Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Report from Kyiv

As we noted in a previous entry, Erik was invited to Kyiv to interview potential Fulbright scholars. He received a big box from the Fulbright office full of files when we arrived in L'viv and he read them all before the trip Monday night. Alot of impressive people in all disciplines were vying for spots.

The train ride was bumpier than usual, so he did not get much sleep. He shared a four-person room with a young married couple and an older man (a business-type). Everyone was quiet and absorbed in his or her own thing. In the four-person rooms, there are two bunks and two lower berths. In the past, riders had to pay extra for their bedding (sheets, pillows, etc.). It was always a strange exchange - of course noone rejected the bedding (and really could not), but the price was tacked on in cash on the train and not included in the ticket price. This has changed and everyone received bedding without having to pay extra (a worn, thin mattress and clean linens in a plastic bag). It took awhile for everyone to get arranged; lights went out around midnight. Unfortunately, Erik's berth-mates wanted to leave the door open. This made it difficult for him to sleep, and he only nodded off for a couple of hours. He did, however, finish an Alan Furst novel (a great traveling companion for an East European train). In the morning, he ordered the 20-cent cup of tea, served in a glass cup with an ornate metal base (this is one of the great train traditions and comforts from the old USSR).

He was met at the train station, cleaned up, then went to interviews. The day was long, but included one incredibly humorous moment. Each candidate was brought in individually, then the panel introduced themselves one-by-one. After that, each candidate was asked an opening softball question about his or her plans. Erik quizzed one young man about the election literature - the candidate's area of research. Erik asked the interviewee to talk about research that has inspired him. The candidate began to answer that a professor from the University of Kansas had come to his town and given a lecture, and he read that professor's book. He must have been really nervous during the introductions, because he was talking about Erik, but did not realize that Erik was sitting at the table. He started to praise Erik's book, but indicated that there were some problems and controversial aspects. Only then did he realize that he was actually talking to Erik! His shock combined with the panel's amusement made for a memorable interview.

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