Sesame Street Diplomacy in Tehran

This is part of our ongoing series of interviews with MLPBS viewers and members about how PBS has impacted their lives.  To share your story, get in touch!

By Lenie Lucci

Although Siavash Solati has been living in Canada for over 30 years, he still remembers the impact Sesame Street had on him as a young child living in Tehran in the 1970s.

By his own admission he was luckier than most Iranian children his age. Solati attended private school until 8th grade where the education he received was comparable to schools in North America. However, learning English still remained a challenge.

“Watching Sesame Street helped me with English comprehension,” recalls Solati. “It was free access to learning English as a second language – not only for students in private school but for so many people in Tehran.”

However, beyond simple language learning, Solati believes that connections to languages are formed by what is not necessarily found in the classroom.  Sesame Street was one such resource for him.  He shared what it was like for him watching Sesame Street in Iran as a child: “It was a much more realistic representation of life in New York in the 70’s, compared to Hollywood movies or other exposure that I had around that age”.

A young Solati with his niece in Tehran

Solati goes on to describe how Sesame Street was really his first introduction to America: what it looked like, what people were like. That, more than anything, is what he remembers about the show – how it brought America into his living room and formed a connection with this far off place and its people… suddenly this distant country didn’t seem so out of reach.

Solati still hears stories of his peers returning to Iran’s remote cities where they find a lack of adequate English language teaching in many primary and secondary schools. There is a real need for educational programming like Sesame Street to help bridge the gap in English language learning.

“I have heard people call PBS ‘North America’s largest free classroom’. In fact, it’s more like the world’s largest free classroom. When we can be part of the world right on our screen, people can get closer and we can bridge some of those challenges the politicians like to tell us we have. In this way, PBS is also the world’s largest free diplomat!”

Solati (on right) with sister Yasmin + baby and cousin Ali, at Laleh Park in Tehran, 1970s

These days, Solati’s work as an IT consultant prevents him from watching too much TV, but he enjoys searching for PBS documentaries and interviews online when he has time. “Much like Sesame Street helped me learn about America, PBS programs offer me a chance to learn about almost anything – travel, cooking and even how to fix your house!”

Grateful for the opportunities afforded to him at such a young age, Solati’s story serves as testimony for the importance of PBS – locally and abroad – in democratizing educational and informational programming.

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