Jessica Storey-Nagy met her husband, who is Hungarian, while living in Denver. She said her first trip to Hungary to meet his family influenced her decision to pursue an education in Hungarian Studies. She ultimately chose the Central Eurasian Studies M.A. and Ph.D. programs at the Indiana University (IU) Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies with a Ph.D. minor in anthropology and a Hungarian regional specialization.
“While at IU, I met faculty who inspired me to pursue study of nationalism and of political discourse,” she said. “Gardner Bovingdon and Kate Graber helped me to dig deeper into theory while I was in the Ph.D. program.”
Storey-Nagy is now a visiting faculty member in the IU Language Training Center, which provides language and cultural instruction to the U.S. armed forces. She teaches on site at Fort Carson in Colorado as a Regional Expertise and Culture Instructor for the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), SFG (A), widely known as the Green Berets (GBs).
The Green Berets Storey-Nagy works with primarily deploy to Europe, and she was hired to teach them European politics and culture.
“I have a broad knowledge of Central and East European politics and a deep knowledge of Hungarian politics. Because I’m also an anthropologist who conducts ethnographic fieldwork, I know how to thrive on the ground and as I understand it, those who hired me were hoping I could pass that knowledge on to the Green Berets,” she said.
Storey-Nagy teaches cultural lessons tailored to the different battalions that rotate into her classroom. She could teach a battalion for three months, three weeks, or less, depending on the mission, which she isn’t briefed on other than knowing the regions to which they’re traveling.
“After they do language training in the morning, I provide a cultural lecture in the afternoon,” she explained. “My teaching schedule is dependent on a battalion’s schedule, and there are all kinds of random issues that pop up right before a lesson which I have to teach around, for instance, ‘jumping schedules,’ which are days the GBs are scheduled to jump out of plane – something you don’t contend with in academia.”
As far as topics go, Storey-Nagy prepares lectures based on need.
“I‘m often asked to give geopolitical talks, or ‘briefs’ as they’re called here” she said. “For instance, I was asked to talk about how the Polish government interacts with EU leaders and with Russia. I’ve also given talks on Vladimir Putin and disinformation campaigns that stem from the Kremlin and travel throughout Eastern Europe.”
Storey-Nagy also works with other military units as needed, like the Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) at Fort Carson in Colorado and the Special Forces at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. All the units she teaches are focused on building relationships with allied forces, to work together on joint operations. The soldiers’ work requires building rapport, negotiation, and other skills Storey-Nagy helps them develop.
“Their job is to work with our partner forces—basically, to make friends. They trade tactical information, run training exercises, and so forth,” said Storey-Nagy. “I’ll teach them a bit of history, modern politics, and social norms concerning the places they’re headed before they are deployed. One of my goals is to help make their transition a little bit easier.”
One of the most important things Storey-Nagy teaches are strategies to build trust.
“The most successful soldiers focus deeply on developing personal relationships before they focus on anything else,” said Storey-Nagy. “While considering their mission objectives, they build relationships with specific people that will help them forward those objectives.”
When Storey-Nagy was a Fulbright-Hays Fellow in Hungary, she learned first-hand that official institutions are not always trusted.
“It helps to go grab a drink with a colleague or go to someone’s house for dinner to get to know them in an informal context to build trust – to learn about what life is like in that place. That’s a crucial step one must take in a lot of post-socialist spaces, and it goes both ways,” she said. “I met a group of soldiers who had a difficult time building trust with partner forces in Romania only to find out that they were, daily, declining invitations to go out for drinks with their Romanian colleagues after work. I explained to them that making a connection outside of the workspace was necessary because in Romania, the sociopolitical system before 1989 fostered distrust in formal institutions, especially in government institutions. And so, people have to get to know you outside of work, or you won’t be able to build the trust you need to build in the workplace itself, or on the battlefield.”
Storey-Nagy also ensures soldiers understand how Americans are perceived in different countries.
“I talk about how not to forward perceptions of American exceptionalism, because that is a problem,” she said.
One of the challenges of preparing lectures for a military audience is that battalions can’t provide Storey-Nagy with much information about their missions.
“I get little information from them because I don’t have a security clearance,” she explained. “For example, I was recently told a battalion was going to ‘Eastern Europe’ and asked to provide ‘cultural lessons.’ I had to ask where they were going. Estonia? Finland? Hungary? There is no such thing as ‘Eastern European culture’ and all states and regions within those states are different, with different social norms. This whole process has made me a much more resilient instructor because I am constantly forced to develop new syllabi, adapt to new situations, and work with soldiers with highly varied educational backgrounds.”
She is able to customize her lessons because of her deep regional knowledge, paired with her background as a political and linguistic anthropologist. She has studied Hungarian, Estonian, French, German, Spanish, Latin, and (Mandarin) Chinese.
“The Central Eurasian Studies department teaches you how to look deeply at a place,” she said. “That’s why I’m able to do this job. Although I’m a Hungarianist, the CEUS program also introduced me to Central Asia. I have a good friend who studies Mongolia. One of my Ph. D. advisors worked in Xinjiang and now works in Kazakhstan. I don’t think there is any other place where someone can study Hungary and European Union politics and have in her cohort a historian studying Mongolia and a linguist specializing in Persian. CEUS has allowed me to make connections in my work I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to make. And today, when I’m asked to give a talk on Latvia, for instance, I know how to gather the necessary materials and mine them for relevant knowledge.”
In regard to the broader impact of her work, Storey-Nagy says cultural instruction can indirectly affect foreign policy and how the U.S. is perceived abroad.
“Our special forces are soldier diplomats,” she said. “Those informal relationships they develop with our partner forces are perhaps just as important as the formal relationships the U.S. develops with other states through our elected officials.”
Helping her soldier-students become better communicators is her goal.
“If I can help the U.S. promote democratic governance, especially right now when democratic systems, values, and norms in Europe are under attack from authoritarian governments…If I can help just a few of our special forces to leave a good taste in the mouth of our allies, that’s worth it,” she said.
The Language Training Centers Program provides language and culture training for Department of Defense (DoD) personnel, is sponsored by the Defense Language and National Security Education Office and is administered by the Institute of International Education. Indiana University’s Language Training Center is hosted by the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies for its historical legacy in language instruction, regional expertise, and unparalleled service to the nation.