Jack Rosswurm is currently earning his Master of Arts in European Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington, where he is studying liberalism in the EU and European integration. Since beginning to learn Estonian in the Summer of 2022, Jack has found a special interest in the Baltic states. After Russia launched its renewed unprovoked and illegal invasion of Ukraine in 2022, he became particularly interested in the perspectives of Baltic Americans and how the Baltic states contribute to the European security architecture. Jack writes here about his summer experience, and receiving the Hamilton Lugar School Dean’s Scholarship.
In the Spring of 2022, I made the decision to enroll in the Master of Arts in European Studies program at Indiana University, Bloomington. Since then, I’ve had the chance to study the Estonian language, write policy reports about the Baltic states and Ukraine, and do an internship with the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC). These experiences have been invaluable to me as a student and enriching to me personally. My primary academic interest is the study of liberalism and democracy in Europe, and as states with strong democracies and liberal freedoms, the Baltics make for a great set of countries to study.
While my research interests line up well with my language study, they are not the reason why I chose Estonian. When the time came to pick a language of specialization for my program, I knew I wanted to pick something unique. Indiana University is well known for its reputation of providing more languages (more than 80) than any other school for students to learn, including very uncommonly studied ones. Plenty of these uncommon languages are European. I could have chosen Norwegian, Finnish, Czech, or many others. IU is the only school in the United States to regularly offer three years of Estonian language instruction, and one of only two schools that offers any instruction in the language, which certainly played a role in my decision to study it. If I am at the one institution in my country where I could learn this beautiful language, how could I pass up the opportunity?
Estonian was unique among the languages I could have picked for several reasons. One is that Estonian, along with Hungarian and Finnish, is one of the three national languages in the European Union that is not Indo-European. Being a Finno-Ugric language, Estonian is also spoken by and learned by the smallest number of people out of these languages. Understandably, many people choose to learn languages because it will significantly expand their ability to communicate with millions more people around the world. Choosing to learn Estonian, spoken by less than 1.5 million people, was a decision I deliberately made because there are so few people who speak the language. Since taking intensive first-year Estonian in the Summer of 2022, I have been introduced to the complex geopolitical and cultural situations that Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania find themselves in today. All my interest in the Baltic states flows from my study of the Estonian language, which has empowered me to take my study of these countries beyond what someone without Estonian language knowledge might be able to achieve.
JBANC presented a wonderful opportunity for me to take my academic skills into a more practical setting while also letting me continue to develop my understanding of the Baltic states. JBANC is tasked with representing the national organizations of the Baltic communities in the U.S. and advancing the interests of Baltic Americans wherever possible. Beyond this core mission, though, JBANC also operates to advocate for the U.S. to provide more military aid for the Baltics, assist Ukraine by including them when they conduct government outreach, and more broadly advocate for the interests of Eastern Europe. I’ve spent the past couple of months contributing to all these missions as a remote intern.
Working as an intern for JBANC was a fantastic experience. Not only did I gain skills that will be applicable to future jobs, but I have also significantly expanded my professional network through collaborations among Eastern European advocacy groups. The projects I have worked on for JBANC were interesting and diverse. Among these projects were organizing and preparing letters to be delivered to hundreds of Members of Congress, writing for foreign policy bulletins to make the case for Estonian leadership of NATO, and moderating a discussion about legislation relevant to the Baltics between a Senator’s office and their constituents for Baltic Advocacy Days. I gained skills from this internship that will serve me well as I begin work on my Master’s thesis this coming school year and enter the job market.
After my time at JBANC, I will complete the final year of my MA program and begin looking for a job. I hope to find work where I can utilize my foreign policy, analysis, and language skills. This may be a job in the government, at a nonprofit, a think tank, or something else entirely. While my job search will primarily be in the U.S., I also look forward to seeking out opportunities to live and work in the Baltic states. There would be no better circumstances under which I could bring my Estonian competency to fully fluent while doing work that is meaningful to me. I hope to stay in contact with JBANC going forward to help with outreach where I can. One area to do this in the future could be to connect JBANC with the Baltic and Finnish Student Association at IU. Involving our future leaders in Baltic advocacy and outreach is the best way to ensure that support for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania is sustained for years to come.
I’d like to thank Dr. Piibi-Kai Kivik, Senior Lecturer of Estonian language and culture at IU, and Karl Altau, Managing Director of JBANC, for giving me the tools and opportunities to pursue my interests and for supporting me as a graduate student and intern.
The Hamilton Lugar School (HLS) Dean’s Scholarship was critical in providing me with the financial security and resources to pursue a summer internship with JBANC. This award, generously funded by the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies, gave me the opportunity to interface with leaders of East European diasporas, work directly with congressional offices, and gain a new perspective on how American politics impact Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. I am thankful both for the enriching internship that JBANC provided, as well as the generous scholarship from HLS that made it possible.
Representative Lee Hamilton, for whom the Hamilton Lugar School is named (along with former Senator Richard Lugar), now serves as an invaluable resource to everyone in the HLS community, including graduate students such as myself. His leadership and work in Congress have played an enormous role in the positive development of transatlantic relations.
Jack Rosswurm with Lee Hamilton, Distinguished Scholar; Professor of Practice at the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies, Indiana University. September 27, 2023.