Welcome, new faculty/staff member! Edina Szalai – American Literature, English 12: Journeys and Discoveries, Senior Seminar, English Department Chair
Where did you grow up? What was it like to grow up there? Where did you go to school and what was that like? Did it have an impact on your choice of career?
I was born and raised in Hungary; as a 19-year-old, I witnessed the collapse of the communist regime. Despite the political oppression (which I was mainly unaware of as a child), education was a priority. Not only did most schools offer a rigorous academic curriculum, people in general took pleasure in educating themselves about the arts and sciences. No matter whose house you visited, there was no such thing as a living room without a big bookcase full of books. And people actually read these books: Tolstoy, Hemingway, Poe, Dickens and others were household names. Obviously, as an avid reader from childhood, this kind of environment felt reassuring.
Did you have any key mentors or people who deeply influenced who you are, what you believe in and what you’re committed to in your work and life? Tell me about them.
I consider myself a very lucky person because I have had key mentors at every important stage of my life. People like my cello teacher, high school English teachers or family members have had a tremendous influence on who I ultimately became. The common denominator between these people, I believe, is that they all held me to a high standard and made me understand that we all owe it to ourselves to live up to our own potential without cutting corners. They did not try to be my friends; they were beacons of light and wisdom who did not shy away from challenging me if necessary. Exhausting as the experience was occasionally, I never had any doubt questioning their commitment to me.
Did you have any life-changing experiences that put you on the path that led you to be doing what you’re doing today? Tell me about them.
Two things have affected me in such radical ways that I don’t believe I’d be the same person today had I not had these experiences come my way. The first is classical music. I attended schools with a special music program from age 7 to 18 without ever having the intention of becoming a professional musician. Most of my school years were spent in a magical bubble of listening to, creating, discussing and feeling music on a daily basis. I firmly believe that every child should be exposed to this experience because it affects every aspect of their personal development. The other thing that has changed me tremendously is traveling. Due to the successful choir I was singing in for 12 years, I have gotten to visit most European countries as well as Australia, Venezuela, Canada and the U.S. even during the years of communism when international travel was largely restricted. Being exposed to such a variety of cultures, customs, and traditions has created in me a sensitivity and openness to difference, to “otherness.” The unfamiliar seems to me like an adventure that I embark on with curiosity instead of feeling intimidated by it.