Potluck of Cultures

Elly

This is Elly. She is Iranian-Singaporean. She jokes that moving to the United States has been a childhood dream, ever since she visited Disney World when she was 8 years old.

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15391156_694687920679671_6859512607937017283_nElly is a true global citizen: not only well versed in the art of travel, but especially in the art of adapting to a different country and its culture. Originally from Iran, she grew up and attended international schools in Singapore, after which she left her home to fulfill part of her law degree in London. As a result, after accompanying her husband Abouzar to her new home in the city of Atlanta 1 year ago, adapting to yet another culture was not as challenging for her as it might be for others. “I would say it was an easy transition, because I had lived abroad before. My family and I had also already traveled in the United States, so I was already familiar with where to buy things and where to do things, so it wasn’t that bad… and thank God for Google! (laughs)” Elly claims that the fact that she is a third culture kid was actually the main reason she wanted to move to the United States; a place characterized by the cultural diversity of its population and its acceptance of people from all cultures, countries, races and religions. “I’m not from anywhere, but I am also from everywhere and it is very nice to know that the American people will accept you as one of them. Because you can be American and still be from anywhere in the world.”

15400368_694687914013005_3599017223219725101_nThe combination of being raised in a traditional Iranian family and her childhood in Singaporean society has resulted in the feeling that she is neither fully Iranian, nor fully Singaporean. Similarly, in Atlanta, her home life is neither completely one, nor the other. Rather, it is an inclusive mix of traditions, cultures, beliefs and influences. “When you come to my house, you will still see a lot of Iranian elements, like my Persian carpets, but I also have some Western elements in my house… so when people come over, they can definitely see I have lived elsewhere and that this is not a traditional Iranian house.” Similarly, Elly and her husband not only uphold certain traditions of their home country, they have included various festivals and traditions from other cultures as well. “I love Singaporean and Western traditions, but also our Iranian ones. Now, I celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I also love the Iranian New Year called Nowruz, which means ‘a new day’ and I celebrate it full on, I love it! I do a lot of the different traditions and I think that’s the whole fun of it; more reason to be merry! (laughs)”

An eclectic person by nature, Elly’s professional and personal interest are also varied. After graduating law school and working in the legal department of Singapore’s largest bank DBS, Elly left her career in law to pursue her passion: cooking and baking. Not only did she successfully start her her own catering business in Singapore, she also worked as a pastry chef in a restaurant to learn the ropes of the trade. If that was not enough, she also started a small business teaching and familiarizing young children with the English language, so they would be able to transition to English speaking schools. “I really liked it because I was doing something that I really loved…. And then we moved here and I went from a very busy lifestyle to no job! (laughs)” Now, even though she misses working, she concedes that she likes the fact that her current situation allows her the time to reflect on the past, but especially on what she wants to achieve next in her life. “I think I have changed… in some ways yes and in some ways no. I am still the same person when you talk to me, but inside, I have made some personal development. In the past year, I think I have tried to build myself: I am more calm and patient now.”

15283997_694687917346338_4761343513015441434_nAs a true foodie, Elly made sure to bring a few typical Iranian ingredients with her to the United States, so that she would be able to continue cooking the traditional Iranian dishes she grew up with; among them the pomegranate molasses made by her husband’s parents in Iran. She tells us that, while she misses Singaporean food, the dish she misses most is her mother’s zereshk polo. “It is really sour, but it is so good! I make it exactly the same way, but it is just not the same as when my mom makes it, so I definitely miss that!” When Elly speaks of her mother, it immediately becomes clear that she is very important in Elly’s life. She tells us that leaving her family was the hardest part of moving, especially considering the difference in time zone, which makes it impossible to talk to her family without scheduling a mutually convenient time first. She tells us that, even though the relationship with her mother has changed since she moved to the United States, the love and closeness between them has not. “Missing my mom, that was hard at first, both for me and for her. In Iranian culture, we love our dads very much, but we worship our moms. We have a saying in Iran: heaven is underneath the feet of mothers. That is how important mothers are to us.”

Without friends and family nearby, Elly feels that the relationship between her and her husband has become even stronger than before. She tells us that moving abroad has led to a special bond between them that no-one else can understand, because it is one that can only be shared between people who have lived through such an experience together. As a social butterfly, Elly wholeheartedly confirms the South’s reputation for being nice and she enjoys striking up random conversations with people she meets on the streets of Atlanta. “I really like the people here. It is nice to actually just randomly talk to somebody, anybody, as it might be the only conversation with someone else you will have all day. Talking to people definitely helps if you don’t have family here.” More importantly, she stresses the importance of finding friends as an important element of feeling at home in a new place. Although she often felt lonely when she first arrived in the United States, she feels she has made several meaningful friendships since then. “I am glad my friend Zeynab introduced me to the Georgia Tech International Spouse Group; it is really fun. Everyone is really friendly and it is a very nice and harmonious group. It’s nice to know that if something happens, at least I can call someone, you know. If shit comes down, there’ll be someone there! (laughs)”

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Interview and writing by Tineke Van Varenberg

Make up by Denise Batista

Interview and Photography by Sonal Sukheeja

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