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After detour through Poland, FLAS Fellow returns to Ukraine

October 13, 2014

What do Poland, Ukraine, and the UK have in common? They are each important stops in my graduate school journey. This spring I said goodbye to the University of Washington for six months and boarded a plane with a flight itinerary that included these three destinations which have been critical to my graduate education and professional development.

Independence Day

Hofland on Ukraine’s Independence Day.

I came to graduate school at the University of Washington after having spent most of the previous four years in Eastern Europe, primarily Ukraine. Through my experiences, I became fascinated with this unique region of the world and wanted to make it the focus of my professional career, so I came to UW to pursue dual degrees in Russian, East European, and Central Asian studies at the Jackson School of International Studies and public administration at the Evans School.

When I began my work last fall as a graduate assistant at UW’s Center for West European Studies and the European Union Center of Excellence in Seattle, I did not fully realize what a key role the European Union would play in Ukraine in the coming months. I now look back to sleepless nights watching live feed of Ukraine’s Euromaidan protests from my tiny bedroom in Seattle during fall quarter exams or coming in late for work at the EU Center as I watched footage of people hurling bricks at each other just two blocks from my former apartment in Odessa.

Despite the many tragic events in Ukraine over the past year, it also brought inspirations and new opportunities. I was inspired by my former university students in Ukraine. When I was teaching them a few years ago, they often expressed apathy towards civic participation. This year, I watched these same students spend days and nights in Kyiv standing for a better future in Ukraine.

After receiving a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship to study Ukrainian, I naturally made plans to pursue my studies in Ukraine. However, this spring the U.S. Department of Education restricted student travel to Ukraine due to the current crisis. That’s how I came to design a program for Ukrainian study in Poland. An instructor from the School of Ukrainian Language and Culture in Lviv, Ukraine, met me in Krakow, Poland, for four weeks to teach me Ukrainian.

Following my studies in Poland, I was finally able to go back to Ukraine through an internship in the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine. Interning at the Embassy has given me a unique perspective on international activity in Ukraine and a chance to be at the front end of U.S. involvement in the current crisis. Here I have been working on projects such as hosting a Grammy Award-winning Jewish Klezmer band, the Klezmatics, on a tour in Ukraine designed to promote Jewish culture, diversity, and Ukrainian unity. I helped with writing proposals and selecting grants for NGOs trying to address some of the most urgent issues facing Ukraine, such as corruption, internally displaced persons, media literacy, and civic participation. I also coordinated on a project to bring a museum expert from the U.S. to help museums in Ukraine become platforms for community engagement.

As I finish up my last weeks here in Ukraine, I am already thinking ahead to the next leg on the flight itinerary. This fall, I will participate in the Center for West European Studies’ Trans-Atlantic Studies Program (TASP) at the University of Bath. In light of my current experience in Ukraine, I look forward to discussions in Bath centered on the relationship between the US, the EU, and Ukraine. As an American with a background in Ukrainian studies, I believe the Transatlantic Studies Program will add an important European dimension to my graduate education. I am most interested in topics of European security, eastern expansion of the EU, and EU/US collaboration in world affairs. Besides the top-ranking education the University of Bath offers, studying international relations in the UK would be a rare opportunity to expand my professional network to Europe and to work with like-minded graduate students from around the world who are eager to tackle today’s pressing global issues.

By Christi Anne Hofland