Grad Student Aims to Open Intercultural Dialogue Among European Communities
“People sometimes ask me why I chose to do my PhD in the Department of Communication at UMass Amherst,” says David Boromisza-Habashi, who expects to defend his dissertation in Summer 2008. “My answer is simple: it had the best faculty that I knew of in my line of research—the relationship between language use and culture.”
Boromisza-Habashi studied in his native Hungary, planning to become a literary scholar. But he discovered that studying people and social groups instead of texts was much more appealing. Adding a master’s in communication at SUNY Albany to his education, he then worked as a communication consultant in Hungary.
“It took me two years to figure out that working in an academic environment was much more enjoyable than in a business context,” Boromisza-Habashi reflects. “I started looking for a PhD program that could combine my intercultural experience with my interest in language. UMass Amherst appeared to be the best choice from the beginning. I was particularly eager to work with Donal Carbaugh, an ethnographer of communication, and Benjamin Bailey, linguistic anthropologist. Today, Carbaugh is my advisor, and Bailey is on my dissertation committee.”
Boromisza-Habashi, who lives now in Cairo with his wife and toddler daughter, has participated in a Europe-wide consultation with civil society actors and researchers organized by the Brussels-based Civil Society Platform for Intercultural Dialogue. “The Platform was interested in gauging how participants of the consultation understood intercultural dialogue within the context of diverse European societies, and how they thought they could increase intercultural dialogue. Europe as a social, political and economic body is still in a formative stage. Nations and social groups are only beginning to discover how difficult it is to coexist within the EU and how indispensable intercultural dialogue is. The European Commission, the initiator of the European Year for Intercultural Dialogue (EYID) next year, looks to the Civil Society Platform to gain a sense of what civil society actors need to open up opportunities for dialogue among members of various social groups.”
Although he is not a civil society actor, and he no longer lives in Europe, the Platform invited Boromisza-Habashi to attend a three-day workshop retreat in Biella, Italy, in October. The organizers were impressed by the quality of his contribution to the consultation, and they also appreciated his book chapter on culturally specific interpretations of “dialogue” as communicative practice that he coauthored with Donal Carbaugh and graduate student colleague Xinmei Ge.
“The task for the 32 participants at the retreat,” says Boromisza-Habashi, “was to analyze the various ways in which NGOs all over Europe conceive of and promote intercultural dialogue and to craft policy recommendations at the EU, national, and local levels that will enable European civil society actors to create further opportunities for intercultural dialogue. We worked hard to produce recommendations aimed at all levels of EU policy making. I was asked by the Platform to work on drafting a Rainbow Paper. This document, featuring policy recommendations, will be presented at the opening of the EYID this January in Ljubljana, Slovenia (when Slovenia takes over the presidency of the EU Council).”
Boromisza-Habashi is enthusiastic about his experience in Amherst. “It surpassed my expectations,” he says. “One of the great things about the Department of Communication is that graduate students not only receive in-depth training in the area of their choice but also become familiar with the great variety of research done in the communication discipline. This duality served me well in Italy. Besides my primary research background, I could tap into what I had learned in courses about democratic theory and social theory. And the fact that many professors seek opportunities to apply their research in the world beyond academia motivated me to become involved in the Civil Society Platform for Intercultural Dialogue in the first place. Professors who consult with public organizations like the United Nations or teach community service learning courses—and engage in community service themselves—are particularly inspiring.”
Being an international student is never easy, Boromisza-Habashi points out, but he says that UMass Amherst provides many opportunities for international students to feel empowered. “The International Programs Office helps sort out paperwork and organizes social activities. In the Department of Communication, faculty and student colleagues go out of their way to welcome and mentor international students. In my own experience, UMass Amherst helped me a lot with the greatest challenge an international student faces: turning being a foreigner from a disadvantage into an advantage.”
Boromisza-Habashi also points to the Interdepartmental Graduate Student Colloquium Series (IGSCS) as a mark of excellence. IGSCS invites graduate students to present their work to an audience of peers from all over campus. “It requires us to present in a way that is interesting and understandable to all disciplines. To my mind, this not only helped me reflect on the relevance of my research, but also provided an opportunity to build relationships across disciplines. Today, when interdisciplinary research is considered a major asset, IGSCS emerges as a low-risk, relaxed environment where students can forge productive research relationships while practicing being a public intellectual. My IGSCS experience, for example, was invaluable in Italy when I spoke about my research to people who had no knowledge of ethnography of communication research.”
October 25, 2007
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