Here's why the US is sending students to Tajikistan to learn Farsi

The World
A man sells flat cakes in Dushanbe February 23, 2009.

A man sells flat cakes in Dushanbe February 23, 2009.

REUTERS/Nozim Kalandarov

Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, is a pretty sleepy town.

"It's kind of humdrum, there's one major boulevard, you don't have many big chains there," says reporter Miriam Berger who visited the country back in September.

But a group of American students caught her eye in this sleepy, former Soviet Union town. The US government sent them there to study Farsi. Farsi — or Persian as it's also called — is the official language of Iran.

But because the US and Iran don't have any official diplomatic relations, the students weren't able to go to Iran to learn the language.

"The students are on US-funded programs and US government grants," says Berger.

The US and Tajikistan, on the other hand, do have relatively good relations and it's pretty safe for Americans to live and study there. Berger, who first wrote about this for BuzzFeed, adds that the plan does have its flaws. For example, the Persian that the students learn in Tajikistan is different from Persian spoken in Iran.

"In Dari and in Iran's Persian you write with the Arabic script. For Tajiks, you write with Cyrillic because they were a Soviet state," she explains. "There are also lots of words and phrases that are Russian."

But, in general, she says, absent any formal diplomatic relations with Iran, these students don't have a lot of options.

One student told Berger he would have loved to study in Iran, but doing so might affect getting a security clearance for a government job in the future. So Tajikistan is a safer bet.

The students typically go on to work in government jobs in the US. Some will become diplomats, others will join the US military or end up working for USAID.