In Her Own Words: Elena Popa

October 18, 2017

Elena Popa (PHIL '16, Ph.D ) is an Assistant Professor at the American University of Central Asia (AUCA), Kyrgyzstan. She was previously a CEU Global Teaching Fellow at AUCA.

Through the Global Teaching Fellowship Program, a selected group of advanced CEU doctoral candidates and recent doctoral graduates have the opportunity to teach at GTFP Partner Universities for one semester or one academic year. After completing her fellowship Elena was offered a permanent position at AUCA where she teaches philosophy. 

You just graduated and you’re already working! What is the most interesting or impactful aspect of your job?

I started my studies with the purpose of teaching at a university. Given my background in philosophy, particularly the focus on questions with universal scope, I view my teaching as a way
of creating common ground for discussing different issues in Central Asian context. I hope this perspective will inspire local students from Kyrgyzstan and international students from states in the region, such as Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan to work together. The most important aspect of my work is encouraging students to raise questions, analyze texts, look for evidence, and assess arguments. This approach is meant to strengthen their reasoning, while at the same time guiding them towards an independent search for answers, and ultimately to their own understanding of values. I think learning goes both ways: as a result of discussions with students, I had the chance of looking at texts from perspectives I did not previously envision.

How do you feel CEU prepared you for or influenced the work you do now?

CEU has greatly influenced the way I think about the substance of the courses I teach. Even though I work with undergraduates, I try to incorporate as much of the in-depth discussions of core philosophical texts, and rigor in argumentation I experienced as a student at CEU. The support from the Global Teaching Fellowship Program and the Center for Teaching and Learning was also important: through the preparation for departing to a place I had little knowledge of, through the advice offered while working here, and through keeping the growing community of CEU teaching fellows together. My wider perspective on the learning outcomes a university should achieve, and on supporting an international environment, also originates in my years at CEU. In the future, I hope to get more involved into projects and activities that facilitate communication between students of different cultures at the university here.

What do you feel was the overall value of your CEU experience? What stood out?

CEU has played a crucial role in my intellectual development. My areas of research (philosophy of science, and philosophy of psychology) took shape while studying at CEU. I became familiar with the literature and research through the courses I took at the Philosophy Department, as well as through courses in collaboration with the Department of Cognitive Science. Also, studying at CEU was my first experience of participating in international community, where I got to know colleagues from all over the world. Throughout my years there I came to greatly appreciate the international academic environment, to which I am happy to contribute.

What benefit has the CEU alumni community had on your life, if any?

I am glad to have worked alongside CEU students and graduates during my first year in Kyrgyzstan, where three of us started as the first group of teaching fellows. We relied on one another for advice, shared experiences from the classroom, or simply reminisced about Budapest. Being in contact with friends in Budapest, CEU graduates as well, also helped.

You’ve gone from Romania to Budapest and now Kyrgyzstan. What has taken the most time for you to adjust to there? What do you miss most about Budapest?

While teaching in Kyrgyzstan, I was struck by the widespread preponderance of the spoken word over writing. This is visible in everyday interactions, but it also underlies the students’ prior education. I strove to emphasize the importance of writing for scholarship, and for communication, and to assist students in expressing in writing their insights from class conversations. It was a lengthy process because sketching out the elementary steps required reflection on my own writing practice, especially on aspects that I had previously thought of as automatic.

I miss almost everything about Budapest. Mostly my friends there, but also the film screenings and discussions on Friday evenings at the philosophy department, concerts by the Classicus Ensemble at CEU, conversations over great coffee, exhibitions at the museums.