Finance professor reflects on time in Azerbaijan

Omid Sabbaghi spent four months teaching in Azerbaijan as part of the Fulbright Program.

Omid Sabbaghi, a finance professor and director of graduate business programs at Detroit Mercy, recently returned from a trip to Azerbaijan, where he taught at Khazar University and conducted research as part of the Fulbright Program.

During his four-month period abroad, Sabbaghi taught an in-person master’s-level financial management class, as well as supervised the internship projects of two graduate students at Khazar University’s downtown campus.

Both he and his students worked together to create a glossary of key finance terms in both Azerbaijani and English. While supervising the internship projects, Sabbaghi and his students conducted financial ratio analysis for an Azeri firm and developed a survey for members of the Baku Stock Exchange.

While overseas, he presented his class examples within an American context and invited students to provide follow-up examples in the Azeri context. Since he spoke in English during class, he valued the use of visual graphs to better demonstrate ideas and mathematical equations.

Sabbaghi said he has always wanted to teach overseas, as he enjoys educating students in diverse environments. Since his return to the United States, he has been incorporating his experiences from Azerbaijan in the classroom.

“These experiences benefit our Detroit Mercy community by promoting mutual understanding between different nations,” he said.

Sabbaghi has been teaching at the UDM’s College of Business Administration for the last 14 years. After completing his doctoral studies at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, he was brought to UDM by the Rev. Jerry Cavanagh, the former dean of the business school who died last semester.

 Besides a Ph.D. in Business, Sabbaghi has BA in Statistics, Economics, and Applied Mathematics, as well as an MBA from University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

He was able to travel abroad through the Fulbright Program, which was created in 1946 and provides funding to academics to teach and study abroad, as well as create relationships between institutions from different nations. The Fulbright Program's mission is to bring peace between nations through reason, knowledge and compassion for others.

Sabbaghi said the program “parallels the principles of the Jesuits and Sisters of Mercy.”

The Republic of Azerbaijan is located on the boundary between Eastern Europe and Western Asia and has a unique culture with rich history. Sabbaghi stayed in the capital city of Baku, which was established in the 1100s.

“I found the people of Azerbaijan to be hospitable and helpful,” he said. “There are many cultural sites, restaurants, shopping malls, tea cafes and green spaces conducive to long walks.”

Located along the Caspian Sea, Baku has beautiful sea-side promenades that stretch for six miles, Sabbaghi said.

Outside of the classroom, Sabbaghi took part in a joint meeting between the Central Bank of Azerbaijan and the Business School at UNEC, a university established there in 2011. During the meeting, the two sides discussed the potential of financial literacy service-learning.

By the end of the semester, Sabbaghi had learned some basic Azerbaijani vocabulary and enjoyed cultural dance shows performed by the students at Khazar University.

On UDM’s website, “Campus Connection,” Sabbaghi said he tried to apply practices used in Detroit to his time abroad. He specifically highlighted a time in the fall of 2020 when his UDM students worked to provide an understanding of financial literacy to local highschoolers.

“There was an ‘aha’ moment,” Sabbaghi told The Varsity News, “in discerning the scales of potential community-engaged learning models for business school students in Azerbaijan.”