Ericksen's story over those many years is much different. He knew very little of what transpired after Ali left the United States. "Things continued to deteriorate in Iran, and then with the revolution, the letters stopped going back and forth. I would make occasional efforts and generally not be able to find out how he was doing. I was told to not track down friends because it could be bad for them. The little pieces of information that I could put together were that [Ali] had likely been imprisoned and maybe killed."
After completing his master's at SIT, Ericksen worked for the Foreign Student Service Council as a driver before landing a job as a foreign student adviser at the University of Maryland. From there, Ericksen worked at St. Louis University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and California State University-Fullerton before taking the job at UCLA. In all that time, Ericksen knew very little of his friends in Iran. "Every once in a while, my thoughts would go to Iran, and the situation there, and my students and Ali. It's painful to think that there was little that I could do, and if I did, it could lead them to more harm."
Ali finished his second master's at SIT in 1998 and immigrated to Canada to work at the University of British Columbia's English Language Institute. Once in Canada, he began to use the name "Ali" to avoid endangering his family back in Iran. He became a member of NAFSA in 2009 and registered for his first conference one month before the event was to take place in Los Angeles, California. He was using Conference Connection to prepare for the conference when something caught his eye.
"When I went through the NAFSA site, I was looking at the contacts there, and I came across this name, and it sounded so familiar. And sure enough, Bob's picture was there. Was this the same Bob? When you see a picture after 30 years, you have your doubts." Ali had to be sure, so he sent him a message.
"Do you remember picking grapes in my father's orchard and playing in my family's yard?"
Ericksen immediately remembered his friend from Iran, who back then went by a family nickname, and he was more than surprised to see a message from a friend that he thought was dead. Ericksen sent a message to confirm, and the two of them could not believe they were planning such a remarkable reunion at the conference.
"It was really a miracle to find him after all of these years," says Ali, "We had our first reunion after 35 years, and it was just getting back to the memories." The two sat down for lunch, and continued talking well into the late afternoon, skipping a few conference sessions to share stories of carefree days in Bojnurd and catch up on everything that had transpired in the past three decades. "It was such a pleasant time to be with Bob and talk about those things. Every bit of that past would give me so much pleasure, especially for me, being away from my home and my family for a long time."
"It was magical," says Ericksen. "I know that I cried, and it was just amazing. Even more amazing is his struggle to leave Iran. He has been through a hell of a lot. In his case, it has been an extraordinary outcome for his life."
Ericksen and Ali have kept in touch ever since, and they see each other every year at the NAFSA annual conference. In 2011, the conference was held in Vancouver, Canada, where Ali resides, and the two were able to recreate an event that happened so many times in Iran. "I had the chance to visit him in his home, meet his family, and share a meal. It is beyond words," says Ericksen.