Victor Agadjanian has left his footprints all over the world as a boots-on-the-ground social demographer with a gift for languages and a drive to understand the constraints affecting people’s health care and livelihood choices.
The UCLA sociology professor, who has a joint appointment with the UCLA International Institute, worked as a Portuguese-Russian interpreter for Soviet medical missions in Africa when he was an undergraduate student and before starting graduate school.
He even underwent yearlong training as a witch doctor in Mozambique.
“It was part of my exploration of a social world, an effort to understand how things worked there, of the dynamics of everyday life and health-seeking in the community,” he explained.
The prodigious scholar has spent many years studying the social factors that contribute to and shape knowledge and preventative behavior around HIV/AIDS in Africa, Russia and Central Asia.
For the past two decades, Agadjanian has also examined the effects of labor migration on families, their health and economic well-being in Mozambique, Angola, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Russia.
One major NIH-funded study that he’s involved in currently is focused on how migration of adults in Nepal, Mozambique and Mexico affects their children who stay behind.
Understanding the choices facing migrants and their families is one reason why Agadjanian makes it a point to speak to people directly about their lives whenever he is in the field.
“It is an important, refreshing reminder of things that really matter and how these things happen in everyday life,” he continued. “You always learn from people. When you get a taste of reality, it is always something new and different — you expand your understanding.”