Iranian students find common ground on campus: A Q&A with ISAP student leader

The Iranian Student Association of Portland is self-described as a “non-political, non-religious, non-profit organization” whose mission is “[to provide] support for new and continuing Iranian students at Portland State, to promote academic success and continue Iranian traditions within the Portland community.”

Ali Ahmadalipour is a student leader with ISAP and has been involved with the group for over two years. He was also selected in 2015 as one of “the top four student-leaders at PSU” for his work with ISAP, according to Student Activities and Leadership Program. Ali is a doctoral student in the Department of Civil Engineering at PSU, where he focuses his energy investigating issues related to hydrology and climate change.

Vanguard: What is the goal of ISAP?

Ali Ahmadalipour: The goal is to keep cultural heritage alive as well as to present it to the greater community through entertainment, food, dialogue and by creating a positive environment for both incoming and already established students. In doing this we wish to support both incoming and already established Iranians at PSU in their personal and academic goals.

VG: What are some achievements of the group?

AA: When the group started six years ago, we had the minimum budget allotted to a student organization and little participation. We won the Student Organization of the Year Award and collaborated with other student groups to host a Persian New Year event, which brought in about 500 people. We held the first ever Persian Night in PSU last June, and we are hoping to have the event again this year. This year, we have even more people, a bigger budget, and a lot of potential.

VG: What sort of challenges do you think Iranian students in particular face in both coming to and being at PSU?

AA: The biggest challenge can be summed up as culture shock. Often times students come here for their first term in the fall and don’t necessarily have friends or family around. This means that students have to try and assimilate to a whole new culture, often on their own, and the emotional stress from this can be difficult. And then winter hits, which can be depressing for some people and is usually another shock. It is also hard when students wish to recognize certain Iranian holidays or special observances and have nowhere to go to do this.

VG: How does the visa process figure into these challenges?

AA: [The] difficulty and uncertainty of obtaining a proper visa for students to go home and visit their friends and/or families: most visas which students who are coming to PSU get are “single-entry.” This means that they would need to apply for another visa in order to leave the U.S. and return home. However, these visas can take up to several months to be processed, and even then can still be denied. Due to this process, a student who wants to go home usually cannot because it is so impractical.

VG: So ISAP helps some students feel like they can be themselves in a new and different environment?

AA: Absolutely. For example, we have an event coming up called “Yalda Night”. Yalda Night is an Iranian festival of the winter solstice. Here we will have Iranian dinner, live-performances, and a DJ featuring some Iranian music. The event is free for all students.

VG: What other kinds of events or opportunities for students to get involved do you have?

AA: We try to have around three major events per year. These include events such as Yalda Night or Persian New Year, and the group spends a lot of time planning for these. We also offer other minor events throughout the term such as a book club which happens every other Friday, and game nights in the Vikings Game Room. Anyone is encouraged to get involved.

VG: Why should people join ISAP?

AA: Being involved is a great way to not only become part of a community, it is also a great way to gain personal and professional experiences and to learn leadership and team building skills, and it’s fun!

The Yalda Night event takes place at the University Place Hotel from 6:30 p.m. until midnight on Tuesday Dec. 20. Free admission for students. A cover of $10 will be charged for non-students. For more information contact ISAP at ([email protected]) or via Facebook page (