It has been a busy summer of 2019 for students in the Department of Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University. The Inner Asian and Uralic Resource Center asked a number of CEUS students to tell us more about what they got up to while school was out. Read on for tales of archaeology on the Mongolian steppe, a picnic at a 15th-century caravanserai, the music festival attended by 10 percent of Estonia's population, and more!
Anmol Swamy, Graduate Student, Central Eurasian Studies
Having studied the Mongolian language for two years, I felt it was time to put my skills to the test and head out to Mongolia for the summer. I sent an application to the Mongolia Field School organized by the American Center for Mongolian Studies—and they accepted it! The Henry Luce Foundation kindly funded my trip, and the experience was breathtaking.
I participated in the Northern Mongolia Salvage Archaeology project lead by Dr. Julia Clark near the city of Hatgal, very close to Khovsgol Lake. My group consisted of people from the USA, England, China and Mongolia. We were working on an archaeological site that is about 5000 years old (Early Bronze Age) every day for two and a half weeks. A typical day consisted of working at the site from 9 till 5 before heading back to camp to take a dip in the lake. We learned how to survey archaeological sites, dig test pits, and catalog the artefacts found. We found lithic, ceramics, arrowheads and animal bones from our survey, but I think the most interesting find was a Manchu era vase that the local community leader gave to us.
As part of our project, we visited the ger of some local herders, which was where I discovered that Mongolians are among the kindest and warmest people on the planet. They laid on a feast of dairy products for us and were always insistent that we eat more. We also got the chance to attend a local naadam (festival) where I tried (and failed) to wrestle. My experience in Mongolia has not only improved my Mongolian language skills, but also helped me better understand the country that is the focus of my research. I will be back, Mongolia!
Quentin Swaryczewski, Undergraduate Student, Central Eurasian Studies
During this past summer, I spent two months in Estonia, as well as paying a brief visit to Helsinki, Finland. I especially appreciated my time in Estonia as I am now in my third year of studying Estonian, so this was a great opportunity to practice. My arrival coincided with the opening of the Estonian Song Festival in Tallinn, a tradition that goes back 150 years. The main event of the festival featured 30,000 performers and was attended by over 95,000 spectators—a staggering number for a tiny country of only one million people.
My main purpose for being in Estonia did not start until several weeks after my arrival. I had been accepted into a course for PhD students offered by the Tallinn Summer School called “The Soviet Otherwise.” Despite being an undergrad, my background in Estonian here at IU convinced the school to accept my application. For eight days I participated in seminars and expeditions related to the period between Stalin’s death and the start of perestroika.
I spent the rest of my time visiting various cities and villages throughout Estonia, beyond the main cities of Tallinn and Tartu. I visited Narva, a city on Estonia’s border with Russia, and headed from there to Saaremaa, an island off Estonia’s west coast. I also visited the village of Liiva in Muhumaa, which has 189 inhabitants and is the traditional home of Muhu embroidery. I made sure to see the local museums, libraries, and festivals everywhere I went. I also got the chance to converse in Estonian with a few different craft shop owners about textiles.
I spent my last day in Europe in Helsinki, where I caught up with last year’s Finnish FLTA, Jukka Isomaa. And, of course, I made sure to pick up a new box of salmiakki.
Emily Stranger, Graduate Student, Central Eurasian Studies
To be honest, Kyrgyzstan had not been on my list of top destinations to visit. Sure, I am a CEUS student, and I have come across Kyrgyzstan in various readings and occasional news articles, but my region of specialization since coming to IU has been, and continues to be, Iran. It was during a meeting with my advisor during the 2018 fall semester that Kyrgyzstan piqued my interest. Prior to joining CEUS, I was a teacher and I traveled internationally. It had been several years since I had been overseas, and I missed it. I was telling this to my advisor, and he told me about the exchange that our department has with the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek. I decided then that I would apply to the program to both study the Kyrgyz language and conduct research on the ground inside the country.
For the majority of the summer, I stayed in Bishkek. I had Kyrgyz class every day in the morning and then I was free to explore the city. Bishkek was very easy (and cheap) to navigate due to the seemingly unlimited number of taxis and marshrutkas. The city also has many restaurants that serve a variety of dishes, so I never went hungry. I was also tempted daily by the Central Asian breads that can be found in almost every store or for sale on the street corner. I had never been to a post-Soviet city in my past travels, so I was struck by the Soviet-era architecture found throughout the city. I especially enjoyed the beautiful mosaics on the sides of many residential buildings. I also learned to appreciate the many parks and public spaces that were created during Soviet times.
One of the most memorable events of the summer (there were many) was traveling with my Kyrgyz teacher to her village in Naryn Province. I stayed with her at her mother’s home for a weekend and was treated like a member of the family. It gave me great insight into Kyrgyz village culture and how Kyrgyz families take care of one another. They also took me for a picnic and to see Tash Rabat, a 15th -century caravanserai in the mountains. I had fun exploring the ruins of Tash Rabat and enjoying a light meal with my teacher’s mother, brother, sister-in-law, and her brother’s two small children. It was a day I will never forget.
Eduardo A. Acarón-Padilla, Graduate Student, Central Eurasian Studies
This summer, I had the privilege of being one of twenty-two students selected by the US Department of State to participate in the Critical Language Scholarship Program to study Persian in Tajikistan. CLS is an intensive language and cultural immersion program tailored to produce rapid language gains. After visiting my family and friends in Puerto Rico for three weeks, and a brief stay in Washington D.C., I set out to Tajikistan.
I knew we had arrived in Tajikistan when I caught sight of the pointy snowcaps of the Fann Mountains from the airplane. They looked like giant white piraguas, defying the midsummer sun. Nestled amongst them was the city I would call home for the next two months: the Monday bazaar turned sprawling capital city of Dushanbe.
A few hours after my arrival I was greeted by my hosts, a family of 10 who warmly welcomed me into their home. With infinite kindness, I was adopted by this Tajiki family who only had a page’s worth of information on me. Here, I celebrated my first birthday outside of Puerto Rico, played hide-and-seek with the grandchildren, and ate copious amounts of Tajiki food. I tried oshi palav, qurutob, shir berenj, shurbo, mantu, and other such delicacies served on fine china. The common dessert was a shared plate piled with slices of the most succulent watermelon.
My friend’s language partner invited us both to stay in the village of Vashan with him and his father, the local Mullah. It was the only time they would be able to see each other during the year. During these two days, we hiked, ate with the family, and fed the animals—all the while conversing only in Persian. This was simultaneously the most productive immersion experience, and the most emotional one. We both cried during our departure.
Aside from Vashan, I traveled to the ancient cities of Hisor, Istravshan, and Khujand. I also went hiking around Iskanderkul and Sangalt, and explored all of Dushanbe’s verdant parks, numerous restaurants, ornate historical mosques, the multi-floored National Museum, and both large waterparks. In addition, I took classes in Nastaliq Calligraphy, Iranian cuisine, and Poetry. My host father said in Tajiki, “Any place you have your birthday in, is a good place for you.” I agree.
Cristina Palmer, Central Eurasian Studies, Graduate Student
One of the highlights of my summer was attending the 16th Biennial European Society for Central Asian Studies Conference, this year held in Exeter, UK. The 2019 conference, titled “The Globality of Central Asia,” featured panel presentations from over 150 scholars, many of whom had travelled from various parts of Central Asia to be there. I was thrilled to see on the list of presenters the names of several scholars whose work I had encountered in class or in the course of my own research: Dina Sharipova, John Heathershaw, Nick Megoran, Madeleine Reeves, and Aksana Ismailbekova, among others. IU’s very own Uyghur Language Senior Lecturer, Gulnisa Nazarova, presented her work on Uyghur migration from Xinjiang to Soviet Central Asia in the 1950s and 60s in a panel session focusing on the Uyghur community in Central Asia.
The three-day schedule was packed with fascinating panel sessions, representing the breadth and depth of current scholarship on Central Asia. In fact, deciding which sessions to attend was quite a challenge. Professor Nicola di Cosmo gave an excellent keynote lecture entitled “Central Eurasia in Late Antiquity and the Early Medieval Period: Towards an Integrated View,” and a plenary roundtable event addressed the issue of “International Cooperation and Academic Freedom in Central Asian Studies.” Finally, rounding off the program was a talk and Q&A session with one of my favorite authors, Hamid Ismailov, who read from his latest novel The Devil’s Dance and shared his thoughts on whether Central Asian writers have a “homeland” in world literature. My one regret is that I forgot to bring my copies of his books for him to sign!
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