Nadia Augustyniak

nadiaStudying the Fallout of War

The partition of India and Pakistan. The schisms of the Bosnian war. The divisions of Sri Lanka’s civil war.

Though those fields of battle are silent now, the “epic events of violence and war play out in peoples’ everyday lives, even years later,” says Nadia Augustyniak, who expects to receive a Hunter College master’s degree in anthropology this summer. “What kinds of stories do they tell? Do they try to forget it? How do these events continue to affect their lives?”

She has been awarded a 2011 Fulbright U.S. Student Program grant to teach English in Sri Lanka. The Fulbright program, sponsored by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, is part of the U.S. government’s flagship international exchange program. Its goals are promoting international understanding and finding solutions to shared concerns.

She emigrated from Poland to New Jersey when she was 11 and later majored in anthropology at William Paterson University. At Hunter, she worked closely with anthropology assistant professor Ruchi Chaturvedi, whose research focuses on political violence and South Asia.

For her master’s thesis, Augustyniak worked with the Bosnian refugee community in Utica, N.Y., teasing out the ramifications of their wartime experience on their daily lives. She spent time with one family, becoming “sort of like a family friend. They just welcomed me into their lives and we became very close. I wanted to make sure my project was completely transparent to them and everyone else who helped me. If I’m trying to glimpse a family’s life, I don’t want anyone to feel like I’m intruding, but I wanted to participate as closely as I could.

“Anthropology is a demanding field, because it’s very difficult to do it without language skills and having some link to the community. I saw the Fulbright as a wonderful opportunity to live in a place I don’t know much about, learn the language and build relations with communities which I could later work with.”

The place she chose was Sri Lanka, where a 26-year civil war between militant rebel groups and the government ended in 2009. With her Fulbright, Augustyniak will teach English and, in her spare time, continue to study Tamil, one of Sri Lanka’s three main languages, along with Sinhalese and English. “The pronunciation is challenging, but the language is beautiful and the script is really neat to learn. Strangely, my knowledge of Polish is helpful because of cases, which English doesn’t have.”

She intends to continue graduate study after completing the Fulbright, focusing on the political situation in Sri Lanka. “I’m not sure exactly where my future research will go, but along the lines of my current interests, I would like to continue looking at the effects of protracted conflict and how people and communities heal after such tremendous suffering.”