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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.






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