This Spring, twenty-three undergraduates enrolled in a new REEI course entitled, “Current Issues in Eastern Europe." Covering the countries in and between the Baltics and Balkans, the course introduces undergraduates to Eastern Europe by providing them with a solid foundation of knowledge of contemporary issues in the region. The course is taught by REEI alumnus and Director of Global Health Affairs at Indiana University, Dr. Justin Otten, who also teaches the graduate course “Proseminar in Russian and East European Studies” at REEI each fall. Students stated that East European ancestry, a general interest in the region, and other factors led them to enroll in the new course.
Course materials have primarily focused on the rise of right-wing populism, limitations on media freedom, recent military or political conflicts, and corruption and economic issues. "In general [the students have] expressed in their summaries their surprise at how different the trajectories of the countries have been post-communism, and yet how they’re changing still (e.g. Hungary)," noted Professor Otten. Students also remarked on the rich ethnic and religious diversity within Eastern Europe. The course addresses current issues through an interdisciplinary lens, giving students flexibility and variety in their assignments. For example, students were able to choose any topic they liked for their midterm papers and have been able to develop those ideas during the second half of the course.
Professor Otten hopes to maintain that level of freedom with assignments next year. One idea is incorporating a travel-style report project at the end of the semester, which had been part of the course's original syllabus. That particular project had been cut due to necessary changes made in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and transferring the course online.
Moving to an online format wasn't what Professor Otten thought was most difficult about the course, however. When asked what the biggest challenge was for the class, Professor Otten stated that "bringing it together from scratch has been a challenge, and already I’ve seen how I can revise the course for next year. The pandemic and being homebound with kids, and thus having numerous obligations in addition to the class, have made my ability to focus on it more of a challenge. Nonetheless I created Power Points and pre-recorded lectures using Kaltura for students to watch alongside the readings." Professor Otten looks forward to being able to improve the dynamic nature of the class next year with in-class discussion and the ability for students to ask questions mid-lecture.
Next year the course is slated to be a 200-level class in order to entice more students interested in exploring a Russian and East European studies minor. Professor Otten will be teaching the course and hopes to further diversify next year's topics.