Reza Ramazani is professor and former chair of the Department of Economics at Saint Michael’s College in Vermont. He has been teaching international and environmental economics since 1986. Ramazani’s research has been in the areas of international trade, international finance, environmental economics, and economic development, primarily focusing on China. To conduct his research projects he has traveled to developing countries, including Haiti and China. His articles have been published in various books and journals, including the Review of Economics and Statistics.
Ramazani was born in Tehran, Iran in 1953.He received a B.A. in Economics with honors from Ghazvin College of Economics, Iran, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Colorado, Boulder. He has been the recipient of several teaching and service awards. At the University of Colorado, he was awarded the Graduate Student
Teaching Excellence Award as well as the Rueben A. Zubrow Graduate Fellowship. This award was established in 1985 at the University of Colorado, Boulder, to recognize doctoral candidates for excellence in the teaching of Economics. At Saint Michael's College he received the Faculty Appreciation Award, the Rev. Gerald DuPont Award for outstanding contributions to the Saint Michael's College Community (1997 and 2010), and the Joanne Rathgeb Teaching Award. In addition, his teaching and research led him to be selected as a finalist for the 2004 Vermont Professor of the Year Award by Saint Michael’s College.
In 1977 I left Iran to get an advanced degree in the United States so I would be able to go back home and be a productive member of Iranian society as a professor of economics. My call as a young man was to prove to students that if you work hard and believe in your goal, the money and connections are not as important as your drive to achieve what you want in life. I went to the University of Colorado Boulder and that is where I met my wife. We married in 1986 and then got job offers in Vermont.
We knew we wanted a family and Vermont was a safe place to raise a family. Even as an economist at such a young age, I knew that we shouldn’t measure everything in monetary terms. There are other factors that you can’t put a value on and that was the quality of life in Vermont and the safety of raising a family here. I was very impressed with St. Michael’s and its sense of community. We ultimately wanted to stay in Boulder, CO but the university I went to didn’t hire their own graduates and when we compared the style of living in Vermont to Colorado, they seemed to match up with their quality of life and progressiveness as a state. They even have similar marketplaces!
There were some challenges when we moved to Vermont in 1988. I used to get “the look.” I didn’t look at it necessarily as racism but more so as a lack of experience. They had never seen anyone like me so there was a lack of familiarity and a lot of curiosity.
Vermont has been wonderful and we don’t regret our decision to move here. However, Vermont is a very expensive state to live in and that is a major concern for me when it comes to my daughter and my students. Vermont is a beautiful state but you need to have the time and money to enjoy it. It’s even challenging for two college professors to be able to live in the state comfortably and enjoy the mystic of Vermont and all that it has to offer. I enjoy everything this state has to offer but I have a major concern when it comes to young people like my daughter or my students finding a job here because it is so small and expensive.
I bike, I ski, I hike but my favorite hobby is gardening. I do a lot of flower gardening, and vegetable gardening and it’s time consuming but it is a labor of love. What I do is just sink my hands into the soil of my garden without gloves—it’s the best therapy and feeling in the world. I feel very close to nature, especially in Vermont.
At the beginning of our time living here I got “the look” and I seemed interesting because I looked different. It didn’t make me feel good and there were a couple of instances where I felt out of place. We judge people of the color by their skin, the way they talk, how they dress. But, if you talk to people and start carrying yourself in a professional way, their demeanor changes. We’ve come a long way from 1986 but it still isn’t as diverse as it could be.
I saw discrimination and poverty in Iran and one way you can deal with those circumstances is to get bitter and angry and to blame the government or others. But, I wanted to direct my anger and feelings toward something positive that had a solution. The source of poverty and most sources of grief was money so I studied economics. I am so passionate about economics because if not all most economic issues are relevant. Economics can be used as a powerful tool to solve some of society’s issues. I love it.
I study economics because my father was a gardener and my mother stayed at home and although they were not wealthy and not well educated, they always stressed the importance of education. They believed that to break the vicious cycle of poverty they had to educate their children. I’m grateful to my parents for instilling the value of education in our hearts and our minds. I could not imagine that as the son of a gardener I could leave the country and get an advanced degree. It was unheard of in Iran.
We owe it to ourselves to take the risk and avoid the question of “what if?” It was tough to be Iranian, especially in America. I feel like I have to work that much harder in my job because my perception is still skewed when it comes to race. I want to prove not only that I’m good, if not better. If I could have known anything before moving to Vermont, I would have wanted to know what kind of life I could have afforded before moving and the quality of life compared to Boulder. Also, I would have wanted to know what kind of reaction we would get from our colleagues, neighbors and community in general because the state is so heavily white.
If I could give any advice, I would say come to Vermont with an open mind. There is no perfect place in the U.S. or the world; there will be some challenges wherever you go. People will be rude and this is not unusual. But when you take Vermont and compare it to other places, people are much more progressive and accepting here and open minded. They give you the benefit of the doubt.