Leah Valtin-Erwin ’18
Q: Where did you study as an undergraduate? What was your major(s)?
I studied at Hampshire College, in Amherst, MA, and frequently at Mt. Holyoke College through the Five College Consortium. Hampshire doesn’t have traditional majors – I concentrated in East & Central European Studies with a focus in post-socialism.
Q: What do you like about the UNC graduate program in Russian and East European Studies?
The program made a very good impression on me throughout the application process: interesting and varied professors, a good and focused language program, interesting courses with considerable flexibility and room for specialization, but also a core requirement curriculum that should expand and strengthen my engagement with the subject.
Q: Why did you choose to specialize in this region of the globe?
I spent a good portion of my childhood (and post-childhood) in Berlin, where my early interest in the East and West ‘Europes’ began. The complexity of the continent, such divisions and categorizations, and foreign perceptions of East & Central Europe are totally mesmerizing. I hold an enormous respect for the diversity and commonalities within the region, sympathy and admiration for their unique experiences in the last century (and before), and boundless curiousity about the political and cultural nature of the post-socialist world – and its history.
Q: Do you have work and/or study experience in the region?
I studied in Krakow, at Jagiellonian University, and spent a summer doing research on pre-war Jewish life in Belarus, Eastern Poland and Lithuania.
Q: What are your research interests?
I am primarily interested in post-socialism, but find the Second World War, the Stalinist show-trials and fallout in Central Europe and the memorialization of the Holocaust during socialism captivating as well. The appearance and variety of ‘nostalgias’ or ‘ostalgies’ in many of the post-socialist countries, whether as an industry for tourism or as a more personal development, is most central to my interests.
Q: What would you like to do after you graduate?
I intend to go on to do doctoral work, perhaps after some time abroad, learning another language or gaining more practical experience. I love both research and teaching and hope to enter the academic field.
My free time is filled with dance (mostly modern), films (mostly older), good food that I do not cook myself, and dogs. I find travel unendingly interesting, and would give it hobby-level frequency if I could! My more serious free time is occupied by political and social activism.
Q. What is your favorite visual reminder of the region and why?
I am always interested in the times, places and ways people choose to display their flag, official or otherwise. I took this in Lviv, in late 2014.