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Student Spotlight: Keely Bakken

For the 2015-2016 academic year I received two research grants. The first was a Fulbright U.S. Student Award for research in Kazan, Russia, and the second a Boren Fellowship that has me currently based out of Istanbul, Turkey. Each grant is for six months.


My Fulbright proposal had me looking at the promotion and preservation of Tatar culture and identity in Tatarstan. Tatars constitute Russia’s largest ethnic minority, yet processes of assimilation over the years have given rise to fears that Tatars are losing their distinct culture and identity as more and more Tatar youth forgo learning the Tatar language and increasingly identify as culturally Russian. In response to this, a number of state, civil, and international organizations have undertaken preserving and promoting Tatar culture and identity through a variety of different educational and cultural programs, activities, and events. My interests lie in how exactly these organizations have saught to portray and promote different aspects of Tatar culture and identity.

Keely at the Turkish Consulate in Kazan, Russia, for a reception for the "11th International Turkish Poetry Festival"

One of the more difficult things I’ve experienced on these fellowships has without a doubt been adjusting to different work and academic cultures. Scheduling interviews in Russia, for example, was surprisingly troublesome. Oftentimes you could get someone to agree to a day to meet, but then would have have to wait until the actual day of the interview to clarify the time and place. Next thing you know, something would come up and you’d have to completely reschedule. I quickly learned that in some cases it was much more expedient and even acceptable to just show up and request to meet with someone on the spot.


(I was also kicked out of Russia for an indefinite period of time at one point because of bureaucratic/visa issues, so I guess that also counts as a difficulty!)


Now I’m in Istanbul, working on a project not unrelated to what I was doing in Kazan. Although the main purpose of a Boren Fellowship is to advance language skills (in my case, in Turkish), I’m also pursuing a research project on the role of international cultural organizations in the promotion of Turkish-Central Asian relations. One of the main organizations I’ve been looking at, Türksoy, was also immensely active in Kazan, and so my projects have seen a lot of overlap.


Here I’m officially affiliated with a language institute for the duration of my grant, but at the same time I’m working with a couple of professors from the Turkish History department at Marmara University, where I’ve also been auditing a number of their classes. This has been immeasurably helpful not only for my research project, but also my Turkish!

Keely in a class at Marmara University, Istanbul


In my spare time, I’ve been volunteering at a small grassroots organization dedicated to helping those affected by the conflict in Syria. I’ve mostly been helping out with child care and translation, but as of this weekend I’ll be helping lead the children’s Turkish language classes and can’t wait.


I'll go back to Bloomington at the end of August, and, if I'm honest, am probably most excited to just eat all the things I haven't been able to get in Russia or Turkey for the last year!


Keely with Tatar friends visiting a museum dedicated to Tatar national poet Gabdulla Tukay in Novyi Kylai, Russia