November 2020 Alumni Profile

David McVey, MAs in Slavic and East European Studies and Geography, Class of 2006

David McVey

David McVey

 What was your focus or research interest when you studied at OSU?

I graduated from the master’s program at OSU’s Center for Slavic and East European Studies in 2006. I was glad that the center allowed me simultaneously to work toward a second degree in geography. Geography has always been my passion, and geographic thinking has informed the way I approach research and analysis. It’s a frame of mind that provides a novel outlook on any problem. As a pre-MA student, I was even able to publish an article in a peer-reviewed geography journal with the help of the Center’s personnel, Dr. Halina Stephan and Dr. Jason Vuic. I greatly appreciated the Center’s interdisciplinary approach to area studies, which permitted me to chart my own course to a graduate degree.

How has your CSEES MA helped you throughout your post-graduate life?

I value the foundation CSEES helped me lay for my future career, particularly outside academia. The research and writing skills I developed in classes in the program contributed to my success as a contracted immigration assistant for United States Citizenship and Immigration Services at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. In addition to working as a simultaneous translator for refugee interviews, I served as the primary point of contact for all congressional and legal immigration inquiries. I researched file archives, online databases, and other manuals to collect the materials necessary to respond to often aggressive demands from congresspersons and attorneys concerning their constituents and clients. Owing to the writing guidance that I had received in CSEES courses, I was able to compose expedient, detailed, professional, evidence-based replies and provide accurate, logically presented information to represent my office.

If you are a traveler, what is one of your favorite trips you have taken?

When I was working in Moscow, I took a close friend on a tour of the three Baltic countries: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. He wanted to see something of Russian culture but was hesitant about traveling to Russia proper. Estonia and Latvia have significant Russian-speaking minorities, so we were able to immerse ourselves in a diverse environment of related, yet distinctive cultures, including Russian. We sampled the local cuisines, including zeppelins, gray peas, and pickled herring for breakfast. We filled our cameras with photographs of spectacular architecture, including the particolored doors and gates of old-town Tallinn and the art nouveau facades of central Riga, many of which were designed by Mikhail Eisenstein, father of the renowned Soviet director. We wore out our feet in captivating museums, mesmerized by innovative displays in the Kadriorg Art Museum and immersive, avant-garde exhibits at the Vilnius Contemporary Art Center. We even got to know some locals while we traveled by plane, train, and bus. When our flight from Tallinn to Vilnius was cancelled, an affable business traveler at our gate welcomed us into the frequent-flyer lounge on his account, and we spent a few hours chatting with him. I encourage anyone with a background in Russian to explore this fascinating corner of Eastern Europe, where you will be amazed at every turn, and where your knowledge of Russian will only serve as a bonus.

October Alumni Profile: Jared Dye

Jared Dye

Jared Dye, MA in Slavic and East European Studies and Master of Public Affairs Class of 2017

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I work for CD Projekt RED as an English adaptation specialist. CDPR is a Polish video game studio responsible for the Witcher video game series, GWENT: The Witcher Card Game, Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales, and the highly anticipated Cyberpunk 2077.

Tell us how you got there.

During my final year of the dual CSEES MA/MPA, a recruiter from CDPR reached out to Dr. Daniel Pratt to ask whether there were any OSU students with knowledge of the Polish language and culture who might be interested in applying to the English Adaptation Specialist role in Warsaw, Poland. I immediately leapt at the chance to work on video games and live in Poland. After I applied and passed a couple translation tests, they made me an offer and I moved to Warsaw right after graduation.

How has your CSEES MA helped you throughout your post-graduate life?

Since completing the CSEES MA, I’ve only had one job and that’s the one at CDPR. Because most of my responsibilities there fall in the realm of adapting written Polish to English, my language studies at CSEES in both Polish and Russian have obviously proved useful. Also, because language translation/adaptation requires strong writing skills and precision, working on my MA thesis, MPA capstone, and various papers in my other coursework helped refine my writing skills from a more technical perspective.

What was your focus or research interest when you studied at OSU?

In a nutshell, my language and region specializations focused on Poland and Russia, while my subject areas primarily centered on environmental and energy issues (especially in the last two years of my three-year program). My MA thesis detailed the history of energy use in Russia and the ongoing development of renewable energy in the country, particularly with regard to wind power. My MPA coursework followed a highly predetermined trajectory, but when given the chance to select a research subject for a paper or project, I always selected either Poland or a location within Poland. My capstone, for example, focused on the development of renewable energy production in Poland and the policy framework supporting it.

If you are a traveler, what is one of your favorite trips you have taken?

I’ve been fortunate to take several trips around Europe since graduating from OSU. For major destinations, I would say Rome was a favorite of mine because of the cuisine, coffee culture, and ancient history scattered all across the city. More off the beaten path, Vilnius was a pleasant surprise for me. I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but the quaintness and comfort of the city really drew me in. As for within Poland (besides Krakow and Warsaw, which are both great cities), I loved Wroclaw. Their market square, church island, and zoo were all fantastic must-visit destinations worthy of any major European city.

Bonus Fact

Nikki Freeman and I got married in November 2019. She’s a PhD candidate in the History Department, and we met in Polish class at OSU.

September Alumni Profile: Conrad Rinto

Conrad Rinto, MA in Slavic and East European Studies Class of 2017

Conrad Rinto

Conrad Rinto

Where do you work and what is your current position?

Currently, I am serving as the Bilateral Affairs Officer at the US Embassy in Budapest. In this position, I help develop and coordinate joint training events between the Ohio National Guard and Hungarian Defense Forces.

How has your CSEES MA helped you throughout your post-graduate life?

One aspect of the CSEES MA that has helped me in my post-graduate life is taking the research skills that were developed for CSEES and applying them to my profession.

If you are a traveler, what is one of your favorite trips you have taken?

Perhaps one of my favorite trips I have taken was to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The spring before traveling to Sarajevo, I was fortunate to have enrolled in Slavic 4250H, The City of Sarajevo. It was wonderful visiting a place that I had recently learned so much about. I am uncertain if anyone has ever been as excited to visit the Holiday Inn Sarajevo as I was.


Philip Kopatz’s Fulbright Experience

By Philip Kopatz

September 7th, 2019: I had been in Kharkiv, Ukraine on a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) for a week and was finally getting my teaching schedule. I had been assigned to the history faculty and my advisor told me “Your first class is on Monday. You’ll be teaching by yourself which is nice since you won’t have to report to anybody.” I replied in utter disbelief, “You know I have no teaching experience, right?” He calmly replied, “You won’t have anybody breathing down your neck.”

Man standing on a rock at the beach

Sunrise in Odesa

I spent the weekend frantically googling lesson plans and ideas. The two-day seminar on teaching at the orientation did not prepare me for this! I strung together a semi-coherent lesson plan and walked into the classroom on Monday not knowing what to expect. When I asked the history professors about the level of the students’ English, they laughingly replied, “not great.” The classroom had about 20 students of mixed levels. Some could not understand or speak English, some were advanced, and most were somewhere in the middle. The class went better than expected, but I knew I needed help. I pulled aside one of the advanced students, and to my pleasant surprise, it turned out she used to be an English teacher. With her help, I learned how to write lesson plans centered around fun and engaging activities such as “guess the lyrics” or video comprehension. Although the numbers dwindled throughout the semester because my class was optional, I found a core group of students who were motivated and saw a dramatic increase in their English proficiency over the next seven months.

Once I figured out how to teach, I turned my attention to “what should I do outside of the university?” As if she read my thoughts, a Ukrainian Fulbright alumna messaged me on Facebook to introduce herself and mentioned that she had an English school for lawyers and would love to have me. Two or three times a week I would spend evenings there talking to her students about topics from education in the U.S. to holiday traditions. It was refreshing to be surrounded by people who genuinely wanted to learn English as opposed to many of the university students who only studied English to pass the exit exam for graduation.

But Fulbright is not completely about working; it is about cultural exchange and immersion. With eight other ETAs across Ukraine, we took the opportunity to travel as much as possible. From the beaches of Odesa, to the baroque and Renaissance inspired architecture of Lviv, I immersed myself in Ukraine. There are numerous stories I could write about, but I’ll leave it off with my last trip in March before COVID changed our lives. My Ukrainian friend, who had never been west of Kyiv, and I jumped on a train to western Ukraine to visit some of my Fulbright friends and do some sightseeing for the weekend of March 6th. We did the normal things while traveling: ate good food and saw some cool sights. But we also did some extraordinary things: one day we were visiting a Soviet prison in Ternopil and heard the experiences from a man who spent eight years in that small prison cell, and the next night we were drinking wine on the shores of the Dnipro river in Kyiv.

Students cooking

Making Vareniki and Borscht in Lviv

In the words of the late Fulbright director in Ukraine: “you need to have patience and a sense of humor here.” Those words could not be truer. Living in another country, even if its government sponsored, requires one to be flexible and adaptable. Most of the time things will not go how you planned or imagined, but if you just go with it and enjoy the process, you may just have the best experience of your life.

August Alumni Profile: Dr. Sunnie Rucker-Chang

Sunnie Rucker-Chang, MA in Slavic and East European Studies Class of 2001

Sunnie-Rucker Chang with students

Sunnie Rucker-Chang (right) with study abroad students in Croatia

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I am an Assistant Professor of Slavic and East European Studies and director of European Studies at the University of Cincinnati.

Tell us how you got there.

I was a lateral hire from Florida State University, where I also worked as an Assistant Professor from 2012-2014.

How has your CSEES MA helped you throughout your post-graduate life?

My CSEES MA has helped and continues to inform the way that I approach my scholarship and teaching in an interdisciplinary manner.

What was your focus or research interest when you studied at OSU?

I focused primarily on Slavic languages and literatures, but as an MA student I also took classes in history and linguistics.

If you are a traveler, what is one of your favorite trips you have taken?

It is difficult to specify one trip as my favorite, so I will highlight two: one of which was when I took a group of students abroad to Croatia, Serbia, and Hungary in 2018 and the other is when I first traveled with my children to Europe (Hungary, France, and Germany) in 2017.

What are your future plans?

I am currently in the process of going up for tenure, so I hope to be promoted to the rank of Associate Professor by the summer of 2021.

Bonus Facts

In March 2020, together with her husband Felix B. Chang, Sunnie published the book “Roma Rights and Civil Rights: A Transatlantic Comparison”.

Sunnie is also a PhD graduate of the Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures (2010).

July 2020 Alumni Profile: Emma Pratt

Emma Pratt, MA in Slavic and East European Studies Class of 2011

Emma Pratt

Emma Pratt in Lechkhumi, Georgia

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I am an Invited Lecturer in English at the International School of Economics at Tbilisi State University (ISET), as well as a freelance editor.

Tell us how you got there.

After graduating from CSEES into a tough job market (the previous recession), I moved to Georgia as a volunteer English teacher. My intention was to improve my language skills and cultural expertise. One of the things that I found I love about Georgia is that employers are often willing to take a chance on someone young and bright, but inexperienced. I was hired from my volunteer position into a full-time teaching job for the government, and a little later a friend tipped me off that ISET was starting a Bachelor’s degree program, and they needed someone to plan and execute the new English curriculum. ISET’s reputation for academic rigor and our famous family-like atmosphere made me eager to apply. They liked my teaching demonstration and gave me the position; I have worked there since, seeing the program grow. Next year our first cohort will graduate.

How has your CSEES MA helped you throughout your post-graduate life?

Most Georgians have never encountered a foreigner who studied Georgian formally and speaks (relatively) grammatically. The language skills I acquired at CSEES always endear me to new acquaintances in Georgia. My knowledge of Georgian/Russian/Soviet history and literature has helped me understand some of the background of situations I am walking into and given me a better understanding of current events.

What was your focus or research interest when you studied at OSU?

My primary interest was democratization and post-Communist transitions and my thesis was on the 2010 amendments to the Georgian constitution. One of my favorite things about the program at CSEES was that I was able to study broadly. I also enjoyed a number of literature, history, and international studies courses.

If you are a traveler, what is one of your favorite trips you have taken?

It’s impossible to choose a favorite, but my most recent trip to Kyiv was wonderful. I was visiting family who live there, and it was a great balance of seeing the tourist attractions and relaxing with my relatives.

What are your future plans?

My previous future plans were derailed by Covid-19 closures and delays, so I’m waiting until there is some clarity about the situation and timelines before regrouping. I think I will be ready to return to the US in the medium-term and I’d like to continue working in higher education.

Margarita Nafpaktitis, MA in Slavic and East European Studies Class of 1994

Margarita Nafpaktitis

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I work at Stanford University Libraries as the Curator for Slavic and East European Collections (and Modern Greek).

Tell us how you got there.

I came to Stanford Libraries in 2016 after 5 years as Librarian for Slavic Studies at UCLA.

How has your CSEES MA helped you throughout your post-graduate life?

My CSEES MA was, in retrospect, the ideal preparation for what I do now. Librarians are supposed to know at least something about a lot of things, and the interdisciplinarity of my area studies degree made me a confident generalist within the larger field of Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies. The historical, political, cultural context I gained by taking a broad range of courses made me a better scholar of literature than I would have been without it, and now, it makes me a better librarian.

What was your focus or research interest when you studied at OSU?

Early 20th-century Russian literature (prose fiction).

If you are a traveler, what is one of your favorite trips you have taken?

Recently, a 3-city collecting trip to Ukraine: Kyiv, Odesa, and Lviv.  Each city has its own distinct character and history, and they’re all wonderful cities for walking in. My job has also provided opportunities to travel to Poland (Warsaw and Wroclaw), Czechia (Prague), Germany (Frankfurt), and Russia (Moscow) for conferences and collecting.

What are your future plans?

It’s kind of hard to think about the future in these times, somehow, isn’t it…? I love my job at Stanford, helping students, researchers, and faculty with their research, along with truly splendid colleagues, and I’d love to still be working there 10, 20 years from now.

What inspires you?

I’m motivated by opportunities to help others achieve their goals. Creativity and wit in pretty much all forms are also energizing (especially in book arts, literature, photography, gastronomy, mixology, music, and sewing). Learning about the ways that other people do good in and for the world (even or especially when it’s difficult and thankless) is also inspiring and keeps me hopeful, even in uncertain and unsettling times like these.


New CSEES News Series: Alumni Profiles

CSEES is excited to launch a new monthly series featuring alumni profiles. The Master of Arts in Slavic and East European Studies welcomed the first cohort of students in autumn quarter 1988, who then graduated in 1990. Since that first cohort, CSEES now has over 165 alumni scattered across the globe in all sorts of different career paths, including academia, government agencies, the military, non-profit, public companies, and think tanks. Over the years, the MA program has evolved and added its first official dual degree in public affairs in 2008. Our aim with this new series is to strengthen the connections between our network of alumni. We hope that this will be a way for alumni to reconnect with each other, learn about more recent graduates, and share their work and achievements. If you would like to be featured, please email Eileen Kunkler, the assistant director, at

To start the series, we will hear from a 1994 CSEES graduate, Margarita Nafpaktitis.

Unexpected Thoughts from a Trip to Poland

A view across an open plaza, bordered by multicolored buildings and people standing

Old City, Warsaw

By Brenden Wood

My grandmother was a heritage speaker of Polish, and I had always admired her ability to speak in another language. When I came of college age, I wanted to pursue Polish, but I was not able to during my undergraduate career for a host of reasons, the foremost being that it just isn’t widely taught. So, when I arrived to OSU last year to start my M.A. at the Slavic Center, I jumped at the chance to finally study Polish. I had studied Russian at that point for four years, and I was excited to be able to start in on a new Slavic language. Unlike with Russian, however, I had no career goal or aspirations with the language. The language is simply something that I have wanted to learn for a long time, and I am excited to finally have the opportunity to thoroughly explore the language. Therefore, when I had the chance to travel to Poland this past December, I didn’t hesitate.

Weirdly, I had no personal expectations for the trip. My family came from southeastern Poland, by Zamosc, but we have retained no connection with family in the area. My great-grandfather did not leave on happy terms. I did not have any glorious or romantic ideas to reach back into a forgotten past, and hopefully pull something forward. I figured that I would enjoy the journey, and see where it took me.

I toured Warsaw and Krakow and I went on an excursion to Auschwitz. Writing about what is there does not do it justice, but suffice to say that I did not walk away any more distraught or calmly than when I arrived. I instead got an unsettling sensation that I was a witness, and I felt a sense of odd displacement. It wasn’t that they didn’t make a great impression on me, quite the opposite. I think that it was more that I didn’t have any idea how I would feel after seeing these places, ravaged as they all were by history. It was easy to imagine that seeing Auschwitz would give me a sense of closure or understanding, but instead it just left me with a pensive feeling, as if I had left with more questions than when I had arrived. However, these questions now are still not clear.

A white, horse drawn carriage, with lighted Christmas tree in the background

Stary Rynek, Krakow

One particular event sticks out in my head as I attempt to come to terms with everything. I had the chance to sit down for a meal with relatives of a family friend who are natives of Poland, now living in the small town of Siedlec. As most know, Poland has had a difficult century in terms of political independence and stability. After being ravaged by the Third Reich in the 1940’s, Poland fell behind the Iron Curtain, and was subjected in many ways to the authority of the Soviet Union. Sparing everyone the well-known history lesson here, I’ll just say that as a result of this political situation, learning Russian became mandatory, which is what brings me back to my curious dinner in Siedlec.

My host and hostess both spoke broken English, but each commanded a decent vocabulary and passive understanding of the language. My host spoke excellent Russian, while my hostess had a better command of English. Naturally, they both spoke Polish pretty well. My command of English is that of a native, and my abilities in Russian, although by no means native, are not paltry. My Polish is definitely more primitive, but I can communicate and understand. What ensued over dinner was a conversation in a mixture of three languages, a conversation which conveyed to me sadness, anger, fear, but, above all, great pride. My hosts love their country dearly, and are proud of all that has happened there. What was odd for me, was that I understood the events we discussed not as a student of Poland, but as somebody who has long studied Russia and the Soviet Union. When at a loss for a word, my host and I would revert to Russia to clarify a word, while I would revert to English with my hostess. It was a bit disconcerting to use Russian at the table, as it clearly made everyone a bit uncomfortable. My hostess did not retain her knowledge of the language, and it clearly had been something that she had not made a point to remember. My host, who used Russian at work, had been forced by the nature of his profession to retain a technical command of the language. However, it clearly made him too uncomfortable to have to rely on Russian with me when we were all at a loss for words.

Probably the most interesting takeaway from this pleasant dinner was when we discussed how things had changed in Krakow. They told me that prior to the 1990s, Krakow had fallen into disrepair. They were not specific as to why the city was allowed to literally crumble, but it was clear that it was the result of a lack of funding and motivation under the communist regime.  The answers are clear: feeling trapped by communism, the Poles were more focused on survival than maintaining the city and allowing the communists to enjoy the beauty and pride of Krakow. What was a bit perplexing was that the people of Krakow, who so clearly loved their city, allowed it decline to the point of shame leading up the 1990s, but immediately began to rejuvenate the city once Poland was once more democratic. The people of Warsaw had leapt to repair Warsaw after the war, even though they were at that time falling under the yoke of communist rule. This perhaps seems as if I am running circles around something with a clear answer, but I still pause and think. The anger toward the communists and the Soviet Union was tangible from the conversation, but so too was the pride at how Krakow has been revived. What is unclear to me is how this pride was maintained as a beacon and hope for all those years, but now seems to render itself both positively and negatively. It is positive in that they revived a beautiful city rich in history and culture, but negative in that this beauty is now viewed as a reminder of vindication for decades of being wronged. That is at least how it is seems to a humble foreigner.

A poster with writing in Polish with a skull at the top and a red star with a hammer and sickle in it

A 1940s Anti-Soviet poster

I am still mulling over a lot of what I saw and discussed with people when I was there, but I nevertheless keep returning to that unsettling sensation I got while there. As I said, I felt a witness in a distant way to everything that has happened there. I see the logic and reasoning behind the fear, anger, and sadness. I also understand the pride. Being a student of post-Soviet space, I understand the importance of historical memory, and the difficulty that it poses to each individual. It was odd to be connected to Poland by blood, albeit distantly, but to understand it better through the lens of the Russian language and post-Soviet politics and memory. It was a very interesting trip, and I look forward to return.

Learning Russian at a U.S. Based Summer Language Program

By Steven Kenworthy, MA student in Slavic and East European studies and public policy

My name is Steven Kenworthy and I’m a grad student striving to complete a dual master’s degree in two years. Being in a unique situation where I would need to achieve 4 years of Russian knowledge within this 24-month window, I knew that my summers would be spent in immersive language programs. As much as I would love to have spent both in Eastern Europe, I knew that it was an unlikely option with a wife and two pets back in Columbus.

On top of that, we were down to a single income, which doesn’t exactly promote overseas study. I wasn’t aware as to whether or not I would receive a fellowship or scholarship for the summer, so I opted for the affordable route. I would enroll at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.

Like any other course, I had heard mixed reviews from classmates on the “Indiana Experience”. Some said it was challenging, some easy, some said they loved it. I got a variety blend of the typical reactions. Me being an optimist, I assumed the best and took my positive hopes to Bloomington in late May.

Our nine-week course took off out of the gates, not speaking a dribble of English from day one. Mind you, this was Russian two. We were relatively new to the language and probably weren’t quite ready for this just yet. Okay, we were overwhelmed. Thankfully my class consisted of four other Buckeyes who beside me ground through the first couple of adjustment weeks.

I’d be lying if I said it was a smooth ride at the outset. It was uncomfortable. There were times when all five of us were completely lost. There were moments of defeat. There were days when we felt like we might never get caught up. But we did.

By week three or four, I felt more comfortable. I was beginning to understand everything the professors were saying and my Russian was coming along. It was finally slowing down for me. Not only were my language skills evolving, but rather quickly I might say. Of course, I’m still far from my goal of buttery-smooth fluency, but hey – you have to start somewhere.

To think that I struggled to say where I was from in the first days makes me laugh. To go from that hopeless state to being able to carry on basic conversations for upwards of 15 or 20 minutes is pretty remarkable. I’m nobody special either. My classmates achieved similar results and I think we were all pretty overwhelmed by the amount of content we’d absorbed in our brief time in Bloomington.

By the end of the semester I felt a sense of relief, accomplishment, surprise even. Through the discomfort of week one, to the finish line in week nine, I’d come quite far. Not only did I accumulate a year’s worth of Russian in just over two months, but I grew as a person as well. Sometimes we have to accept the lumps of discomfort to grow.

At Indiana, I not only got to learn a beautiful language, but I proved to myself that I can overcome my own doubt in the face of adversity.