Laura Vansina, Winter 2020

In February 2020, my research stay in Montréal proved to be an extremely enriching experience. On the one hand, I learned how to survive -20°C weather conditions and discovered that snowy patches on frozen lakes convert the less experienced ice skater into a human snowplow. On the other hand, I acquired an abundance of new research insights and experiences that will undoubtedly prove invaluable during my further PhD journey.

The BEAR research grant gave me the opportunity to finetune my research proposal at McGill University and the Université de Montréal. Being able to acquire feedback during this critical stage in the PhD process has allowed me to bring my research on Russian governmental memory politics to the next level. Professor Johnson’s experience in Russian memory and identity allowed her to provide valuable input on my research question and the feasibility of my project. Professor Dembinska’s expertise on post-Soviet nation-building led her to critically examine my project and point out its weaker aspects.

The research stay also gave me the opportunity to meet with other professors working on memory politics or the post-Soviet space. Discussing the role Russian political thinking plays in its memory politics, comparing Latin-American and Russian memory politics, and debating how my research contributes to theoretical research approaches encouraged me to tackle my research from different angles, finding added values in each point of view. Giving a research presentation at the ‘Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Internationales’ gave me the opportunity to discuss the challenges I faced and how these might be solved. When professor Dembinska asked me to teach a class on memory politics to her master students, I was presented with the opportunity to practice a new set of skills.

Apart from the academic side, I also found the time to experience Montréal and discover the Quebecois culture. Socializing with the graduate and PhD students at the Université de Montréal and McGill University gave me an exclusive insight into the city’s food scene, ranging from classic poutine to exotic Ethiopian food. Climbing the Mont Royal and strolling around Le Plateau made me feel like a local. The hospitality and laid-back atmosphere of Montréal created a very agreeable environment to work in.

All in all, the BEAR research exchange in Montréal was a very valuable experience. It has allowed me to expand my network and gain further insights into my research topic. It was also a great personal enrichment, discovering a new country and arriving in a multicultural environment.

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Laura Vansina’s snowman on the McGill University campus

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