Fulbright-Hays Postcard: Experiences in Poland, Winter 2015

By Peter Jan Tunkis, PhD candidate, Department of Political Science and visiting Fulbright-Hays Scholar at IFiS-PAN

As a Fulbright-Hays fellow this year, I have been working on my dissertation fieldwork since early January 2015 in Poland. While I feel I have accomplished a lot, there is still plenty in store for me here until I move to the Czech Republic in August, where I will be conducting similar research until the end of December. With the general topic of my dissertation focusing on the activities and backgrounds of elected politicians here in Central and Eastern Europe, there is always something new happening every day!

Thanks to the fellowship I received, I have primarily been working on the on-location collection of materials regarding past and current members of parliament (MPs) which I have not yet been able to gather, which will make up the cornerstone of my dissertation as well as other planned publications in the near future. This includes biographical/parliamentary activity data and gathering and analysis of content from major media outlets (quotes and statements made by MPs), along with content from interviews (and interacting with my research subjects directly). When it comes to these personal interactions, perspectives and experiences, you never know what kind of material you will get from one person to the next!

Overall, I must highlight one point in particular with respect to my dissertation fieldwork. Besides whatever I have materially accomplished thus far along with whatever I have yet to accomplish, interaction with researchers/scholars at the Polish Academy of Sciences and the University of Warsaw has enriched my experience greatly. While approaching a research topic objectively from an outside-observer’s perspective is important, insights from people who more directly experience or observe the topic on a daily basis (whether actively or passively) is invaluable. I have already benefitted from this input.

Nevertheless, my experience has not been limited to the above. In affiliation with the Cross-National Studies: Interdisciplinary Research and Training Program and the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences, I have for some time now been involved in a research project that chronicles electoral candidates since the end of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe, which is closely related to my dissertation. Recently, I had the chance to meet with European scholars at a conference held at the University of Warsaw. Perhaps the icing on the cake came in the form of an invitation to attend a round-table talk on Democratic Transition and Consolidation: the keynote speech was delivered by Lech Walesa, leader of the Polish trade union Solidarnosc, or Solidarity, in the 1980s and the first president of the Third Republic of Poland.

Being a Fulbrighter has also opened a lot of doors regarding networking and making new friends! I am regularly in touch with people at the Polish-U.S. Fulbright Commission, and have spent a lot of time with other Fulbrighters, namely faculty scholars—their perspectives and backgrounds are as diverse as the home-institutions from which they hail. I have also been invited to give a presentation for Polish students (Fulbright applicants/hopefuls) in the coming month on the topic of studying/doing research in the United States with the focus on political/social studies and diplomacy.

In sum, it has been a busy and exciting couple of months since I got here in January, and I am optimistic that there is a lot more to come during my stay in Poland through August, and then in the Czech Republic through December!