What, specifically, is your field of study? How does it relate to international issues?
I am a sociologist. I was just entering high school when the communist regime collapsed in my country. The period of (this time successful) student protests later extended to the whole society, and was followed by changes in every aspect of life. These changes were fascinating, and I had an urgent desire to understand the processes that underlay them and later to put them into historical and theoretical perspective. From this beginning, my interests have extended to other areas of change in Eastern European society, and I am now studying international migration, particularly the various migrations undertaken by citizens of the former communist bloc. More than anything else, I am interested in its cultural aspects (in particular how mentalities developed under communism translate and adapt to the realities of living undocumented in foreign countries).
What brought you to the United States and to Williams?
I indeed come from the Czech Republic. But I also studied and lived in Poland, Slovakia, had an internship in Belgium, and worked in Greece. An accident (along with a job offer) brought me to the US.. in 2004, and I have been teaching here and back in the Czech Republic ever since.
Why do you think it’s important for Williams students, and Westerners in general, to study eastern Europe, and non-American cultures in general?
Understanding other cultures requires more than anything else the willingness and ability to empathize and see the world through other people’s eyes. Today more than ever before we need to cooperate with “the others,” as neatly put by Vaclav Havel, a former president of the Czech Republic, in his “Need for Transcendence.”
If you could go any one place in the world, where would you go?
I don’t lack for places I want to visit, what I lack is time!