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Seattle University


Research Gone Global

Written by Mike Thee
December 6, 2010

Even to the casual observer, Sweden and Iran would seem worlds apart in nearly every respect. Azita Emami, dean of the College of Nursing, can confirm that from personal experience. Born in Iran, she fled the country after the revolution in the 1970s, emigrating with her family to Sweden, where eventually she would head the Division of Nursing at the Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society at Karolinska Institutet (KI). It was at Karolinska that she engaged in a join research project between KI and the University of Social Welfare and Rehabilitation Sciences in Iran. This collaborative study aimed to explore the self-reported health and needs in health care among elders who were native-born Swedes, Iranian-Swedish émigrés, and native Iranians in Iran. Although this study has been quite successful, Emami had additional insights from this experience.

At a lunchtime forum sponsored by the College of Nursing last week, Emami shared her experience, the challenges and the opportunities, in this global research endeavor. As often happens in research, there were many more discoveries than what was expressed in the original study. She shared the many hurdles the Swedish and Iranian teams worked to overcome. For instance, differing conceptions of time often came into play. The team from Sweden approached the work with timetables and agenda. The Iranian researchers saw the work in terms of tasks, overlapping and discrete. Administration of the grant funding became more complex when the teams had to work to create equity for resources when the costs in Sweden were much higher and constraints on student workers tighter.

When it came to creating a survey to collect information, the teams encountered other differences over what demographic their research should focus on and how pertinent demographic questions could be phrased. Definitions of terms used by the surveys were also more complex than first thought. How old do you need to be to be considered “elderly?" With the difference in life expectancy between the two countries, this may seem to tell that health is not a value in Iran, but in reality, Emami explained,it is mostly attributed to the extreme loss of life in the young adult population in the Iran-Iraq war. One challenge the groups didn’t have to worry about was the language barrier with Emami, having lived in both countries, providing a built-in translation service.

All in all, Emami said she considers the experience, “the most challenging and most rewarding” of her professional career. The research project, meanwhile, continues as does her involvement with it. Emami, who became dean in 2008, expressed a strong interest in bringing Seattle University into the collaboration, thereby completing a trifecta of the three countries she has called home.