Martina Bergamaschi is a visiting graduate student on exchange from Bologna University in Italy. Her Master’s degree will be in Interdisciplinary Research and Studies on Eastern Europe. Last fall semester, she completed an exchange at St. Petersburg State University at the faculty of international relations. Here at IU she is taking Russian language and topical classes and working on her thesis.
MB: Can you tell me a bit about your research?
MBe: I’m currently working on research for my graduate thesis. I’m still at the beginning, but what I want to do is take history textbooks from all five Central Asian countries and compare their respective narrations of three historical events: the October Revolution, the Red Terror, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. I want to see how each country presents these events and their relationship with narratives of national identity. I also want to include Russia in this research to see if Russia is being identified as an "other" against these new national identity narratives.
MBe: Last year I had a geopolitics of Central Asian course, which was my first time studying that area and it became very interesting for me. I had the opportunity to visit Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in the summer, and that expanded my interest even further. On the subject of history textbooks, I wrote a paper last year involving history textbooks in Russia. This is a well-researched subject for Russia, but not so much for the case of Central Asian countries. So I thought it would be useful to do this research on textbooks in Central Asia since it is an understudied area.
MB: Last semester you studied abroad in St. Petersburg at St. Petersburg State University. Can you talk a bit about your experience? Do you have any advice for students who might want to study abroad in Russia?
MBe: So this was actually my second exchange in Russia. In undergrad, I spent a semester studying in Moscow at Moscow State University, where I studied the Russian language. University in Russia was quite different; it was very different from my experience in Italy, and especially from my experience here in the United States. What I would suggest is that although you will learn a lot from the university and your teachers, you can also learn a lot from the city. Russia has an amazing cultural life. Make sure you go to an exhibition or a play. These types of cultural activities are very easy to do and affordable, and they are the best way to learn about a nation’s cultural life.
MB: What is the relationship like between Italy and Russia?
MBe: Even now in this moment of crisis between the US and Russia, Italy tries to play a less harsh, mediating role. In Italy there have been a lot of discussions about whether or not we should continue sanctions against Russia. I think because of our history there is more of a connection between Italy and Russia. Italy in the past had a very large communist party, so because of this shared factor we’ve had a common past and have always been closer to each other than Russia has been with other European states. This is a common problem with EU states since every nation has their own bilateral agreements and different history.
MB: Indiana University is one of the few programs in the United States that still has a Russian studies program. What do you think are the merits of receiving an education in regional studies?
MBe: I am a believer in the importance of international studies. A chance to study another culture and another language enriches you so much. It doesn’t even really matter which country, but a chance to experience something else, live in a new place, and learn about different cultures is really important for understanding the world. Especially with the current situation in the US, studying Russia and relations between both countries gives you the knowledge to really do something important. It equips you to work in foreign service or foreign affairs, where you can affect positive change in the world.