The Baltic and East Europe at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire: Past, Present and Future

Paulis Lazda (University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire)

Just three weeks after Latvia had regained its independence, in September 1991, seventeen students, accompanied by a Faculty Resident Director, arrived in Riga.  Learning began as the students stepped off the Warsaw-Riga train with the observation that occupation –the moral equivalent of war– had ended only three weeks earlier.  For the rest of the semester, history, politics and diplomacy were taught in class and “on the street.”  Guest speakers included foreign diplomats, leaders of political movements, and government leaders (Andrejevs, Meri, Laar, Berklavs, Čekoulis, Zhdanoka, and others).  This Semester in Latvia program was the result of a year-long negotiation between the University of Latvia and UW-Eau Claire.  Parallel to but separate from the semester program in Latvia, UW-Eau Claire established a full scholarship for Baltic students for one academic year.  To date, almost 50 students have studied here. The East European Area Studies Minor includes a Baltic state focus.  The annual East European Symposium brings shapers of policy and academics from the Baltic, Europe, and US (Laar, Andrejevs, Jack Matlock, Krasts, Sven Juergenson, Raun, Senn, Plakans–over a hundred experts).

An annual summer Baltic/East Europe Travel Seminar attracts nation-wide student participation. University research resources include a full microfilm base of State Department-Baltic materials and a respectable book collection. Five of our student-participants have earned a Ph.D. with a Baltic focus at other universities. Future plans for the Baltic program include a national consortium of colleges and universities.

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