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A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

Researcher Spotlight: Daniella Fridl


Researcher Spotlight: Daniella Fridl

June 27, 2013

A fiercely independent world traveler from a young age, Daniella Fridl knew she had found a home in the United States when she first studied as an exchange student in Springfield, Ill., at the age of 16. As she spent formative years in the states, her own war-torn country of Yugoslavia went through a transition on a much larger scale. The civil war that took place put Fridl on the path to a lifelong journey seeking to find solutions that could prevent future conflicts in other countries.

How did your childhood shape your professional endeavors?

My interest in international affairs and conflict resolution developed at a very young age. As my country went through a civil war, I wanted answers. Why did people resort to violence? How would the international community respond? Daniella FridlBecause I was studying in the U.S. at the time, I had a chance to see first-hand how that question played out. It was frustrating to see how things were being reported and how people interpreted them.

It was an incredibly complex situation that was getting oversimplified. But what was even harder was watching from afar as my country and its peoples went through this. That's when I decided to do something with my life that could help me and others understand these situations and prevent them from occurring.

I'm one of those idealists who believe that the conflict in Yugoslavia could have been prevented. I wanted to be in the political arena and make a contribution. Become an active participant on the world stage. That's one of the reasons I wanted to make the U.S. my home, so many decisions about international affairs start and end here.

I have channeled that ambition into my research, which I hope can help policymakers understand the potential consequences of their decisions. Research informs us on how to find better approaches to negotiations, which can mediate conflicts and prevent war. People might say that some countries are just doomed for failure, but I don't believe that.

How did your family react when you told them you wanted to make the U.S. your home?

My parents are two of the most incredible people I know. When I was younger, I thought nothing of them letting me go abroad. I thought they should provide me with that opportunity. Now that I'm older, I see what an amazing gift they gave me, to let me go abroad. To let me live in a country they had never visited. To speak a language they had never spoken. It took such courage to do that, to allow me that opportunity to grow. The hardest thing about living in the U.S. is being away from them. We still talk every day over Skype, but I would like to see them more often and would love for them to move here one day.

Other than being away from your family, what was the hardest part about assimilating in the U.S.?

When I first came here during high school, I had to look up about every eighth word I read or heard. I had always been a good student, so it was hard to feel like I didn't know something. It was even more frustrating when I did know the answer to something, but couldn't find the words to express it. But I was determined to become fluent in English and lose my accent. The language acquisition process taught me some life lessons though and prepared me for another study abroad experience I had in college. Though I was already technically studying abroad in the U.S., I applied to study abroad in Germany and learn about the European Union. I faced many of the same challenges there as I worked to learn German. Only this time, it didn't feel as daunting because I had been through that before.

Where is the coolest place you've traveled?

My parents live in Montenegro and I absolutely love visiting them there. In high school, I lived in Malta and played for the Maltese National Volleyball team which was pretty neat.

The coolest, most fascinating place I ever visited is Cuba. In 2012, I received a travel grant from the UMD's Study Abroad office and joined a group of 15 faculty members from universities across the U.S. on a 12 day trip organized by the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE). It was incredible. It was like stepping back it time. They drive old American cars. The culture is so unique and so rich. There is music, live music, at every corner and the food is amazing. What I found really surprising though is how friendly the people were and how much they embraced us as Americans. They are very good at separating people from politics and it showed. They were eager to talk with us and share their culture and their homes. Meeting with Cuban faculty at the University of Havana and learning from them was wonderful. It just felt amazing to experience the challenges and rewards of Cuban reality first-hand.

What has been your favorite class or concept to teach?

I absolutely love teaching -- both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. My favorite classes to teach so far have been "Special Topics in Regional Development" and "Globalization and America's Changing Faces: A New Generation of Political, Economic, and Cultural Leadership" at Cornell University. In both classes we've examined a lot of case studies and the students have gotten really engaged in the topics. I also enjoy teaching in areas of U.S. Foreign Policy, International Security and Conflict Management.

Can you tell me a little on what you are currently working on at START?

The best part about my job at START is that no two days are the same. The current project I really enjoy working on is the Integrated U.S. Security Database (IUSSD), which aims to enhance, validate and expand empirical data on terrorism and extremist violence in the United States by integrating existing data sources including the Global Terrorism Database, the American Terrorism Study, Profiles of Perpetrators of Terrorism in the U.S. and the U.S. Extremist Crime Database. We are in our fourth year of funding from the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate's Resilient Systems Division. I really enjoy having the opportunity to work with our program manager as well as our consortium members that are part of this project.

I am also really enjoying the opportunity to work with START researchers involved in 33 projects as part of our work with the DHS S&T Office of University Programs. All aimed at studying terrorism and behavior, our projects investigate topics ranging from the role of social, behavioral, cultural and economic factors on radicalization and violent extremism to the understanding and countering of terrorism within the U.S. to adversary modeling and methods. My role in this project is to work with START's Executive Director Bill Braniff to keep the researchers on track with respect to deadlines for their deliverables, ensure they are working with appropriate end-users and getting feedback that will make their research as relevant as possible for policy-makers.

What's your favorite part about working at START?

There's never a dull moment! It's very exciting to have the opportunity to be a part of a very dynamic, ambitious team of hard-working people who are passionate about making a difference. I have also worked with quite a few members of the Consortium and they are fantastic. While I very much love teaching and professorial duties, I am really enjoying participating in the practical application of research. That's something START is excellent at translating cutting edge research into something policy relevant.

The terrorism focus dovetails with my interest in conflict management. Each is an issue you are trying to prevent from happening. And with each, you try to answer the same fundamental question: what motivates people to go from having grievances to taking action on them in a violent manner. Both topics have an international security focus, which is where my interest lies.

Why do you love living in Washington, D.C.?

I moved to D.C. to attend Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies some 14 years ago and I fell in love with this area. Prior to coming here, I studied in Iowa and although I really appreciated the friendliness and hospitality of people there, I missed interacting with people from different backgrounds and cultures. I grew up playing a lot of sports such as tennis, volleyball and later competing in fitness competitions and working as a personal trainer. The D.C.-area is perfect for people that are physically active. I love the outdoors and think Virginia has the best bike trails. On weekends I'm usually either on one of the trails or catching up with close friends in Georgetown. Also, because of my professional interests, living in the Nation's capital is very exciting.

What do you do when you're not at START?

I am currently working on a book project on fragile and failing states and I'm hoping to finish it by the end of the year. I also enjoy watching movies especially comedies -- Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller and Jonah Hill are among my favorite actors.