The Intersection of Technology
and the Human Experience
with Afarin Bellisario
By Samantha Skelton
Born and raised in Iran, Afarin Bellisario has experienced many facets of life as her journey to the United States early on in her educational career was pivotal, coinciding with the Iranian Revolution.
In this interview, we talked about her unique perspective and how it has shaped her understanding of the intersection between technology and the human experience. We discuss her debut novel, Silent Whispers, and how she wants to offer readers a glimpse into the cultural and historical panorama of Iran.
We also delve into her background, early life in Iran, her educational journey, her distinguished career in the field of technology, and her passion for writing that eventually led her to become the author of Silent Whispers.
Can you share more about your background and where you grew up?
I was born and raised in Iran, a country with a vibrant and complex history. My formative years were deeply influenced by the dichotomy of my interests. I had an innate aptitude for mathematics and the sciences, yet I was equally proficient in the realm of literature and writing.
It was a fascinating time to be in Iran before the revolution. I ventured into the field of writing and worked as a journalist, a path that allowed me to engage with various aspects of society.
What motivated you to choose engineering as your career path, given your dual interests in mathematics and writing?
The decision to pursue engineering wasn't merely about talent or preference but was also influenced by the practicality of securing a livelihood as an engineer, particularly in a foreign country.
I ventured to the United States to further my studies, as the country offered numerous opportunities in engineering and the sciences. I attended the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to obtain a Master's in Technology.
The timing of my journey to the United States turned out to be pivotal, as it coincided with the Iranian Revolution. The revolution made it exceedingly challenging for many, especially women, to return to Iran. Hence, I decided to build my career in high technology in the United States.
Could you elaborate on the challenges and changes you encountered during the Iranian Revolution and how it impacted your life?
The Iranian Revolution was a pivotal moment in my life. I was halfway through my studies in the United States when the revolution unfolded. It was a tumultuous period for Iran, especially for women.
Returning to my homeland became an arduous and often perilous proposition. I'm grateful that I didn't return, as it allowed me to pursue a career in high technology in the United States, a path that I had not initially envisioned for myself.
Despite my professional success in the tech industry, the longing to write, to express my thoughts and creativity through words, always remained a part of me.
Despite your career in engineering and technology, you harbored a deep desire to write. Can you share the story of how you returned to writing and embarked on your journey as an author?
The desire to write had always been a part of me, but the demands of a career in the United States had always left me with little time or energy to dedicate to writing. However, the longing to express myself through the written word never waned.
It was only a few years ago that the opportunity to write again presented itself, and I seized it with enthusiasm. I began my journey as an author, combining my passion for technology and writing to explore the profound intersection of the two.
As a young adult, what subjects or interests did you gravitate towards, and how did they influence your intellectual development?
During my youth, I was an avid reader with an insatiable appetite for knowledge. I devoured a diverse range of literature, from the classics of Russian literature to the works of 19th-century French writers and modern authors. Reading played a crucial role in shaping my intellectual development.
However, life in Iran under the Shah's dictatorship was marked by considerable challenges for writers and journalists. At the young age of 14, I embarked on a career in journalism, contributing to major magazines and covering a variety of topics, including women's issues.
The heavy hand of censorship was ever-present, casting a shadow over the freedom of expression and the press.
Could you tell us about your educational journey, the universities you attended, and how your academic experiences influenced your career path?
My educational journey took me through various phases, each contributing to the unique trajectory of my career. I began my studies at the University of Tehran, majoring in engineering.
My journey took me to New York City, where I studied at New York University before finding myself at MIT in Massachusetts, a prestigious institution renowned for its emphasis on technology and the sciences. I obtained my PhD in engineering from MIT and embarked on a career as a scientist.
Later, I returned to academia to attain an MBA. This marked a transition from a strictly technical role to a more strategic one, focusing on marketing and business aspects in the technology sector.
My academic experiences played a pivotal role in shaping my multifaceted career, allowing me to work at the intersection of technology and business while also engaging with people from diverse cultures
You mentioned that the Iranian Revolution had a significant impact on your life. Could you elaborate on the circumstances and challenges you faced during that period and how they influenced your career choices?
The Iranian Revolution was a seismic event that reshaped the lives of countless individuals, myself included. As someone who was pursuing my studies in the United States when the revolution occurred, the decision to remain abroad was both a pragmatic and fortuitous one.
The revolution marked a profound transformation of Iranian society, and returning to Iran was not a viable option, especially for women. It was during this tumultuous period that I embarked on a career in high technology in the United States.
However, the longing to write, to express my thoughts and creativity through words, remained a constant presence in my life.
What inspired you to write your book, Silent Whispers, and when did the idea for it come to you?
The inspiration for my book, titled Silent Whispers took root during a pivotal moment in my life. In 2016, I embarked on a journey to Istanbul for a teaching assignment, which allowed me to reflect on the changing dynamics of my career.
During a layover in Edinburgh, I chanced upon a book titled, "Silk Roads." This nonfiction work, authored by an Englishman, provided a unique perspective on the world's history, with a focus on the Eastern viewpoint, as opposed to the Western-centric narratives I had encountered during my Western education.
The book challenged the conventional narratives I had been exposed to, prompting me to rethink the lenses through which we view history and culture. It was during this time that I began contemplating the transformation of Iran and how external influences, including introduction of modern technology and colonial powers, had shaped its path.
This internal reflection and exposure to new perspectives sowed the seeds for my book, and I embarked on the journey of writing it.
Could you provide a brief overview of your book and its main takeaway for readers?
My book, Silent Whispers, transports readers to the early 20th century, immersing them in the life of Gohar, an unconventional Iranian woman. Her journey unfolds from her early years in a small desert town to her central role in the complex dynamics of Iran's quest for modernization while resisting foreign influence.
The narrative explores profound themes, such as love, transformation, and the relentless struggle for personal agency in a rapidly changing world.
The book delves into the depths of Gohar's personal transformation and her evolution into a key figure in the movement to modernize Iran. At its core, the book exemplifies the incredible power of personal transformation, highlighting the challenges and rewards it brings in a world marked by flux and evolution.
What do you hope readers will gain from your book, and what messages or insights would you like to convey to your readers through this work?
My aspiration is that readers not only savor the experience of reading my book but also fully immerse themselves in the world of early 20th century Iran.
I want them to develop a profound sense of empathy for the characters, understanding the intricacies and complexities of the Iranian people and their ceaseless struggle for modernization, democracy, and their identity.
Beyond the story itself, I hope the book kindles a curiosity about the rich tapestry of Iranian art, culture, and history.
What is your personal objective with this novel?
My primary objective, beyond financial gains, is to illuminate the multifaceted Iranian experience, offering readers a glimpse into the cultural and historical panorama of Iran.
I wish to inspire readers to engage more deeply with Iranian art, culture, and history, fostering a sense of appreciation for the journey of transformation, both on an individual and national level, in an ever-evolving world.
For more information on Afarin please visit: https://www.afarin.net
She also writes a regular blog on Medium, The Counterview at https://medium.com/the-counterview
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