Have you been awarded a spot in the Critical Language Scholarship Persian program? Congrats! It takes time and dedication to go through the CLS Persian application process. You’re going to spend the summer learning Tajik and Farsi in Dushanbe – what an amazing opportunity!
If you’re participating in CLS Persian this summer, you probably have a mix of emotions.
You may be asking:
- What is it like in Dushanbe?
- How much Persian do I need to know?
- How much Farsi will I learn during CLS?
Luckily, one of our writers participated in the program a few years back! Keep reading to see what his experience was like and to gain some insight into your upcoming summer in Tajikistan.
An Overview of the Critical Language Scholarship
The Critical Language Scholarship program gives students the opportunity to learn languages that could help them in careers in public service, the military, the private sector, and humanitarian relief. Maybe you will become a translator and join our team!
The United States government, specifically the Department of State, funds the program for undergraduate and graduate students.
Click here to see the program requirements.
Each fall, the program collects applications for the 15 languages they support. If selected, you will receive:
- Travel to/from your program site
- A visa if necessary
- Intensive language instruction at a CLS program site
- Fees related to visas, schooling, and travel
- An Oral Proficiency Interview to certify your abilities
- Academic credit
Depending on your location, you will also receive housing with a host family or other students.
CLS Persian – What is it like?
Studying Farsi in Tajikistan is a very rewarding experience. There is no better place to learn Persian than in a Persian-speaking country! For Americans who may have difficulty getting into Iran, this is your next best place to go.
If you have some command of the language, you will find it easy to pick up on the local dialect – Tajik.
Before we dive into the CLS Persian experience, let’s start from the beginning.
CLS Persian – Pre Departure
Before you can go to Tajikistan, you will need to cross a few items off your list.
First, you need a valid passport. You will send it to the Program Director or other staff members to get a visa. Along with the passport, you will need to include a photo to match your face with the visa.
The staff will provide you with medical forms and some other paperwork as well as a checklist. Pay close attention to these dates!
Remember – sending things in the mail takes a few days, so be sure to account for that if you mail your documents.
A few weeks before you leave, you will have to take a Persian Oral Proficiency Interview. This is a phone call with a Persian speaker who will assess your speaking level.
The conversation will start simple and will steadily progress in difficulty. If the tester feels you’re struggling, they may drop down a level and then try to increase again. Once they see where you struggle, they will end the conversation.
You can get more information on a typical OPI here.
Make Some Friends!
You are going to be spending months in a foreign land with other participants. Why not start getting to know them before you go?
The staff will probably send you a link to join a CLS Persian Facebook group. Take this time to see who will be traveling with you! They may even be able to help you with packing, buying study materials, and preparing for your summer.
When our writer went to Dushanbe, he stayed with a local family. They provided a room, breakfast and dinner, and endless opportunities to speak Tajik.
The program staff may ask you what preferences you have to match you with the most suitable family. For example, you may have specific dietary or religious concerns that could affect who you live with.
Whatever the case may be, these families are all vetted and personally know the program staff. They usually host students each summer and know the ins and outs of the program.
TIP: Be sure to bring a gift to give to your family! This can be local items from your town or general American gifts.
CLS Persian – Departure and Arrival
After arriving in Dushanbe, you will go to a hotel for a day or two. At this time, you will meet the local staff, go through orientation, and meet your host family.
Expect to take a proficiency exam on your first day of classes. The staff use this to help place you in an appropriate class level.
Levels range from beginner to advanced.
Typically, you will go to class from 830 to 1230 every day. You will cover topics that range from vocabulary and grammar to poetry and art. Expect to speak only in Persian during classes. This immersion helps you learn better by forcing you to think hard and learn new words.
You will also receive books and materials to study at home. Expect nightly homework and tests throughout the summer.
You will likely take trips to local sites or nearby cities with your cohort. One cool place outside of Dushanbe is Hizor. It is an ancient city that the government is currently rebuilding.
You will have ample amounts of free time each day. Make the most of this by going to a coffee shop or park to study and do homework.
Once your work is done, explore the town! Buses and taxis are quite cheap in Dushanbe. The city has many attractions like museums, old Soviet sites, interesting government buildings and monuments, bars, and even an amusement park.
Visit one of the shopping malls or outdoor bazaars to find local crafts. Tajik clothing is quite stylish and features impressive patterns. Be sure to grab a toqi – the headwear of choice for many Central Asians.
What else should you know?
You will rarely have to attend events on weekends. These days are a great time to visit the mountains surrounding the city or iconic places like Iskanderkul. There are so many beautiful and historic places to see in Tajikistan.
*Be sure to tell your director where you are going and when you will return.
One of the best ways to travel is to hire a private driver. This may sound strange, but you will find many Tajiks who are willing to drive you from one city to another. They usually charge a very low rate when you think in terms of US dollars.
You can find these young men huddled around their cars in various parts of the city. They will ask where you are going and quote you a price. Feel free to haggle to get the best deal!
Another way to travel is with shared vans. Instead of buses, many locals ride shared vans to major hubs. These are incredibly cheap but may be crowded and noisy.
The program staff will provide you with a local phone. It will be very basic and is supposed to be used to contact your director or other members of the program.
Additionally, you can buy a SIM card for a relatively low price. Be sure to bring an unlocked phone with you to use the SIM card. Data is also quite inexpensive in Tajikistan.
These cards often use prepaid data and minutes, so you can always adjust your plan and add more funds.
Tajik has quite a unique blend of Russian, Central Asian, and Middle Eastern food. Your homestay family will certainly provide you with delicious dishes.
A few local favorites include:
Aside from these foods, you will find many American, European, and even Asian restaurants in Dushanbe. If you need fried chicken or a burger because you miss home, you can grab one on the main street.
If this is your first time outside of the U.S. or in a developing country, you may be worried about safety. In general, Dushanbe is a safe place. During the day, you will see families and even children walking alone along the street. At night, you will see the same things as much of the city and parks are well lit.
However, do not stay out late if you are alone. This is especially true if you are a woman or have been drinking. Just like any city, Dushanbe can have a few bad apples. We mention women specifically because the men in Tajikistan do not shy away from catcalling. This can be uncomfortable and even dangerous for some girls.
You will likely receive a stipend to help cover expenses during the summer. It may only be a few hundred dollars, but it will be more than enough. The cost of living is quite low for Americans. You can get a five-star meal for the price of a normal meal in the U.S.
If you need money, we recommend you visit the ATMs affiliated with major banks. Contact your bank before you leave to ensure your card will work in Tajikistan.
When it comes to cash, you will likely carry around a large stack of bills. We recommend buying a money belt to keep it safe.
The State Department personnel will likely cover this, but the Tajik government can be quite strict on facial hair. While a mustache or five o’ clock shadow is fine, beards carry a political message.
Many supporters of Islamism wear a beard to show their support. The government is quite secular and does not tolerate this kind of behavior. A quick Google search will show you what has happened to men who refused to shave.
Our advice – arrive clean shaven and then ask your host family what is best.We
CLS Persian – Coming Back Home
After a summer in Dushanbe, you will be ready to come home but may also be nervous about returning. Leaving this kind of environment can result in a type of culture shock.
Prepare for this by connecting with family and friends before you come back.
After you get home, you will take another OPI to certify your Persian abilities. After a week or so, you will get a certificate that displays your new Persian language skills!
Are you ready for CLS Persian?
It is natural to be somewhat nervous about the Critical Language Scholarship Persian experience. You will be far away, living with random people, and speaking a foreign language.
However, you will quickly see Dushanbe as your second home! The food, the sights, the smells – everything will become the new normal.
If you are planning your summer adventure and want to study, consider checking out the following posts: