When Dr. Martha Kuchar visits Eastern Europe in the fall, in some ways, she said it will feel like she is returning home. In other ways, she said she expects it to feel very different.
Kuchar, chair of the Roanoke College English department, will spend the fall semester in Moldova, teaching as a Fulbright Scholar. This is her second time receiving the prestigious award.
“I was elated. The chance to live abroad and talk to people about their experiences and bring to them a little whiff of of the United States–the way we think and learn and talk here–is terrific. We have much to learn from each other,” Kuchar said.
Her family moved from the Ukraine, where she still has family, to Chicago in 1949, and she is the first in her family to be born in the United States. The first time she received the award in 2010, she taught in Ukraine.
Though Moldova borders Ukraine, Kuchar is fervent to avoid lumping Eastern European countries together, which she said often happens in the minds of Americans. She said comparing the culture of the countries would be much like grouping the cultures of Mexico, the U.S. and Canada together¬¬, or grouping Appalachian and West Coast culture– it just isn’t rational.
“Fore a very long time, we have seen that part of the world under the cloak of Russianness,” Kuchar said. “It just seems like one big, vast, grey area of Russianness, and nothing could be further from the truth.”
Moldova also borders Romania, and was once part of the Russian Empire and one of the republics of the USSR. It declared its independence in 1991.
She began her career at Roanoke College in 1994. She holds a B.A. in English from University at Albany-Suny and an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Russian literature from Cornell University. Kuchar grew up in a bilingual family, which she said was advantageous to her educational success. She said her background is also what inspired her to study the language and culture of the region. Her teaching and research covers Russian and Eastern European literature, as well as world literature and women’s writing, with an emphasis on the 19th and 21st centuries.
She said some of the themes of Russian and Eastern European literature are similar to English literature, but for the most part, are very different. Kuchar said a central theme is the idea of freedom in a more literal sense, depending on where the authors are from and their experiences. She said irony and satire are also prevalent in the region’s literature.
“Of course they have similar themes, because we’re all human beings,” Kuchar said. “We all talk about love and death and life and friendship and community, but I would say that the struggles there are a little bit different. I think they probably write about things like freedom with a little more meaning than we do. They talk about fairness, equity and equality in fairly different ways.”
Kuchar will teach courses on business and academic courses at Moldova State University, as well as consult with faculty at Ion Creanga Pedagogical State University, an English research center. She said she anticipates spending much of her time helping students better understand the language, and answering questions about American culture, which she said many are fascinated by.
Kuchar said she is most interested in helping bridge the culture gap, and open lines of communication between the area and the United States. While she is prepared to to help her students better understand American culture, she said Americans also have a responsibility to educate themselves about the region
While in Moldova, she said she also wants to spend time researching contemporary literature to better understand what is being written there now. She will officially begin teaching on Sept. 1.
“I think the story of Fulbrighters going to other parts of the world is the story of the United States aiming to send goodwill ambassadors to different places, it’s to open up lines of communication,” Kuchar said. “The idea is to have a healthy, informed exchange of view points, teaching and learning methodologies and experiences for the purpose of learning from each other how to make the world a better place for everybody to live in.”