Emory Report

September 21, 1998

 Volume 51, No. 5

Three international students hone their skills at Emory

Besides facilitating study, research and service for domestic students abroad, Emory annually invites hundreds of international students from more than 100 countries to study and conduct research on campus. Not only do these international scholars take back to their countries greater expertise in their fields, they also contribute immeasurably to the atmosphere and intellectual community of the University.

In Estonia, Fulbright scholar Tõnu Viik is head of the department of philosophy at the Estonian Institute of Humanities (EIH). For any 30-year-old this would be quite an accomplishment, but Viik has been especially resourceful in pursuing his academic and professional interests. In 1986 there were no philosophy study programs in his country--they were closed after Estonia's incorporation into the Soviet Union in 1940--so he went to Moscow. He stayed in Russia for seven years-five for his degree and two more for compulsory military service in Siberia.

When Viik returned to Estonia in 1993, the last Russian troops were leaving. He was hired to teach philosophy in the now-free democratic country, one no longer shackled by orthodox Marxist thinking. The recipient of a Fulbright grant to study the philosophy of culture, Viik came this fall to Emory's philosophy department, where he already knew Professor Donald Verene.

"I had read Dr. Verene's writing," Viik said. "We corresponded before I applied to come here. My studies at Emory explore the metaphysics of culture and my personal experience with different and antagonistic social worlds. As changes took place in my country and in Russia, I saw how unexpected shifts in social, political and economic conventions may alter an entire discipline of thought." Viik plans to return to the EIH with ideas about how to contemporize the study and teaching of philosophy there.

Tamerlan Gamidzadeh has chosen his path of study to promote economic change in his home of Azerbaijan. He is completing his second year in the MBA program at the Goizueta Business School.

Gamidzadeh initially studied to be a doctor. He was on the verge of starting his residency in the early '90s when the disintegration of the Soviet Union caused him to change directions. "I couldn't continue working in the medical profession," he said. "The government couldn't afford to pay to maintain the operating systems for the hospitals. Oftentimes electricity would be cut off three times a day. We had no equipment or medical supplies. It was impossible to provide health care in those conditions. The situation has changed since, but I feel I will be more useful in what I am doing now."

With some regrets, he left the medical field to work as a public relations officer for Saipem, an oil company in Baku, Azerbaijan. In 1996 he received the Edmund Muskie Fellowship that brought him to Emory. He came here to elaborate on his business experience and to get the academic background he thinks is essential to any business profession.

The 26-year-old Gamidzadeh said professors in the business school have been very helpful and open. He lauded the support of Jeffrey Rosensweig and Shehzad Mian and of the school's career services division, which helped him land an internship last summer with ING Investment Management in Atlanta. There he was able to apply his new know-how to facilitate the company's expansion into the emerging market of Azerbaijan.

John Opondo, too, has clear thoughts about how he will use his master's in international health from the Rollins School. "In Africa we are trained as clinicians in hospitals," Opondo said, "but my work experience has put me in the position of a health program manager for the last four years. It will be good to have an academic background for my work. I hope to become more efficient at what I do."

The Kenyan-born Opondo studied medicine and graduated from Nairobi University in 1989. After completing his internship at Coast General Hospital in Mombasa, he moved to Rwanda, where for a year-and-a-half he worked as health program manager for the American Refugee Committee. That experience, as well as his subsequent clinical and management work in the Nyagatare district hospital in Rwanda, convinced him to find more specialized training in health care management. He came to Emory with the support of a World Bank scholarship.

"I want to gain knowledge and experience in complex emergency management," he said. "By that I mean the kind of emergencies we deal with in refugee camps. In Rwanda, it wasn't just a matter of displacement; many times women and children were injured when fleeing. There were also malnutrition and sanitation problems tied to the physical and emotional turmoil of being refugees."

Opondo said the reason he chose the Rollins School was because of its young, contemporary profile and its location in Atlanta, one of the world's centers of knowledge and education in health care. Like Viik and Gamidzadeh, Opondo expects to be at the cutting edge of his profession when he completes his Emory studies.

-Cathy Byrd

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