by Caroline Kenneally
Nina Jankowicz (MAERES’13) was recently awarded a Fulbright grant to work within the Ukrainian government as a special adviser on strategic communications. Jankowicz is one of 1,900 US citizens selected to provide expertise in a foreign country for the 2016-2017 academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.
“Receiving a Fulbright fellowship is truly an honor,” Jankowicz remarks, “I am thrilled to join the ranks of so many accomplished individuals and serve as a cultural ambassador between the US and Ukraine.”
Jankowicz graduated from Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service in 2013 with a Master’s Degree in Eurasian, Russian, and East European Studies (MAERES). This program offers an interdisciplinary study of the region, which includes anthropology-sociology, culture, economics, government, and history. “Georgetown attracts some of the best experts on the region and offered me a chance to really do a deep dive on the countries and topics that were interesting to me, from Interwar Poland to the South Caucasus to identity in Eastern Europe.”
Before coming to SFS, Jankowicz received her BA in political science and Russian from Bryn Mawr College in 2011. The Fulbright scholar has been passionate about international affairs since she was a member of the debate club in high school, and political science was her intended major upon entering college.
Meanwhile, Jankowicz remembers falling into the Russian major “somewhat accidentally.” She recalls, “My grandfather’s family was deported from Poland to the Arctic Circle by the Soviets during World War II, and that story and my Polish heritage in general always fascinated me.” In addition to her politics studies, Jankowicz decided to take advantage of the liberal arts college’s world-class Russian department as a foundation to exploring the world of Slavic languages. She found that Bryn Mawr’s program offered a holistic understanding of Russian culture, politics, and people. “Within a few weeks of starting school I was hooked. I became interested in Russian power struggles in the former Communist bloc and all the intersections between the world of Political Science and Russia.”
Studying abroad in Russia as an undergraduate sparked her interest in gaining a deeper understanding of Post-Soviet Russia. Jankowicz decided to come to Georgetown to study at the Center for Eurasian, Russian, and East European Studies (CERES) in the SFS. “I wanted to be in a place where I would have exposure to not only the leading academics in the field, but practitioners doing the work I aspired to do and places I could get my hands dirty myself. I knew that I could find that all at Georgetown.”
“My favorite classes were the ones I could not have gotten anywhere but Georgetown,” she notes, listing courses such as Post-Communist Economics, Ethnicity and Nationalism, and Borders and Belonging. “I’m particularly indebted to Professors [Marjorie Mandelstam] Balzar and [Kathleen] Smith, who were very supportive of me and offered invaluable feedback on my thinking and writing.” Jankowicz also fondly remembers an end-of-semester dinner at the Russian/Uzbek restaurant Rus-Uz with her sixth-level Russian class and professor, Dr. Jill Neuendorf.
New developments in the geopolitical arena and the state of US-Russian relations in the past few years have impacted Jankowicz’s studies and work. While studying at Georgetown, she recalls standing in the CERES library as she received the news that USAID had exited Russia back in 2012, “We were all scared that was the end of Russian studies as we knew it, when actually it was the start of a longer and more sinister trend that has meant a resurgent interest in the region.”
Following graduation from Georgetown in 2013, Jankowicz began managing democracy assistance programs and working on the Government Relations and Communications Team at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI). Fluent in Russian, Polish, and Ukrainian, Jankowicz was recently named a “Rising Expert” in Eurasian Affairs by the Center on Global Interests (CGI).
When Jankowicz graduated from Georgetown and began her work at NDI, it seemed like a new era for Russian opposition politics. Unfortunately with the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine, the space for Russian civil society began to shrink and a more belligerent Russia emerged on the world stage.
“But no matter what, there remain some Russian activists who continue to mount campaigns, protest the draconian new laws that the Duma passes with a frightening frequency, and in general stand up for their freedoms. That’s why I do the work I do – for them,” Jankowicz explains, “The spirit and bravery of the Russian people is what keeps me coming back.”