My Sabbatical at Science and Research Branch of Islamic Azad University (SRBIAU) in Tehran – by Wernher van de Venn
Part 1: What the hell I’m doing here?
First of all, please don’t be scared… yes, I’m in Iran, one country of the so called «axis of evil» and it is great here, I love it. Not because it is evil, but because it is right the opposite. Maybe another little detail, you might have noticed in the headline, it is not a typing error it is intentionally: people here don’t say «Teheran» like we do it in Europe, they say «Tehran» and I will use it this way in the blog (it’s nearly the same as when Germans say «Züricher Hochschule» instead of «Zürcher Hochschule», you almost immediately recognize the foreigner).
But let me start from the beginning. So, what the hell I’m doing here?
As the headline already mentions, I’m doing my Sabbatical and according to my Sabbatical proposal, I am here, amongst others, to prepare students and lecturer exchange with the SRBIAU. For that purpose, we are currently signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between ZHAW School of Engineering and SRBIAU. From the School of Engineering it is already so far revised and must now be crosschecked from here. As I learned some days ago, the document is being examined by the central university administration at Azad University. However, no problems are expected. It can only take a bit longer because ZHAW is not on the list of recognized universities of the Iranian Ministry of Education (we really should go for it, but that is a topic of university policy…). As I also learned from Dr. Hamidreza Ghaffarzadeh, Director General, International Relations at SRBIAU, it should take only two weeks to get the things done, however he added in a short sub-clause and with a wink: «Of course I mean Iranian two weeks…»
And another thing I learned very quickly here is, that every document, every presentation and every conference begins with the words «In the name of God». That is of course very unusual to us but in the end it is nothing else than a much more gracefully form of «Dear Ladies and Gentlemen» or the worst term in some of our documents: «To whom it may concern…». So please, what I want to say is, if you are in Iran you have to have a different view at things, not in a negative way but in a way to understand the culture and the origin of the people and the civilisation here. We are mostly taught from the media in Europe (and USA) to see things happening in near East in a strange and mostly negative way («the axis of evil»). Turn out the positive sides and everything looks a lot more friendly (as it really is in Iran). Here people don’t just say thank you if you do them a favour or if you hand over the tea or coffee, they say «daste schoma dart nakone», that means ‘may your hand never ache’. Speaking of «friendly» and «hospitality»: I will come to that later but I already want to stress the fact at this stage that these words have a very special meaning here, especially towards people from other countries. Some of my very, very, very,… best friends are Iranians (so I do not have to mention that my lovely wife is of course… Iranian too).
To come back to the point: We will also continue to promote R&D cooperation between ZHAW and SRBIAU here. My contact with the SRBIAU had come about cooperation in EU projects and recently started cooperation in possible new projects. In addition, we have already prepared and carried out two international conferences on the topic of Industry 4.0 in Tehran (the first one in August 2016 and the second one at the end of February 2017, which was also the start of my Sabbatical at the SRBIAU). The third international conference on Industry 4.0 is currently being planned for July 2017.
During the second conference, we had invited high-level representatives of the European Commission, which have promised Iran the greatest possible support in participating in Horizon 2020 and the upcoming framework programs. There is also an official paper of the EC on cooperation with Iran, since the sanctions of the EU against Iran are revoked. So, I’m happy to be back in the right place at the right time. We are currently in the process of analysing the upcoming EU calls and planning in which projects we would like to cooperate.
Furthermore, I am giving some seminars on the subject of Industry 4.0 and also on the submission of EU proposals, since in Iran the EU apparatus and modus operandi are (of course, after years of isolation) pretty unknown. Additionally, I am still looking after a student project and have many meetings with colleagues and students, who all want to talk to me because it does not happen frequently (☺ ☺) that someone from Europe is doing his Sabbatical in Iran. I also had a presentation at the venerable University of Tehran, one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in near East. It turned out that even the University of Tehran wants to sign a MoU with ZHAW.
… more to come.