SCHNECKSVILLE, Pa. | Claudette Schaeffer was studying at the University of Tehran when she left Iran, the nation of her birth, for the first and final time.
That’s something Schaeffer hid from an Iranian official who interviewed her at the infamous Evin Prison before she traveled to France in 1980. Had they learned the truth, she likely would have been barred from leaving the country, Schaeffer told Lehigh Career & Technical Institute students Monday.
Schaeffer, now a resident of Pennsylvania, was a guest speaker in Academic Center teacher Sean Thomson’s social studies class. She talked with them about what it was like to live in Iran during the 1970s and early 80s.
She left the Middle Eastern nation at a harrowing time. Ayatollah Khomeini was newly come to power after leading the revolution that overthrew Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Hhah of Iran. Under the shah, or king, freedom of expression was discouraged and people who publicly criticized Pahlavi found themselves behind bars, Schaeffer said.
Khomeini, a Muslim, ushered in a theocratic government that proved even more oppressive than the one led by his predecessor. Not long after he took over, Schaeffer, a Christian of Assyrian decent, was attacked by boys and men on the street for going out without a headscarf, she said.
After that incident, Schaeffer’s parents became determined to get her out of Iran and began making arrangements for her to live with relatives in France. In preparation for the trip, her father hid money in the heel of her shoe.
At the advice of a friend, Schaeffer avoided eye contact with the Iranian official and agreed with everything he said during their hourlong interview, even if she found it offensive. “I felt awful because, truly, I wanted to get up and smack that guy,” she recalled.
Somehow, Schaeffer made it through the interview without an outburst and, to her surprise, was given permission to leave the country. “I cried the whole flight to France,” said Schaeffer, who didn’t know then if she would ever see her parents again.
Sadly, her father died before he could leave the country. Schaeffer didn’t attend his funeral for fear that she would be arrested and jailed. Her mother eventually left and now lives in California.
Schaeffer said a lot would have to change in order for her to consider a return to Iran. “The whole government has to be gone for me to feel comfortable to step foot there,” she said.
Full-day students at Lehigh Career & Technical Institute take all of their classes on campus. That means they spend half of each school day in their career and technical education program classroom or lab and the other half in LCTIs Academic Center. Learn more about what our Academic Center has to offer.