For Nick Tostowaryk, his brand new BA was a window into the world.
The combination of literary studies and global politics proved a fertile ground for the Edmonton-born Tostowaryk’s curious mind — a curiosity that, earlier in his life, had driven him to study theatre arts at MacEwan University. Though a confessed “drama guy” with a knack for singing, the life of a thespian was not for him.
“We experienced so much in those two years [at MacEwan],” he says. “Professionally it was not the right path. Personally, it was, in terms of meeting people, maturing and growing up.”
Some paths are straightforward, but Tostowaryk has always valued a certain fluidity of mindset that allows for serendipitous opportunities, like the year he spent in France teaching English to elementary school kids, or two years ago when he created claymation stop-motion films with groups of children as an instructor for the City of Edmonton Director’s Cut summer camp. Both experiences were the product of a chance recommendation and a receptive mind.
“I think there are all sorts of ways to be in the world,” says Tostowaryk. “Openness attracts me; new experiences, new people. I see opportunities and I think: yeah, I can see myself doing that!”
He was drawn to the University of Alberta’s English & Film Studies program for its strength in cultural studies – the opportunity to read literature for its cultural and social implications in the contemporary world. A minor in political science deepened his connection to global events, providing the background for his honours project, Stagnate Modernity: European Roman(ies), Mobility, and Menyhért Lakatos’ Bildungsroman. The project is based on a close reading of The Color of Smoke by Menyhért Lakatos, which details the experiences of the Romany people living in Europe during the interwar years and their eventual deportation to Nazi concentration camps.
“I see opportunities and I think: yeah, I can see myself doing that!” – Nicholas Tostowaryk
In spite of the dark subject matter, Tostowaryk calls it a beautiful book, adding that its relevance to current events in Europe is chilling.
“I read The Color of Smoke against the deportation of the Romany [to Romania and Bulgaria] from France that occurred in 2010 and is occurring all over Europe,” he says. “The question that my honours project looked at was the notion of modernity — modernity being how we live in a time of supposed constant progress and things getting better, but then taking this event in 2010 and looking at it against its similarities to past events and questioning the notion of progress.”
The challenging nature of the research and the independence required to complete his honour’s project was, according to Tostowaryk, a “labour of love,” instilling in him a taste for the academic life. “I had the support of my advisor, but it’s left up to you to go out there and find your research material, find your topic, funnel it down and make something of it. The most succinct way of putting it: my project really showed me what I loved to do — researching and teaching.”
Determined to build on the momentum of his final year as an undergrad, Tostowaryk will be pursuing a master’s degree in criticism and global affairs at Western U this fall, followed by a PhD. He cites the flexibility of academia and the chance to engage with the global community as irresistible draws.
“There’s a lot of potential for new opportunities,” he says. “You could end up anywhere in the world!”