The evening newscast was under way. In the cramped, airless TV room at George Washington University student center, a dozen Iranians nodded their approval as Walter Cronkite announced two more Americans had been taken hostage by students in Tehran.
A few minutes later, the Iranian students filed out to the basement lobby to resume their perpetual political discussions. "At least," said graduate student Ali Azady, "you know what the shah's secret police are not following you, watching everthing you do."
A day later, another pair of young Iranians met at a Georgetown cafe to commiserate with each other. One time supporters of Iran's monarchy, they spoke with exasperation of the Ayatollah Khomeini's support for the student occupation of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
'It's just a childish act," said one. "Political acts of this manner are condemned in any society . . . . If the government supports such behavior, international law will break down." The student then asked that his full name and his place of work not be published.
"You understand," he said. "I have a grandmother back in Iran."
Over the past year, Iranian students in the Washington area have watched their world turn upside down.
Those who once wore masks in demonstrations have discarded them to revel in the downfall of the leader they hated. Now they argue openly over the strict Islamic government that supplanted Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
Those supporters of the Iranian monarchy who once flaunted their wealth and power in Washington's high society have slipped into obscurity, taking odd jobs because their financial support has been reduced by the rules of the new regime.
Yet the vast bulk of these students no matter where they fit on the finely shaded spectrum of Iraniam politics, continue to study and work toward the degrees that will win them prestigious professional jobs.
The upheavals in their homeland have caused little more than a ripple in the flow of their daily lives. "It's exactly the same as it ever was," said a student who asked to be called only Nader. Nothing has changed but the faces. Last year we were on one side of the line, in favor of the government. This year we are on the other side."
"Most of our friends went back to fight during the revolution last year," said Ali, a graduate student in economics at American University. "For those who stayed here, it's the same style of life.
"Those who spent their time in discos still do. Those who spent their time in political meetings still do. Those who spent their time studying still do. The only difference is that more normal students participate in political discussions than before," Ali added.
"They don't say 'We shouldn't talk,' anymore."
Large numbers of other students, many who were on Iranian government scholarships before the revolution and still are, continue to plan the same careers as before, making only slight adjustments to compensate for the political changes at home.
At George Washington University computer science graduate student Mustafa Haghjoo said his own plans for the future haven't changed much.
"When I came here a couple of years ago, I imagined I would return and make $3,000 a month as a computer scientist," he said. "Now I know I'll make less than $1,000, but sure I'll go back. I'm very happy at what has happened to the people . . . I support Khomeini."
Haghjoo and the group of students surrounding him all expressed disgust at the policies of the U.S. government and support for the demands that the ailing shah be extradited and returned to Iran. Their decision to study in this country, they said, was irrelevant to their hatred of the U.S. government.
"We need top technology like computer science," said Haghjoo. "We want to take the technology back with us. We want your technology but not your culture. We hate the U.S. government" because of its efforts to control events in the rest of the world.
Haghjoo, along with his campanions, had laughed when the evening news broadcast one congressman's suggestion that Iranian students in this country be deported. They laughed louder at another suggestion that Iranians in the U.S. be taken hostage until the hostages held at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran are released.
Even students who feel their political views would make them unwelcome in the new Iran are only postponing, not scrapping, their career plans. One 28-year-old former University of Maryland student planned to get a doctorate in anthropology, then return to teach in Iran.
"That's not feasible today" he said. "The government is suppressing the academic world . . . My return to Iran has been delayed, but my career hasn't been sidetracked."
At the moment, more than 1,100 Iranians are studying at universities in the Washington area, including 500 or more at George Washington University, 225 at Catholic University, 350 at American University and 41 at Georgetown.
The revolution in Iran has done little to diminish the number to Iranian students here. "Many went back, but some of these returned to the U.S. and many new students came," said an American University graduate student called Mohammed.
The main effect on the students has been financial. The new government has imposed a $1,000-a-month limit on the funds they can receive from Iran -- leaving them $650 or $750 a month to live on once their tuition is paid.
The State Department, still relying on its estimate of last April, says 50,-500 Iranians are in America on student visas.
"When I came to this country in 1973, there were about 15,000 or 16,000 Iranian students here," said Nader. "Now there are at least three times as many."
And when they came to this country, these students brought with them their obsessions with politics, with ideologies and with every minute event that occurred in their homeland.
American newspapers did little to sate this hunger for information; many students bought short-wave radios and left them permanently tuned to Radio Iran -- now called Voice of the Revolution.
In addition, some groups set up their own versions of dial-a-prayer.
Callers to a particular number got a recording in Farsi -- the Persian language -- telling of the events of the day.
These numbers still exist -- but one gives its bulletins from a strict Islamic perspective, and another delivers the news with Marxist overtones.
In cafeterias like the one at the Mary Graden Center at American University, students would form groups soley on the basis of ideology, "Two or three years ago, we had five tables," said Ali, the AU graduate student.
"There were the strict Islamic ones, then the children of bureaucrats, then the aristrocratic Iranians, the radical Iranians and the lumpens -- you'd call them hoodlums.
"Each table had its own view of what should be done and each its own solution for the country's problems."
Now, he said, there are only two tables of Iranians when lunch time arrives at the center.
Khomeini's supporters, he said, spend their time at the embassy, and are less visible on campus than they were only a few months ago.
Out in the cafeteria, a debate over the Khomeini's policies was warming up, the tableful of leftist radicals losing themselves in the intricate details of ideology while asking each other about the latest news. In the bustle of the cafeteria, they were hardly noticeable.
"Persians by culture, by language, by mentality are all intensely politically minded," explained AU doctoral candidate Bakram Saleh. "Our lives revolve around politics. It's hard for Americans to understand."
"Despite all the changes that have taken place," another graduate student said, "There has been very little change in these people's lives. There is more politics, more political consciousness." But, he added for Iranians, there is always politics.