Scholar Spotlight Interview: Azeta Hatef
by Chloe' Sky 

Summary Azeta Hatef is serving this year as a Fulbright Scholar through an affiliation with Masaryk University in Brno, Czechia. Inspired by her personal journey as an Afghan-American, she studies, researches and teaches international communications and world media systems. Read below to find out about her research in the Roma community, how ethnography informs her method, and why she thinks Fulbright is such a valuable experience.

Fast Facts  
Hometown: Fremont, California
Age: 30
College, Major/Minor: B.A. – Berkeley; M.A. – Syracuse; Ph.D. - Penn State in Mass Communications
Czech University: Masarykova Univerzita
Favorite Czech word or phrase: učitelka, teacher
Favorite Czech food: Azeta is a vegetarian. She likes the meatless classic
smažený sýr, or fried cheese.
Favorite Quote: “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.” -Carl Sagan

Explain to me exactly what it means to be a Fulbright Scholar.

The Fulbright Scholarship that I am a part of as a graduate student focuses on dissertation research. I have an affiliation with Masaryk University in Brno, which provides a lot of support and has made my transition to living in Brno so smooth. I work very independently, so my days are scheduled around interviews and observations that I am conducting for my research. The Fulbright program is about exchanging ideas and skills and as a Fulbright Scholar, that’s exactly what we do. It allows individuals to share their experiences and to learn from one another.

What’s your research about?
Broadly speaking, my research focuses on how marginalized communities use social media, specifically as alternative spaces for the development and support of organization, community, and engagement. While there may be certain responses, for example, to these communities gathering in public, I explore how they may use alternative spaces to create identity and community. During my first trip to the Czech Republic in 2016, I met with an organization serving as the largest Roma media server. I noticed many parallels to my work and began researching the topic of media use within Romani communities. My research today examines the intersections of identity formation, community building, and media use by Roma in the Czech Republic. I don’t see social media as a panacea of sorts, but rather a valuable tool and I’m interested in learning how these resources are being employed.

How do you make relationships with people in the Roma community?
Prior to beginning the Fulbright program, I traveled to the Czech Republic to meet with scholars, activists, and organizations working within Romani communities to learn more about the individuals I should be speaking with to understand the questions my research sets out to address. These individuals and my colleagues at Masaryk University have connected me with the people that I have been interviewing since I started the Fulbright year. From there, it’s been like a snowball effect, how one person you meet will introduce you to others.

Where did your interest in the Roma come from?
I have a personal and academic interest in understanding identity and how we perform them in different spaces. My interests in understanding hyphenated identities stem from my own experiences as an Afghan-American. So, I am particularly interested in understanding the lived realities of this insider/outsider relationship. In my case, the personal has inspired and informed the academic.

After coming here in 2016, I started to see a lot of parallels to the questions that guide my research. I became interested in learning more about the social and political issues within the country and as someone who researches media, I set out to explore how online spaces could be utilized to foster greater intercultural awareness and possibly empower communities.

What kind of challenges have you encountered in this work?
Of course there is the language barrier. It’s interesting and different for me because in Afghanistan I could communicate with people directly because I speak one of the official languages, Dari. Here in Czechia, individuals who feel comfortable speaking in English will; otherwise, I work with an interpreter and it’s been working out really well.

There’s also the fact that I am a woman of color, something I am hyperaware of living in the Czech Republic. This provides a different perspective to my work and allows me to make connections and understand the intersections of oppression between different marginalized communities.

What has been the most rewarding for you?
Connecting with people and listening to their powerful stories. I appreciate the individuals’ graciousness in sharing time with me and their reflection on sensitive topics. Sometimes they ask me why I came to Czechia, and I respond, “Why not?” The work I do with ethnography allows me to spend an extended time here to learn more about the lived realities of being Roma in the Czech Republic. There are many community leaders who are working towards change and it is inspiring to speak with them.

How is your analysis going?
It’s going well. I’m still doing interviews, which can take between 45 minutes and two hours. There is a diversity in terms of gender, age and sexuality among the individuals I am interviewing. At this point, some themes are starting to emerge in terms of how the Roma produce their identities online and how they create community, which is empowering.

What solutions do you see emerging from this research?
It depends on the findings this research yields and it will take time. There are different goals for individuals and communities, for example, political representation. So, findings on political engagement online may help comment on some possible solutions.

How do you think Fulbright will impact your future career trajectory?
The research will continue – I see myself returning to Czechia and collaborating further with the organizations and individuals I have met over the year. I also hope that I can do some comparative work with this project in the future.
 This year will also inform my teaching. I teach courses on international media, and I always tell my students, “If there’s one thing you take away from this course, I hope it’s given you a sense of curiosity that inspires you to understand different individuals and cultures.” This opportunity from Fulbright has been so important. The program encourages connecting and learning through our differences. Given the current political climate, this is particularly important. It’s important to reflect on the purpose and impact of the Fulbright program especially considering the funding crisis it faces.


ETA Spotlight Interview: Maeve Duffy

by Chloe' Sky 

Maeve Duffy is serving this year as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Rakovník (17,000 people), although she lives in a village called Senomaty (1000 people). Having majored in Theatre at Barnard College, Maeve is bringing Broadway to Czechia by directing a play in her town. Read below to find out exactly what classic American story she’s working on with her students, how she deals with the tough topics that are seen differently in Czech and American culture, and how being so close to nature has impacted her life.

Fast Facts
Hometown: Baltimore, Maryland
Age: 22
College, Major/Minor: Barnard College, B.A. in Theatre with a concentration in Acting, pre-med track, minor in Biochemistry
School in the Czech Republic: Gymnazium Zikmunda Wintra Rakovník
Favorite Czech word or phrase: veverka, squirrel. “Day 2 of my grant I was attacked by a squirrel, so this was one of the first Czech words I learned. I used it in the classroom and now my students think I love squirrels. I really, really don’t.”
Favorite Czech food: Maeve is gluten-free. She loves the duck with rye crust from the Prague restaurant Švejk.
Favorite Quote: “People will forget what you say, people will forget what you do, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

Tell me about yourself.
I’m an actor, a storyteller, and now an English teacher. I studied Theatre and Biochemistry as an undergrad and I was cast in a play by Václav Havel, Largo Desolato, and I even wrote my thesis on Havel. That’s how I fell in love with Czech people and culture. Oh, and since my grant started, I’ve learned how to bike, ski and ice skate.

I see why you chose Czechia! 
It was amazing to learn about Havel, a man who ignited revolution and served as a figurehead for change. I wanted to go to a country that elected a playwright as president.

Do you have any advice for people applying to Fulbright?
It’s beautiful here, I really love the country. The people who are happiest here have a real reason for wanting to be in Czechia. So – have a real reason for applying to the country you’re considering spending a year of your life in.

Tell me about the area where you live.
It’s 45 minutes west of Prague and I feel so lucky for that. My town has a vibrant theatre scene. It’s also a factory community with Proctor & Gamble headquarters, and other companies like Valeo and Rako. There are a lot of expats here. Also, the desire for English is high, which makes my job much better. My students want to work, travel and consume English media. The village where I live is gorgeous and has a higher elevation than the town, so there are amazing views. I go running all the time in the forest, spending more time outside now than I ever have. A lot of people would tell me in the beginning, “I’m spending the weekend in nature.” Now I really understand what that means. I want to spend the weekend in nature too.

What do you enjoy about teaching English?
My students are really inquisitive and have a strong foundation of English. I can even delve into conversations about gun violence, sexism, racism and politics. They ask a lot of tough questions. And it’s not just about telling my opinion but helping them to figure out their own. Part of Fulbright is learning through listening, and I really try to listen to the students and learn from them – how they view the USA and what they think about what’s happening in our world right now.

What was difficult about adjusting to live in Czechia?
I came from a women’s college where we supported each other and lifted each other up, so it’s difficult to see male students always raising their hands or speaking first. The teaching assistant nature of my job – seeing myself as something of a peer – has helped so much in encouraging even female students to speak. It was also difficult adjusting to the blatant sexism you can encounter here. At my college if we [saw an instance of sexism], we would shut it down. Here in my teaching capacity I can’t do that in the same abrupt declarative way. You have to pick your battles. If everything students say makes you fly off handle, you won’t get anything done and they won’t trust you. Instead, if someone says something inappropriate in class, I may not address it immediately, but come in next week and use it as a teachable moment; for example, “What it means to be a feminist.”

What else has been challenging for you?
Being away from my family and not being able to go back home and be there with them [in tough moments]. I’m really close with my little brother who has Down Syndrome and it’s hard to explain to him why I’m not there.

On the flip side, what has been rewarding about your experience living abroad?
Getting to try everything! I’ve taken the “say yes to everything” approach. Also, Europeans do work-life balance so well. I used to sleep four hours every night and think that was great; now I sleep eight to ten hours. I end school early and then have time to do what I want, I can be outside so much and take five-kilometer runs and it’s amazing. It’s just so simple, a simple form of joy. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, just because I have time to practice self-care, be in nature and really enjoy it. I keep saying nature!

That’s because it’s such a major part of your experience! What are you doing for your Fulbright project?
Since August, I’ve had a theatre improvisation class in English, and I’ve just now started the process of directing a full-length play. I got a small grant from the US Embassy and we’re going to be doing The Wizard of Oz in English. It’s a fairytale, which Czech people love – my town already has an English theatre troupe which has performed some fairytales in English. At school, I’ve announced the play and am now putting the cast together. We’ve read through a 15-minute version and talked about the major themes, but we’re going to do the real read-through next week and I hope to finalize the cast by Easter!

That sounds amazing, especially because most Czech people don’t know that story! Last question: How will your life change after Fulbright?
I spend way more time outside and now I actively search out opportunities to do so, whereas I used to be a passive consumer of exercise. I appreciate the simplicity of life here. I realize that I need far less than I thought I did. For now, I’m hoping to maybe stay in Czechia another year.