If you’re stuck for something exciting to do next summer, Natalia A.J. Truszkowska ’04 has plenty of ideas—no endless photocopying or making coffees for her. “I’ve spent my life at Harvard thinking of cool things to do with my summers,” says Truszkowska. This intrepid traveler has spent her breaks away from school living with Spanish bullfighters, dodging Maoist insurgencies in Nepal’s more remote areas, living in the mountains of Eastern Europe, and sleeping with machetes in the jungles of Costa Rica.
“I travel to the developing world because I think it’s politically important,” she says, “and if more people traveled [there] the whole world would be made more aware not only of the poverty, but also the richness of all cultures.” But Truszkowska doesn’t shy away from talking about the old-fashioned fun of adventure in addition to the heightened political awareness: as a matter of policy, for example, she always books her flights on the last day of finals so she can leave the exam room backpack in tow. She recounts that last year, after being hired to write for Let’s Go: India & Nepal in the summer, she “subsided on my travel backpack for the whole of May after driving all my other possessions home, just because of the sheer exhilaration of landing myself into difficult situations.”
Such resourcefulness is an example of the survival instinct Truszkowska credits with getting her through difficult situations. “I’ve learned how far you can go using your mind and wits,” she says.
Nitin Shah ’04, her managing editor at Let’s Go, says that “we really knew we were dealing with a pro in Tali when, during one of our researcher training meetings during the spring, she advocated hooking up with a random local on the first night in a country as a method of ‘acclimatizing to new cultures.’”
She never complained about anything her editors asked her to do, Shah adds, “except possibly to stand still.”
Then there was the summer spent researching the changing role of women in bullfighting in southern Spain. “Machetes and Maoists aside, this was the biggest challenge I’ve had,” Truszkowska says. She was attracted to the sport for complex reasons, saying quickly that “I don’t support the killing of animals, but it was something I swallowed because I appreciated the beauty and dance of the sport.” Living off a Harvard research grant, Truszkowska ended up amassing some 60 interviews, as well as “befriending everyone who worked in the bullring”—not an easy task for a foreign woman trying to infiltrate a heavily male-dominated sport.
Looking around Truszkowska’s room—walls adorned with colorful hangings, a bright red “kurta,” or traditional Nepalese dress, hanging from her closet, and a humidifier in the corner to recreate a “tropical climate” reminiscent of Costa Rica—it’s difficult to see how she keeps the travel bug under control during the school year. But Truszkowska busies herself with her interest in women’s issues.
Offended by the dominance of final clubs, or “enclaves of self-gratifying male separation,” on the first-year social scene, and frustrated at the lack of “energy or support for feminist issues,” Truszkowska found her way to the Radcliffe Union of Students (RUS) her first year at Harvard and was elected president of the organization the following year. She is also currently writing a thesis jointly in the literature and women’s studies concentrations that examines subversive dialogues in immigrant biographies.
For Truszkowska, who comes from a multi-ethnic Polish-Mexican background and only began learning English when she was six, such a thesis offers ample opportunity for personal reflection. Indeed, Ira Jewell Williams, Jr. professor of Romance Languages and Literature Doris Sommer, also Truszkowska’s Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship mentor, notes as much in an e-mail. “Along with her sheer intelligence, Natalia’s complex cultural background… stimulate her mental and social agility,” she writes.
Truszkowska is adamant, however, that neither gender nor ethnicity will dictate her direction. Her friend William L. Adams ’04-’05, also a Crimson editor, says “Tali has the most complicated background of anyone I know and she manages to respect each of her identities without being dominated by any single one.”