We have all seen the television commercials for the Sylvan Learning Centers, the national tutoring institution, but most of us did not follow up on the ad. However Nedda Mehdizadeh’s first job was as an English tutor there after she saw that very same commercial we all did. When Mehdizadeh graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English she was like many students, interested in everything from journalism to film. However it was not until she started teaching at Slyvan that she found her true calling. “I remember sitting with my students and watching them work and I realized this was it,” she said. Mehdizadeh appreciates the rich experience she garnered while working with such a great age range of students there, but eventually she grew tired of teaching just metaphors and wanted more.
Environment is really important to Mehdizadeh and aided her decision to attend GW. “There are a number of really brilliant universities in small towns, but I was looking at cities I wanted to live in, ” she said. “So I was looking at DC and the work that Jonathan Gil Harris and Holly Dugan did.” Mehdizadeh describes the graduate school at GW as one that “builds a community that works together and challenges each other.” For an Early Modernist like Mehdizadeh the resources of DC such as the Shakespeare Theater Company were a major draw. It was Shakespeare that actually drew Mehdizadeh to English in the first place. She said, “I remember reading Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in ninth grade and in drama class we did little Shakespeare plays that really spoke to me. The language made sense to me. I find it to be a fascinating world and the beauty of the language is intoxicating.” It was never really a question that Early Modern would Mehdizadeh’s area of focus after that.
However it was not just Mehdizadeh’s early interaction with Shakespeare that led her to her studies today, but her own heritage. “I am Persian. My culture has always been important to me,” she said. “My parents used to speak to us only in Persian. It was really important to them that we learn that other part of our life.” This brought Mehdizadeh to the study of Anglo-Persian relations, particularly the trade relations between England and Iran in the late sixteenth century. She elaborates to say that he research focuses on, “the ways in which England perceives Iran, translates the space of Iran, and how this conception forms their relationship with England.” Not only does Mehdizadeh enjoy her studies, but it has also connected her to her culture more. She said, “I’ve gotten even closer to my culture and roots. It’s about learning my history and the language.”
One of Mehdizadeh’s other passions is traveling, so it is fitting that she recently traveled to Iran (before the elections). “I’m fascinated by people and their cultures,” she said. This fascination also extends to her love of food (Zaytinya being a favorite restaurant of hers), museums, and theater. Although she generally does not have a lot of time for pleasure reading, Mehdizadeh is currently enjoying Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. That novel is quite different from the first book that really impacted Mehdizadeh, which was Wilson Rawls’s Where the Red Fern Grows. “I think I cried for two weeks after. Its so beautiful and sad.”
Most of the time you will find Mehdizadeh teaching her Myths of Britain sections though. This is her second year of TAing for the course (fun fact: I was in Mehdizadeh’s section last spring). “I really do love my sections,” she said. “It’s nice to see progress over time.” The first year of teaching the sections was a great experience, but one that Mehdizadeh notes where she was in “constant panic.” However this year is much different. “This time I can enjoy it and think about the literature and sit with the literature,” she said.
Mehdizadeh will actually be leading the Myths of Britain lecture on John Mandeville today!