(Persia Digest) – USA TODAY writes about Katayoun “Kat” Khosrowyar, 30, who was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She describes herself as a “Midwest girl.” Since 2005, she’s been living in Iran as a soccer coach.
Katayoun "Kat" Khosrowyar, 30, was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She has also lived in Houston and has a master’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom. She describes herself as a "Midwest girl."
Since 2005, she has been living in Iran, the birthplace of her grandparents. In Iran, she’s the head coach of the country’s U19 women’s national soccer team. The following text is an edited version of a recent email exchange between USA TODAY and Khosrowyar:
Question: Kat, why did you move to Iran?
Khosrowyar: I’m here to grow women’s soccer and to learn about my Iranian culture and traditions. Iran is an extremely vibrant place, and I want to make a difference here. It’s very different (than) Oklahoma. Everything is open 24/7, traffic is continuous throughout the day, people are (varied) and open to new information and customs.
The hospitality is unbelievable in Iran, and I think this is what caught my attention in the first place. Iranians are extremely friendly and giving and want to invite you home for lunch/dinner within two minutes of meeting them. Tehran is a huge city (12 million people) and Tulsa was just a couple hundred thousand, and adapting to the Tehran lifestyle was difficult at the beginning. Now I consider myself a Tehran guide for visitors.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about living there?
Khosrowyar: I love how every day is different from the previous day. The fashion is unique, not like in other Middle Eastern countries. Extremely colorful and modern. It’s so easy to go to Tajrish Square (in north Tehran) to the fabric market and to (order) as many montos (long overcoat) and dresses I want and the seamstress will make and design them within two hours. I know the guy who owns the fruit shop next to my house and he delivers fresh fruit without me even asking every Thursday. One of my favorite things to do every day is to walk to the barbari bread (an Iranian flatbread) shop and have my breakfast with the locals. Here, I am able to work in different fields (I am busy with a startup and coaching the national under-19 soccer team and now working on an athletic leisurewear brand) and still have time to spend with my family and friends. I can bring all my interests to life more simply in Iran.
I love that women are extremely strong-willed here, and as I am writing this to you I am at a conference where one of the (female) speakers is a Harvard graduate who is also an adviser to Iran’s vice president of science and technology.
Q: What do you do for fun?
Khosrowyar: One of my main entertainments in Tehran is going out to restaurants and coffee shops, so I am always on the lookout for somewhere new. Over the last 10 years, all types of restaurants have opened in Tehran that cater to a large Iranian diaspora who have come back to Iran from all over the world. On the weekend, my friends and family gather in a city outside of Tehran where there is a pool, we go to the mountain to pick Damavand for fresh fruit, to the city of Shemshak for kebabs and continuous servings of black tea while playing backgammon outside during the summer, and in the winter, skiing. Family gatherings are very important for Iranians, and this is something that I felt like I was missing back in Oklahoma. My favorite Iranian dish is the Azeri version of Ghormeh sabzi (a herb stew popular in Iran). My father’s side of the family is from Tabriz (in Iran’s northeast), and they are known for having the best version of Iranian dishes.
Q: What do you miss about living in the U.S.?
Khosrowyar: The ease of how work is done and of course Chick-fil-A. Everything has a certain procedure in the U.S., whereas in Iran the procedures change daily. I miss the big roads and pickup trucks (Ford!) and definitely Whole Foods! I also miss the American work ethic and standards.
Q: Do you know any other Americans who live in Iran?
Khosrowyar: I don’t know of full Americans (those without dual Iran-U.S. nationality) living here, but I know they exist and go to college here. I mainly know Iranian-Americans, Canadians and Europeans who regularly come and go to and from Iran.
Q: What are some of the challenges of living and working in Iran?
Khosrowyar: Besides food, the lifestyle in Tehran is quite expensive. Apartments and cars are more expensive than in some European cities, and since everything is imported, the tax on the products can be three times more. Laws and regulations change often, and you need to always be aware of the changes. And most importantly in this day and age, the Internet is slow, which in some cases it is good because you can log out and just be at ease for a few days before you want to reconnect to the world again.
Q: Have sports acted as a diplomatic bridge between Iran and the U.S. at all?
Khosrowyar: Not yet for soccer, but for wrestling it surely has because Americans have come to Iran to compete, and a lot of Iranian fans came to support the Americans! (They visited Iran in February last year for the Freestyle World Cup.) It was all over the news, and everyone wanted the wrestlers’ signatures and wanted to show them what Iranian hospitality is like.
Q: What is the women’s soccer culture in Iran like?
Khosrowyar: Women’s indoor soccer (futsal) has created a strong atmosphere for women to get involved in sports more especially as they (Iran) are back-to-back Asian champions in this. Soccer, on the other hand, has taken some time to get to the same level because building the base and infrastructure has been challenging. Although women would prefer to play soccer rather than futsal, futsal has more fields, sponsors and leagues than soccer.
Q: How big is the soccer in Iran compared with other Middle East countries?
Khosrowyar: Huge! To be honest, the Iranian population gets very emotional when their teams win/lose. Either we block the streets and highways and celebrate standing on our cars blasting Iranian music, or we complain for an entire week about how bad the team played/how unlucky they were/how bad the refs were.
Q: How does the hijab affect the women’s game, and what are the specific rules around it? Has it been a disadvantage when playing competitors around the world?
Khosrowyar: If the material would change to a proper sports material, it would be much better, rather than the 100% polyester we currently use. In 2011, we were disqualified from the second round of Olympic qualifications because of the hijab. However, in 2013 that ruling was overturned, and we were allowed to play again. I hope one day Nike will have Iranian women who have won Olympic medals and Asian game medals take part in an ad campaign for the hijab, but politics has played a huge role in not having strong Iranian women athletes take part. In any case, we are still thriving and determined to win, no matter what we are wearing.
Q: Women in Iran were recently allowed to watch a men’s soccer game at a stadium in Tehran during the World Cup. That has never happened before. Are the restrictions on women in Iran loosening over time?
Khosrowyar: Yes! However, this is not a simple subject. In one day, one person can’t change the rules. It has been a long process. We are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
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