The Polish Connection| December 5, 2012
To many undergraduate students at William & Mary, John Nezlek is a well-known Introductory Psychology Professor. What they may not be aware of is that in addition to teaching several hundred students each year, he is a world-renowned Social Psychologist. His research questions focus on the nuances of daily experiences and how they affect behavioral outcomes of people in the United States and those in a variety of social contexts throughout the world.
John’s interest in other countries and cultures is longstanding. Recently as he was rummaging through materials that his mother saved from his childhood, he found his second grade report card. He was surprised to see that even at this early age, his teacher had commented that he was “very interested in international affairs”. Little did she know that this interest would become a driving force for his research in cross-cultural psychology.
Over the past 20 years, John has journeyed to destinations throughout Europe and Asia, including Greece, France, Japan, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Turkey, Estonia, and China. While some may dream of travelling to these countries for vacation, John’s ultimate goal is quite different. Through various fellowships and grants that he has received over the years, he has expanded his primary interest in evaluating the effects of individuals’ daily experiences within a North American context to include cultural-level variables. One such example involves understanding the relationship between people’s attitudes towards immigrants and their individual psychological characteristics such as conservatism or fear. John is interested in determining whether these relationships vary as a function of culture; i.e., does the strength of this relationship vary as a function of the wealth, or the political history or background of the country?
John acknowledges that for many of these research questions, there is no need to leave his office given that many of these data are available on international databases. However, he notes that “one thing that cannot be replaced is visiting other places, listening to the people who live there, and understanding how they construct the world and how they think about things… Therefore, when I made a decision that I wanted to expand my research to include a cross cultural perspective sometime during the mid-nineties, I started attending international meetings and developing connections [which led to] research with people in other countries, who are now colleagues… These colleagues have provided me with an insider’s view into the many countries I have visited.”
In collaboration with these colleagues, John has collected data from various ethnic groups throughout Europe and Asia. During his first visit to Poland as an International Research Exchange (IREX) fellow in 1994, he established some preliminary working relationships. Eventually, he met Izabela Krejtz, who worked with him on a daily diary study in which they examined the relationship between self-construal and the quality of daily interactions in a sample of Chechen refugees in Poland. These data in combination with those collected from samples of ethnic Turks and Morrocans in the Netherlands by another colleague, Juliette Schaafsma, led to several recently published papers. Currently, in collaboration with Dr. Krejtz, John is working on a research grant from the Polish Science Foundation to study the daily adjustment of individuals with anxiety disorders.
John believes in the old adage that “chance favors the prepared man” (or woman to update the expression). He tries to plan a few steps ahead so that most things do not catch him unprepared, and as a result he has been able to take advantage of varied opportunities in Poland. During his most recent sabbatical, spent at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Warsaw, his roster was busier than most. Within just a couple of weeks of arriving, he gave an invited address and a workshop at the Polish Social Psychology Conference, several international talks, and was the scientific speaker at the opening convocation at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Poznań. Additionally, during his stay he taught a graduate statistics course at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, and became involved with the newly re-constituted Polish Bureau of Education where he helped with statistical analyses of multilevel data. After organizing a conference in Poland last fall, he was invited to serve on the editorial board for a leading Polish journal of education. Currently, he has a joint of appointment in Poznań where he advises Master’s students and teaches a short undergraduate course.
John looks forward to watching his Polish connection further grow and evolve over the coming years. Although he living parallel lives in the United States and Poland keeps him busy, he is always open to new and exciting international opportunities. Over the long term, John hopes that other faculty members will follow his lead by becoming involved in international research as well. “Although I don’t expect that we are all going to learn how to speak Polish next week, if faculty are interested in international projects, avenues exist for achieving this goal”.
Because funding is often not available to conduct cross-cultural research until researchers become more established, more support is needed at the departmental and university levels to kick-start these international collaborations. In the meantime, John is doing his part to facilitate collaborations between Polish and William & Mary Faculty. This past fall he invited Todd Thrash and Joanna Schug to participate in a conference that he organized at the Polish Bureau of Education. It is his hope that these opportunities will result in productive international collaborations similar to those that have enriched his work over the past 20 years.