AABS Travel Grant Recipients Share Their Experiences of AABS 2022, Part 6

Jul 21, 2022

The Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies is pleased share stories and experiences from its 2022 student travel grant recipients who attended the 28th Biennial Conference on Baltic Studies (May 26–29, 2022, Seattle, Washington).

Applications for AABS 2022 student travel grants were evaluated by the AABS Student Travel Grants Committee consisting of AABS Student Representative Kristo Nurmis, AABS Executive Officer-at-Large Guntis Šmidchens, and AABS Advisor to the Board Joseph Ellis. The grants were awarded to 40+ students and early career scholars to support their travel to Seattle in order to attend AABS 2022.

Evarts Melnalksnis

Paper title: “Opera film ‘Baņuta:’ A Reflection of a Century in the Latvian National Opera”

I applied for the AABS conference with a presentation about an opera-film “Banuta” that I produced and created last year. This film has a special relevance in the context of the conference as it reflects on Latvian and Lithuanian history as well as on wider East European narratives. I was given an opportunity not only to talk about the film and show a short video, but to use a whole session of 1,5 h to show bigger parts of the film. This was a great opportunity for me to participate in such a big conference and to travel to the USA. Additionally, a representative from the Toronto University was listening to my presentation and was very impressed. She talked with me after my presentation and we stayed in touch in order to see if a screening of the film in Toronto would be possible. At the moment I have received the confirmation of the invitation to show the film and to make a workshop for theatre students at the Toronto university. Thus, the AABS conference has far reaching consequences. 

Another aspect of my visit in Seattle was a widening of my network on different levels. Firstly, I had the opportunity to meet researchers from abroad as well as from the institute for humanities in Riga. With the director of this institute we talked about possible collaboration in future. Secondly, in order to save some spendings, I organised a place to stay by an old Latvian couple in Seattle who went into exile in the time of the II World War. Also this was an important opportunity to learn the practice of everyday life of exiled Latvians in the USA, to talk about their life experience and to compare it to the situation that we are facing now in East Europe in the context of Russia’s war against Ukraine. This encounter became a very important part of my conference experience because of the welcoming warmth that the couple gave to me and my colleague. As the husband has been working on very special design tasks in his work life that would interest people in Latvia as well, I will get in touch with the director of Latvian Museum for Design and report about his lifetime achievements. Thus, the knowledge I gained in Seattle will be transferred to Latvia. 

Finally, on my way home I took the opportunity to stay a couple of days in New York City to learn American culture better. This let me see many museums and explore the city. Added to the experience in Seattle and in the Mount Olympic National park in the nearest of Seattle it made my journey to the USA very rich. I am very thankful for this opportunity to the organisers of the conference as well as to the funding that made this experience possible. And I hope to have an opportunity to participate in the conference once again in the future.

Evarts Melnalksnis at AABS 2022 in Seattle

Evarts Melnalksnis is a music theatre dramaturg and curator. He focuses on postdramatic theatre strategies, contemporary music theatre, interdisciplinary and international cooperation. Evarts Melnalksnis regularly publishes articles on contemporary theatre processes, works as a lecturer, moderator and participates in conferences.

Mindaugas Kavaliauskas

Paper titles: 1) “Views of Welcome in Lithuania. Photographic quest of place-branded landmarks of roadside Lithuania” 2) “Aviation a form Diplomacy of post-1990s Lithuania?”

Participation at the AABS conference at the University of Washington proved to be a unique experience in many ways. Predicting that I tried all possible funding options to make it reality. First of all, it was after a 4 year break after the one in Stanford University. The break was forced by the pandemic. Secondly, it was the first AABS conference, in which I presented two topics in two different fields between which I divide my time: photography and aviation.

In Photography, I was happy to present my 4 th personal monographic book, “Views of Welcome in Lithuania“. My trip to Seattle was interrupted by a huge line at immigration clearance at O’Hare airport, due to which I missed the connection flight to Seattle. Nonetheless, the following day I literally walked into the room at the time of my presentation at the Arts panel. After my presentation, in the true spirit of AABS, I had a long talk with one member of the panel going into in-depth of details that were not contained during the presentation and the quick Q-A part (I was the last presenter in the panel).

I felt really honored that my presentation „Aviation a form Diplomacy of post-1990s Lithuania ?“ was attended by a group of very motivated particpants, ranging from locals of Seattle to international to outstanding members of the American-Lithuanian community and raising a variety of questions on my topic. Since I work at the Lithuanian Aviation Museum, my goal is to find proof of importance of Aviation from the point of view of international relations. This was my first extra-scholar presentation of my topic, and the positive reactions of the audience came very valuable.

As usual, I attended a number of presentations, discussions in a variety of fields. Every time I attend AABS, I discern a personal highlight of what I learned. Top discovery to me of AABS 2022 was the fact that the second largest petition in the US history to reach the White House, was the one for recognition Lithuania’s independence, which gave effect 100 years ago today, in July 1922, featured in a presentation of Piotr Szlauzys (Poland) about the role of Lithuanian diaspora in recogniton of Lithuania’s Independence

Beyond the doors of the University, I managed to visit two outstanding museums: Museum of Popular Culture, exploring the diverse musical scene of Seattle and the North West, culture of music, screen, as well as the Museum of Flight, America’s finest institution telling the history of flying in the widest range of means and offering a full scope of evolution. Knowledge, presentation culture of museums, meting with staff enriched my experience and widened my horizons.

I am truly thankful to the AABS phenomenon and the board of selectors who considered my input into the conference important and entrusted me a grant. I am very much looking forward to the next conference, to be held at my Alma Mater, Vytautas Magnus University, in Kaunas in 2023.

Mindaugas Kavaliauskas at AABS 2022 in Seattle

Mindaugas Kavaliauskas is a photo artist, curator and cultural manager with a background in art history and theory. He has curated and produced numerous events, exhibitions, publications internationally. Working in the field of cultural management and personal photographic creation, he is a doctoral student at the Faculty of Political Sciences and Diplomacy at Vytautas Magnus University, Kaunas, Lithuania.

Elvis Friks

Paper title: “Taste of homecoming: Latvian post-exile texts in the view of gastropoetics”

I am grateful for AABS 2022 Travel Grant. It gave me a wonderful opportunity to participate in the international Baltic studies research event, to meet the leading Baltic studies researchers and make new contacts. I’ve gotten a chance to present my research paper on post-exile phenomenon “Taste of homecoming: Latvian post-exile texts in the view of gastropoetics”, attempt to outline the paradigm of post-exile literature, as well its view on gastropoetics. How the system of food and drink signs in literature indicates the return to the homeland. 

I have almost finished to write my master’s thesis on the post-exile phenomenon, but after participating in Ginta Remeikis session “Applying a Psychoanalytic Lens to the Writing Experience” and meeting transnational writers like Inara Verzemnieks, Daiva Merkelis, Gint Aras and Julija Sukys, I expended my research with the discourse of trauma, memory, and history. Hearing their stories about Latvian-American and Lithuanian-American life gave me a deeper understanding on the “return” motive in 90’s, when Baltic region restored independence. During this post-exile period former exiles were visiting free Latvia/Lithuania trying to connect once again with culture, traditions, and echoes of the past.

Together with University of Latvia gastropoetic research team we visited Seattle’s American-Latvian community near Northgate. I was invited to participate in community activities where I found out more about how the Latvian language and culture are preserved abroad. 

It was my first time joining AABS conference and it gave me the opportunity to get new ideas for my future possible research, exchange experiences and expand my knowledge about the diaspora community and post-exile period.

Elvis Friks


Elvis Friks, Mg.hum. is a writer and literary scholar with master degree in Baltic Philology (University of Latvia). He has studied Portuguese at Polytechnical Institute of Leiria (Politécnico de Leiria) and afterwards received a year scholarship for Chinese culture studies at Shanghai Normal University. His research interests are linked to comparative literature, historical-biographical novels, post-exile, transcultural. His works on post-exile and gastropoetic aspect in biographic novels have been published in Latvia.

Laine Kristberga

Paper title: “Performance Art in Latvia: History and the Challenges of Today

I wish to express my gratitude for making it possible for me to travel to Seattle and attend this conference! It was an amazing experience!

First of all, the conference was crucial for networking and meeting scholars from the same or other disciplines both from the region and beyond. Ironically enough, the conference also provided an opportunity to engage in valuable conversations with local colleagues as well, since in Latvia we are always struggling with multitasking, sleep deprivation and constant lack of time. Finally in Seattle we could enjoy each other’s company and discuss ongoing and future projects. I really appreciated it. One of the personal benefits was to meet Banuta Rubess from Toronto, with whom we had a discussion after my presentation. I really hope that we could develop some collaboration in future. 

Secondly, the conference let me meet wonderful people – Livija and Edvins Circenis from Latvia, who emigrated to the US after WWII. It was amazing that they offered their heart-warming hospitality and took us in their home for the entire week. We spent a lot of time together, and I felt like was interviewing them all the time to find out more about their lives. It turned out Edvins had been working as a senior engineer for Boeing. They had three children and currently, being aged 90 and 92, they have not only grandchildren but also great grandchildren. We discussed politics and culture in Latvia and I was amazed by Livija’s energy, cooking and gardening talents. This was the first time when I met emigree Latvians who were displaced because of the warfare. For me, it was also an anthropological interest, and I felt a bit like I was carrying out field studies…

I feel really grateful to both the conference organizers and Latvian community in Seattle, who helped this unforgettable trip to happen.

Thank you once again!

Laine Kristberga presenting her research at AABS 2022 in Seattle

Laine Kristberga is an art historian, researcher and R&D project manager at the Institute of Literature, Folklore and Art, University of Latvia. She holds a PhD from the Art Academy of Latvia. Currently her doctoral thesis, Intermedial Appropriation as a Theoretical Framework for the Analysis of Performance Art in Latvia in the Period of Late Socialism (1964–1989), is being turned into a monograph that will be available in both English and Latvian. Kristberga also works as an assistant professor at the University of Latvia and teaches at the Art Academy of Latvia, and Riga Business School. Her scholarly interests cover art, culture, and politics during the Cold War period. As the director of the Latvian Centre for Performance Art, she is responsible for organizing the international performance art festival Starptelpa on an annual basis. Kristberga has contributed essays to several publications, among them, Performance Art in the Second Public Sphere (Routledge, 2018), which includes her chapter Performance Art in Latvia as Intermedial Appropriation.

Earl Hodil

Paper title: “Baltic Vassals: Scandinavian Princes in Early Modern Russian Geostrategy”

The 2022 AABS conference in Seattle was a wonderful venue in which to present my research, which frequently deals with issue concerning Baltic history in the early modern period. As a specialist in Russian and Scandinavian history, other outlets for my work on the intersection of these two regions’ histories in the Baltic often provide uneven feedback. Such is not the case with AABS. At this year’s conference I received expert feedback from other historians working on the early modern Baltic. The discussions I participated in during the conference, both formal and informal, have helped me develop my presentation into an article project nearly ready for journal submission. I hope to complete this work before the end of 2022 and my aim is to submit this article to the Journal of Baltic Studies with the encouragement of members of this publication’s editorial staff.

The AABS early career scholar travel grant greatly facilitated my ability to attend this conference. Without the financial aid provided by this grant, it would have been very difficult for me to attend the conference at all. I can only repeat my heartfelt appreciation for the funding that made this travel possible.

Earl Hodil

Earl Hodil

Earl Hodil is an assistant teaching professor at Northern Arizona University, where he teaches courses in world, European, and Russian history. His research focuses on the early modern relationships between Russia and Scandinavia.

Eglė Žurauskaitė

Paper title: “Political TV debates in Lithuania: how to get more power and damage opponent’s face?”

The Travel Grant contributed to my participation in the conference a lot and in various ways. At first it must be said, that I flew not from Lithuania, where I live and work, but from Sevilla, Spain, where I was attending International Symposium on Intercultural, Cognitive and Social Pragmatics. The Symposium was held on 23–25 of May so I decided it would save both energy and money to fly from Sevilla straight to Seattle. At first, I was a little bit doubtful if I can make it to both conferences, but I wanted to attend conference from my area of research – linguistical pragmatics, and really wanted to attend conference on Baltic region, talk to collegues at UW (I was visiting lecturer of Lithuanian there from 2016 until 2019), and meet new researchers from Baltic region.  

At first I asked Vilnius University financial support for these conferences, but the process was very slow and meanwhile I was happy to learn that I am able to ask for Travel Grant at AABS. So I asked for 800 dollars and was very happy that to learn that AABS gave me Travel Grant of 1 500 dollars. That scattered all my doubts about financial struggle to get to Seattle and I joyfully prepared for meeting old and new colleagues at University of Washington. This Travel Grant helped to make visa, get health insurance, rapid covid test (both in Lithuania and Spain), pay conference fee, pay for the hotel (attached is the document of full sum, payed by my colleague. We divided that sum in 2. If needed, I can add a line from my bank account that show the divided sum), also for transportation from and to airport, as well as around Seattle (but I didn`t save all the transportation receipts, just few are attached). Thanks to this Travel Grant I was able not only to present my research for colleagues, but also to meet new and old colleagues.

It is impossible to name only one thing that made this conference special for me. I would divide all the special things to 2 categories: intellectual feast and precious relationships. Intellectual feast would mean all the wide range of various topics, covered during the conference. The ones that really stuck for me are Ambassadors` discussion on Russia`s war in Ukraine, presentation on robotrolling in Lithuania by Monika Hanley, presentation on Political messages, power and trust by Linas Kontrimas, also the book-memoir audiovisual presentation by Martha Thomas. Precious relationships mean all the colleagues, scholars, people from Lithuanian community that I was able to meet. I also made new connections during conference (e.g. with that book author Martha Thomas, scholars from VDU, Kaunas), learned about upcoming conference at VDU in Kaunas.

I am honestly very thankful for opportunity to come to Seattle and attend AABS conference. Now I hope that new connections will last and scholarly work will continue.

Eglė Žurauskaitė presenting her research at AABS 2022 in Seattle

Eglė Žurauskaitė recently defended her PhD at Vilnius university on Impoliteness in political TV debates in Lithuanian, where she analyzed linguistical behaviour in electoral debates. She was a visiting lecturer of Lithuanian at UW (2016-2019), where she was also teaching Lithuanian at Linas heritage school. Currently Žurauskaitė works at Vilnius University as a lecturer. Heer area of interest is teaching Lithuanian (to foreigners) and area of research – linguistical pragmatics. She teaches courses on Lithuanian to foreigners (various levels) and Introduction to Linguistical Pragmatics.

Sophie Q Peng

Paper title: “Lace-knitting Then and Now: Shetland (Scotland) and Haapsalu (Estonia) as Examples”

I am extraordinarily grateful for the travel grant provided by AABS, which made my trip to Seattle feasible. As a PhD student in an unpaid write-up year, funding opportunities for me are extremely scarce. I almost gave up this chance to present my work simply because of financial struggles. With the AABS travel grant, I managed to finance part of the trip while my university admin was deciding on whether I could use the travel funding allocated to me, but did not get to use due to pandemic. The issue was still unsolved at the time when I wrote this report. So, honestly, if there was no help from AABS, I would have to withdraw from the conference. It would have been quite sad for me because this conference is the best thing which happened to me after COVID-19 starts.

COVID-19 happened in the middle of my PhD journey, right before my scheduled fieldwork in Shetland. This pandemic, if I may use a strong word, ruined most of my PhD experience. AABS2022 is the first face-to-face conference which I have attended since 2020. It was such a relief to see our vibrant academic society is still going strong, and that I am still part of the community. Having participated in CBSE2017 and AABS2018, AABS plays a significant role in my academic social life from the very beginning when I decided to explore the field. It was the friendly and insightful comments which I received from previous AABS conferences which sharpened the idea of my current PhD project, and also people whom I met within AABS circle motivated me to go further on this academic path. This time, AABS helped me again with not only financial supports to attend the conference, but most importantly, the conference itself is such an unforgettable event which lifted up my mood so much from the pandemic blues.

During the conference, I got a chance to meet up with old friends from all over the world, and also made some new friends — we even had a small AABS2022 reunion right after when we are back in Europe. My presentation received positive feedback, and I also got very much inspired by other scholars’ presentations from the panels I went. It feels completely different than the online conferences where you can only stare at a screen. It is the human interaction and after-panel social activities which made AABS2022 being such a special event in the nowadays strange world. It is the busy move from one classroom to another, the “coffee break” where I could not get coffee but only American-style iced tea (it tastes good), the lunch gathering with fellow PhD students, the conversations happened during the rooftop reception…all these things made AABS2022 a special event in my heart, and I cherish all the memories we had in Seattle.

Thank you, AABS, for giving me a chance to present part of my PhD thesis to a wider audience. I am happy that I finally had this opportunity to talk about Shetland and Haapsalu knitting in Seattle. I believe that all the comments and inspirational points which I have collected from this conferenc are beneficial for the development of my ongoing thesis. And most importantly, the supportive community spirit from AABS will go a long way in my journey of being a scholar in Baltic Studies.

Sophie Peng at AABS 2022 in Seattle

Sophie Q Peng is a final year PhD student at the University of Glasgow. Her current research project focuses on local/regional identities and heritage handicrafts. Sophie’s work-in-progress PhD thesis is titled “Lace Up the North: Exploring the Meanings of Hand-Knitted Lace Products in Shetland (Scotland) and Haapsalu (Estonia).” Currently, Sophie is residing in Estonia as a visiting scholar at Tartu University.

AABS 2022

The 28th Biennial AABS Conference “Baltic Studies at a Crossroads” May 27–29, 2022, Seattle, WA