Interview | Clarissa Tabosa
-How would you define yourself? Both in your career and personal life.
I think there’s not much difference between how I am in my career and my personal life. I’m a very methodical, focused, and responsible person. Both in my career and my personal life, I try to organize and plan things. I try to never leave things for the last moment. This is because I think I don’t work well under a lot of pressure. I also don’t like big surprises. In reality, however, I have to adapt, as I cannot control everything that happens around me.
-What brought you from the largest country in South America-Brazil to this small country in the heart of Europe-Slovakia?
When I was 16, I had the opportunity to take part in the Rotary Youth Exchange Program, which is a cultural exchange program. When the time came for me to decide where I would like to go, I decided I wanted to go to a place that I would not have the opportunity to visit otherwise. I knew I would have the opportunity to visit America or more “popular” countries in Europe at some other point in my life. I knew for sure I wanted to come to Europe and to visit many countries. The Czech Republic and Slovakia, located right in the heart of Europe, soon became good options. I chose to come to Slovakia and I was sent to live in the city of Martin. It was a cultural exchange program, so I attended a Slovak high school, and lived with Slovak families (meanwhile, back in Brazil a student attended my school and lived with my family). I met my husband around that time. After my program was over, I went back to Brazil, took the exams, and started studying International Relations. However, Brazil didn’t feel like “home” to me anymore. I missed my life in Slovakia. I missed how safe I felt here. Eventually, I applied for a scholarship and came to study at Comenius University, in 2011.
-Is there anything similar or even the same about these two countries?**
I couldn’t think of any specific similarities between these two countries.
-How do you feel about living in Slovakia?
I love living in Slovakia. Slovakia is home to me. Here I feel welcomed, safe, happy. I am not sure I will live here forever, but I think I will always feel home here. I know not all foreigners feel the same way than I feel, though. I am in a privileged position because of my skin color and because I speak Slovak – these two things create a “protection” against racism and xenophobia that enables me to feel welcome and safe in Slovakia. Unfortunately, not all foreigners feel that welcome and safe here, especially in the past couple of years.
-What was the biggest culture shock for you?
Easter holidays. I believe I integrated pretty well in Slovakia, but I will never understand or accept the “Easter traditions” here. It also took a while for me to accept the Slovak bureaucracy. If one needs to solve anything here, he has to go through three different offices, 40 different signatures, 12 stamps, and, in my case, official translations. Once you’re done, they tell you in person that they will send you a letter communicating that you need the approval of a fourth office, meaning that you have to start the entire process all over again. PS: the letter is never delivered to you by the postman, even if you are home. The lady at the post office also complains that you have two surnames and it makes her work difficult.
-What was the turning point in your life, when you realized that you would like to be a researcher in the field of International Relations?
I don’t think there was a turning point. I was always curious about the world around me, and I always loved learning. At Comenius, I had many opportunities, still as a student, that built my path to becoming a researcher. At BISLA, I found out I loved teaching as well.
-What are any of the highlights of your professional life?
I think the highlight of my professional life so far was my research stays at the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, at the University of California, San Diego. In California, I had the opportunity to work closely and meet with scholars I admire.
-How do you see BISLA as a school?
I see BISLA as a place where students get true education, in the holistic meaning of the word. Students at BISLA get access not only to formal education but they get to be part of a community that shapes and changes them for the best. For me, the best part about teaching at BISLA is to get the chance to contribute to and later observe these changes in the students.
-How do you feel about the current situation in the world?
I am very concerned about the situation, especially when I read the news or talk to family and friends back in Brazil. I think that, even though the situation is difficult everywhere, many countries are dealing well with it, including Slovakia. In Brazil, however, our president is doing an extremely poor job – minimizing the seriousness of the issue and, as a consequence, people are not taking social isolation measures seriously and the number of deaths is growing at an exponential rate. Additionally, we have very densely populated areas, such as the “favelas”, where huge families live together making social isolation difficult. Indigenous people are also at higher risk, as often they lack the means to reduce contagions, such as soap and sanitizer, and they are located in more isolated areas which makes access to health care more difficult.
-Do you think that it would be possible to live in the same way we were used to living before?
Well-known IR scholars, such as Stephen M. Walt, have suggested that the Coronavirus outbreak to some extent revived the explanatory power of the Realist current of thought in IR. Among other things, Walt suggested that the COVID-19 outbreak re-stressed the fact that the states are still the main actors in IR (and are not becoming less relevant, as the Liberals in IR would say), and that, if it lasts too long, it will reinforce the “deglobalization” argument. He points to the works of other IR scholars, such as Kenneth Waltz, who in the past suggested that cooperation and interdependence are processes that happen faster than our capacity to deal with the problems caused by these processes and ever-tighter connections among nations. I think the answer to your question will depend upon two things: how fast we can get a vaccine available to most parts of the world, and how cooperation will take place in the future. Neorealists have argued that, due to the anarchical character of the international system, cooperation is possible only to the extent that it fulfills the interests of particular states. Neoliberals, on the other hand, believe international organizations, democracy, and economic interdependence help to overcome the anarchical character of the international system, enabling genuine cooperation to happen. If we want to live the way we used to before the virus, we have to find mechanisms to (re-)strengthen the faith in international organizations and their role. Otherwise, we will continue struggling to respond effectively to problems tightly connected to globalization.
-You travel a lot. What is the best country that you’ve ever visited?
This is a difficult question. I wouldn’t say that the United States is the best country I have ever visited, but California is the best place I have ever been to. If someone would ask me where I would go if I had the chance to travel only once in my life, I would say “California”. There you have amazing beaches, beautiful nature, snow… you can also experience big cities like LA or a different one like San Francisco. It is the most beautiful place I have ever been to. I also loved how welcoming the people in California were. The food was also excellent.
-What is your craziest travel experience?
When my husband and I traveled to Thailand, we decided to rent a car and visit places that are not so touristic. We drove for over 2500 km. At some point between two cities, basically in the middle of the jungle, we started running out of fuel. It was foggy and raining, but there was no need to panic. According to Google, soon we would pass through a gas station. Well, the gas station did not exist. The next one was too far away. There was not enough fuel to turn back either. I tried the map on my iPhone. The internet connection was very poor, but the iPhone map gave us some hope, as it led us to a gas station that was out of our way, but still reachable with the amount of gas we had left. The road to the gas station (if I can call it a gas station) was not even a road; it was a small path through the jungle. We could only hope that this time the gas station existed as we lost the internet signal, we had even less gas, and we were now too far away from the main road. Luckily, we found it. When we got to the station, people did not speak English, but we understood that they were surprised to see tourists over there. The gas station was a huge oil barrel half-buried in the ground. There were only motorcycles around, which explained why the road we used was so tiny. The owner, whose clients were only motorcycle owners, was happy to fill up our car’s tank. We were equally happy to have found the gas station. From that day on, we never left a city without first filling up the car’s tank. During this trip, we ended up driving on the wrong side of the road a few times. Roundabouts can be very challenging when you’re driving on the opposite side. Luckily, people in Thailand are very calm in traffic. They usually just diverted from us and continued on their path.
-Where would you like to go next?
Ideally, I would like to go to Brazil, to visit my family and to bring my baby to meet her Brazilian family. I am not sure if this will be possible at any time soon.
-What are your plans for the future?
I’m trying not to make a lot of plans for the future. I want to focus on taking care of my baby, working on a couple of research projects, and teaching a few courses. I also plan to apply for Slovak citizenship.