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      Work/life experiences of Brookes’ academics


    Travelling helped me to bring the concept of sociology and later even politics into my understanding of Occupational Therapy and Counselling.

    Farzaneh is a Senior Lecturer in Occupational Therapy at Oxford Brookes.

  • Dr Farzaneh Yazdani started her academic career in Iran. She completed her BSc in Occupational Therapy at the Iran University of Medical Sciences, where she stayed on to do a master’s degree in Mental Health Occupational Therapy. Farzaneh then moved to the University of Jordan where she completed a second MA in psychological counselling followed by a PhD. She spent eight years here, during which time she established the first Occupational Therapy department in Jordan and also held a position as a visiting scholar at the University of Illinois. She joined Oxford Brookes University as a Senior Lecturer in 2008. Farzaneh grew up in an environment that valued education highly. Her parents, a merchant and a housewife, were both very encouraging and her culture prioritised girls’ education.

    Not only is it the case that “education has been extremely valued by Iranian culture, but growing up as a teenager during the war, one of the messages was that while the boys were fighting, the girls had to get an education for the future of the country..

    During her time at Iran University of Medical Sciences, Farzaneh progressed extremely quickly due to a tutor, who, she says “discovered me”. Despite the fact that she was so young, he had such confidence in her abilities that he took the unusual move of making her a lecturer at the age of just 22. However, being a faculty member at such a young age did have its challenges as she had to try and prove herself as a young academic.
    Travel has played a big role in Farzaneh’s career. It has shaped her academic interests.

    Travelling helped me to bring the concept of sociology and later even politics into my understanding of occupational therapy and counselling.

    Her discipline in Iran, for example, was much more practice-intensive than it is here in the UK.

    Farzaneh has learned a lot from different cultures in her work. When she was establishing the Occupational Therapy Department at the University of Jordan, she had to compare how it was done in other countries which involved her learning English and translating not only across languages but across cultures. However, these experiences of different cultures and travelling have, Farzaneh says:

    Opened my eyes to the similarities rather than differences that human beings have.

    For her, what initially might look like differences in behaviour across different cultures are often merely different ways of manifesting shared beliefs and human values. She is attuned to the similarities in the fundamentals of human life that she has observed.

    When Farzaneh moved from Iran to Jordan, she was married with a young child. This led to a long separation between her and her husband during which time she was effectively a single parent. However, she felt very at home at the University there and outside of that focused on being a good mother. She describes herself as “very much family oriented” and would make sure that she spent play times with her child every day; either playing outside or doing arts and crafts - her daughter is now an art student at UCL.

    Tragically, her husband died in an accident soon after they moved to Oxford and so again Farzaneh had to adapt to looking after her daughter alone in a new country. She found it hardest to maintain the balance between her personal and professional lives during this period, but she prioritised spending time with her daughter at home:

    I cook cakes, I make jam, I make pickles; I am very much into hand crafts.

    Again, this move was also coupled with the demand of countering people’s misconceptions and stereotypes. Oxford Brookes University was always “very welcoming” but she found dealing with other institutions and processes, like finding a house for her and her daughter, difficult. She felt that coming from Iran meant that she faced the assumption that she was only here to seek asylum or to marry a British man. As a result, when she did marry a British man she says she kept her own visa for her own sense of dignity. She met her husband, a fellow academic, at Oxford Brookes. Once again this confirms to Farzaneh how similar people can be - she finds it amazing that they have such similar interests and values, even though they were brought up in vastly different cultures and contexts.
    Farzaneh loves academia because of the constant stimulation it affords

    I love seeing how those big philosophical understandings of the world, which are in the textbooks, I can transfer them into day-to-day life.

    She likes to stay on the cutting edge of things and as a result, enjoys how “dynamic” academia is.

    Things keep changing and you have to keep reading, you have to keep looking at things.

    For this reason she also loves working with young people which she finds “keeps you in touch with the latest developments”. Looking forward, she is developing a model that brings her extensive academic and cultural experiences together. However, she is also mindful of her health problems; Farzaneh was diagnosed with ME when she came to the UK, something she has always suffered from but without knowing what it was. Success for her then is managing to be productive and maintain her academic standards.

    I have found that, whatever life throws at me, I can cope with it if I can find some meaning in what happens: what it means for me, my values and my hopes for the future. If I can find meaning, then I can get on with my life.