian poet “lauded the joys of love and wine, but also targeted religious hypocrisy.” He was born in Shiraz in 1325 and died in 1390.

Saba’s journey to CultureWorks

The CultureWorks Saba is 27, is from Iran, and her family lives in Tehran.

The good news she refers to came in bunches at the end of 2017. Once she decided Canada was going to be her country of choice, she received a conditional offer at Western and entrance to CultureWorks.

But there was a Canadian visa to be had. Everything was not perfect, but it was coming together. Hurry up and wait, some people might say.

For the visa, she had to go Turkey because there is no Canadian embassy in Iran. The process—including obtaining all the documents associated with the offer of the university, the acceptance of CultureWorks, other financial documents and fingerprints—took longer than expected.

“I went back to Iran and I was going crazy. Four months was a long time to wait.”

Then it was off to London and a one-term stay in a CultureWorks ESL program. Her English speaking was already strong. But she still needed some work before entering Western. She was not sure she needed the ESL help.

“I wanted to go straight to the university and start my program. I wasn’t happy with it. But after about a week or two, I changed my mind. I was so happy, actually, that I came to CultureWorks first,” Saba said.

Saba voices her opinion on smoking in a CultureWorks online class.

“It’s a practice for me to speak language and study in English and have a teacher who speaks in English because it’s my first time. I didn’t have that experience before. And the skills that they taught were actually some things I didn’t know of, like academic listening skills, and writing, or academic reading. These are all important skills.”

Enjoying Canadian culture while studying English as a second language

She appreciated her first taste of Canada.

“It was a great experience for me. I got to know Canadian people, like my teachers. It was a good first impression of Canada. I could see Canadians are good people. They are not racist. They are not against international students. They are friendly. They try to help you. If you ask them one question, they try and help you as much as they can.”

Olivia Trzcianowski is one of those CultureWork teachers. She was impressed with her student.

“Though she has completed a degree in Iran, her academic skills in the area of research were lacking,” Olivia said. “Her speaking skills were unbelievable. She learned English only in Iran.”

Saba and her classmates receive awards on her last day at CultureWorks.
Saba and her classmates receive awards on her last day at CultureWorks.

Olivia said Saba had no trouble fitting in, despite the fact she was the only Iranian student during the term.

“She (Saba) wasn’t self conscious about talking with other people. She was always friendly and willing to work with everyone.”

Saba has decided to stay in London during the break she has between ESL school and Western. This gives her time to reflect on what she leaves behind in Iran, other than her two sisters and two parents. Incidentally, three of the four are engineers.

“It’s kind of a family tradition. If your father is an engineer, you become an engineer. If your father is a doctor, you become a doctor.”

Saba discusses soccer, religion and staying in Canada

Meanwhile, her summer stay has also included watching her country compete in the World Cup of soccer. She watched the Iran-Portugal match at a jammed North York, Ont., sports bar.

“When we scored a goal, or there was a penalty or something, the whole place exploded. Everyone would scream,” she said, enjoying every minute despite the fact Iran lost on this day.

“The Iranian players played perfectly. And Ronaldo did something. He should have got a red card, but the referee gave him a yellow card. Everyone was so mad. He put his elbow on somebody’s face. It was so hard. It wasn’t fair.”

Always hot topics when it comes to Iran are religion and politics. Saba is comfortable talking about both.

In the ongoing tricky religion situation in Iran, Saba can best be described as a non-practicing Muslim.

“As you can see, I am not wearing a hijab. I dress the way I want,” she said.

“In Iran, it’s a not a choice. You can’t choose not to wear a hijab or wear a hijab or be a Muslim or not be a Muslim. You have to wear your hijab. It’s not just me. Most of the people don’t believe in that. They just cover their hair because they are supposed to; they are forced to. And if they don’t, they will get arrested.”

Saba intends to stay in Canada after she graduates from Western, unlike her two sisters who returned to Iran after obtaining their engineering degrees in England.

“I am different. I want to stay,” Saba said.

“Saba Wind has many communicative roles in Hafez’ poetry: an informed source; a sender giving information; it conveys the message; as a channel, it transmits concepts and messages; it is sometimes a harbinger; it receives messages; it shapes meaning in the mind of the receiver.”

— Courtesy of University of Wollongong, Australia.

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