Senior wins prestigious Fulbright to Colombia

Senior Thomas Matusiak has been awarded the Fulbright U.S. Student Program Scholarship to Colombia for the 2013-14 academic year.  In Colombia, Matusiak will teach English part-time at a not-yet-determined school and pursue research in Colombian cinema.

Colombia was a clear destination of choice for Matusiak because of his honors project on Colombian Cinema. Associate Professor of Spanish Rosa Tapia describes the genre that Matusiak is interested in as a sub-genre of “Dirty Realism.”

“Thomas is studying something that he, himself, coined and branded the ‘cinema of disenchantment and disillusionment,’ which would usually be the subject of those who are young, with no future, with short lives, who represent the larger society with no future” said Tapia.

Apart from teaching in Colombia, Matusiak hopes to conduct a research project on Colombia’s film industry.  His plan for the project is to compile a series of interviews with directors, producers and screenwriters with the goal of eventually translating the material into English. “What I hope to do is translate these in English because there isn’t really a collection of interviews of [Colombian] directors that is contemporary, in English,” said Matusiak.

One Colombian director that has been especially influential to Matusiak is Victor Gaviria, who is known for his treatment of youth, violence and street life in the city of Medellína.

Tapia believes that Matusiak is going to “make important contributions to the field of American studies and film studies in Latin America.” According to Tapia, “Colombian political history is somewhat different from their neighbors, so this cinema also has this socio-economic ideological content embedded into it, which is similar to other countries but in political terms very unique to the context of Colombia”.

Professor of Spanish Gustavo Fares and Tapia both believe that Matusiak’s abilities as a student and Spanish speaker are remarkable. Matusiak had no prior experience with the Spanish language before coming to Lawrence and will be attending Princeton University’s Spanish doctoral program after his year in Colombia.

“We have very few students who begin with no Spanish at all, and complete the major and go to do an Honors project in Spanish, plus getting the Fulbright in a Spanish-speaking country […] also, he has been accepted in a number of prestigious grad schools and he decided to go to Princeton in Spanish, and that speaks even higher of his Spanish abilities,” said Fares.

“I haven’t in almost two decades in the profession seen a case like this […] he is just exceptional: Exceptional as a language learner, exceptional as a researcher and so taking both of those things into account, he is one of the very best or the very best that I have had,” said Tapia.

On campus, Matusiak has been very involved in working at the CTL and planning the Second Latin American and Spanish Film Festival, organized by Tapia, which will take place April 10-14.