Professor's refugee experiences inspire research

September 12, 2022

Research & Innovation

For Lidia Radi, an associate professor of French and Italian studies, her latest fellowship is an opportunity to connect with a world she left behind.

“I was born and raised in Albania,” Radi said. “At 16 years old, I escaped to Italy with my family a few months after the fall of the Berlin wall,” she said. She lived as a political refugee in Italy for seven years before becoming a naturalized Italian citizen in 1997. That experience has fueled her research at the University of Richmond.

Radi studies transnational literature, which focuses on the narratives of those who have lived between two different cultures, languages, and countries. Radi recently earned a Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges Mednick Fellowship to further her research. In preparation for her upcoming book, Living in-between: Displacement, Longing, and Dissent in Diasporic Narratives, which details the works of Albanian-born women authors who write in their non-native language of Italian, this summer, she returned to Albania for the first time in more than three decades.

“It was a completely different world,” she said. “Albania was under Ottoman rule for 500 years. Then 50 years of communism, which I experienced growing up. Life was very, very difficult.”

After seven years in Italy, she studied for two years in France and then moved to the U.S., where she spent the past 22 years and became a citizen in 2018.

Now, after returning to Albania, she said the country has moved forward and looks similar to other areas of Europe. But her experience of escaping is still fresh despite spending decades away from her home country.

“The diasporic space is not an easy one to navigate,” she said. “How do you live in between? When you live in one country, you speak the language of that country. You know all the culture and societal norms. When you leave that, you can imagine the challenge.”

She will travel to Rome this semester to interview an author for her book, hoping to shed light on this experience around the world.

“Two of the most impactful experiences in my life have been my challenging past as a political refugee and my training in the humanities,” Radi said. “The latter allowed me to acquire the tools necessary to understand my own journey of displacement and the culturally fluid identity that this experience yielded.”