OSWEGO — Lenuta Giukin of SUNY Oswego’s modern languages and literatures faculty won a five-month Fulbright Scholarship last fall to Moldova in Eastern Europe, where she taught and did research on the burgeoning film industry in the Romanian- and Russian-influenced nation.
As a representative of the William J. Fulbright Scholar Program — the United States’ flagship academic exchange effort — Giukin also organized a roundtable at the Moldova Institute of International Relations and participated in seminars and workshops sponsored by the U.S. State Department there and at two other Moldovan universities.
Giukin, who teaches courses in the French program at SUNY Oswego and was its coordinator from 2003 to 2011, is a native of western Romania’s Banat region. Yet her homeland — influenced by Germans, Slavs and others — is in many ways worlds apart from Maryland-size Moldova, a 22-year-old nation between northeast Romania and southern Ukraine.
“I felt familiar being there, but at times I felt as a foreigner,” said Giukin, who has been in the United States for 26 years. “In a way, Eastern Europe today is not a familiar territory to me.”
Moldova, which includes most of a region known as Bessarabia, formerly was the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. The country gained independence in 1991 during the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It has preliminarily agreed to associate with the European Union, causing friction with Russia.
The growing Moldovan film industry, increasingly successful in international film festivals, reflects the cultural push-pull. “Theirs is a transitional type of culture with an interesting cinema industry in both Romanian and Russian,” Giukin said.
Exchange of ideas
As a Fulbright Scholar in the capital of Chisinau, Giukin said she was able to interview a variety of filmmakers, producers and distributors. She attended two premieres, Igor Cobileanski’s “The Unsaved” and the documentary “Chisinau from Dawn to Dusk.”
Recently returned to the Oswego area, Giukin already has scheduled one conference presentation on the past and present state of Moldova’s cinema, at the Northeast Modern Languages Association’s conference in April, and is working on scheduling two others.
Giukin said her teaching in Chisinau — she was asked to deliver an American-style experience for her students at the Institute of International Relations — came as a culture shock to the 45 students who took “Gender and Genre in Cinema” in either English or French.
She talked of individuals’ rights and such topics as gay marriage, and showed and discussed 11 films, two of which some conservative Moldovan students found “too strong.”
“Most found (the course) useful,” Giukin said. “I explained that the role of academia is to promote a safe and open exchange of ideas.”
Giukin, who also taught a course on English for managers, said she received positive feedback on offering the cinema course in languages other than Romanian or Russian and incorporating critical thinking skills and a class website.
“One student who was also a professor said she felt free for once to speak French, because I was not stressing language mistakes, only communication,” Giukin said. “It was a great experience for me to work with students who were so interested in the topic.”
One of the challenges she and other higher-education faculty in Moldova face is the poverty of students, many of whom are from rural areas and have to work in order to continue their schooling in a nation known as Europe’s poorest.
“It is a challenge to find a way to help these students stay in school and find a way to focus on their studies rather than working so hard to survive,” Giukin said.