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Seminole State student from Iran relishes freedom to express himself

Seminole State College

Akbari Torkamani

The Seminole State College of Florida student, who arrived in the United States from Iran in 2011, has wanted to be a filmmaker ever since he can remember. He has all kinds of stories percolating in his head, and he's eager to start turning them into movies.

"It's not very easy in Iran saying what you think," he says. "It has to be something the government would allow."

That's why Akbari Torkamani was elated when his widowed mother married an Iranian-American man and he learned they would all be moving to the United States. "I always knew that, as much as I love my country and people and family, I'd have to one day live somewhere else," he says.

But moving to the United States meant a year's worth of preparation, so there was no time for him to start college in Iran after he received his high school diploma.

Once he arrived in Florida, already a year behind in pursuing his life's dream, Akbari Torkamani discovered that he'd have to get something called a "GED" in America before he could start college. He was surprised - but determined to do whatever it took.

"Not only did Ali arrive 30 minutes early each morning, he frequently worked though the break time and never left the class without asking for additional assignments to complete during non-class hours," says Rachel Slavkin, an instructor in the college's School of Academic Foundations, which offers GED prep courses.

Although Akbari Torkamani could converse in English - thanks to years of viewing American exports such as "The Simpsons," "Friends," "Titanic" and "The Godfather" - he needed to expand his vocabulary so that he could write essays and learn American history for the GED. His English dictionary became his new best friend; he read it every day, page after page.

"Not only are you going to learn about that word, but you get involved with other words that describe that word," he explains. "It's a sort of process that never ends."

His determination paid off: Akbari Torkamani passed the GED with a perfect score in math and near perfect scores on all the other parts. His high scores earned him a scholarship from the Foundation for Seminole State College, and he immediately started preparing for his college classes. He bought his books for his summer classes early so he could start reading them while continuing to build his English skills.

The Apopka student's plan is to complete his Associate in Arts (A.A.) at Seminole State, focusing on TV and digital cinema production; get his Bachelor of Fine Arts in film at the University of Central Florida - and begin telling his stories as a writer and director.

"I have this open place to talk and express myself and my ideas now," he says. He wants to "picture people's lives," he says.

"I'm not into making science fiction or comedy," he says. "I want to show how sweet and amazing life can be - as well as hard."

Students from 94 countries attend Seminole State College of Florida. For more information on attending Seminole State as an international student, please visit, or call 407.708.2172.