From Tehran to Calgary

Akram Kalanaki


My name is Akram. I was raised in Tehran, Iran. My father had a high school diploma and my mother only attended primary school. But with their wonderful support, I earned my bachelor’s degree in geology and master’s degree in education. Starting in 1983, I worked as a teacher in a Tehran high school for gifted girls. I taught my students with passion, and I was delighted to see them grow and develop. To create an enriched curriculum, I wrote biology and geology reference books aimed at gifted students.      

As much as I loved my students, I missed my own daughter and son who had left Iran in 2008 and 2013 respectively to further their education in North America. In 2015, when I was visiting my daughter in Calgary, I bought a pair of blue and pink Adidas sneakers at Sport Chek to take home to start the new school year in Iran. My stylish Adidas created a commotion in the classroom. A grade 11 student asked, “Are they authentic?” My students were impressed because there are many counterfeit sneakers in Iran.

In 2016, after I had been teaching for 33 years, I left my students and my life of studying, teaching, writing, and translating and moved to Calgary. I knew I would not have the successes and financial opportunities that I had in Iran because I did not speak fluent English. However, the strong desire to live with my children and the idea of entering a new world of learning opportunities blew life into my soul. I wore my Adidas on the plane. 

There’s a saying in Iran that our feet are our second heart. The heart pumps fresh blood throughout our bodies. The muscles in the feet and lower legs pump used blood back to the heart. My Adidas helped my second heart endure walking and standing in a classroom for hours. They are light. While wearing them, I feel like nothing could stop me. 

After I arrived in Canada, the most important step to take in my Adidas was to learn English. On the morning of September 15, 2016, I put on my Adidas and went  to the University of Calgary to start my English language course. My white hair attracted the attention of several students. “Are you a professor?” one asked. Another one told me that he had a grandmother my age. 

I reminded myself that Aristotle began studying the harp when he was an older adult. His students asked him why he needed to play a new instrument at his advanced age. He replied that he did not want to be in a group where everyone except him knew to play the harp. I told the students that I had come to learn English—just like them. 

The class was serious. The students were kind. The teacher was friendly and supportive. Soon I felt safe. Soon I was in joyful competition with my new classmates. One day, while I was having tea in the students’ lounge, one of them approached me and took a short video of both of us, saying, “Mother, this is Akram, our hard-working classmate.” 

After a year, I achieved my advanced certificate in ESL before many of the other students. Then I joined the interpreter and translator training program at the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association and earned my certification as an interpreter and official translator with a specialty in medical terminology. 

So now, in addition to living with my children, I have a new job and new fellow professionals of all nationalities. We communicate with a new common language, English, and help each other as needed. Do I miss my students in Iran? Yes. But I have work to do here—in my Adidas. 

More Stories from Calgary 2022