Professor Ilya Levine: ‘politics affects our lives every day, from where and how we study or work, to what we eat, breathe and wear’
Ilya Levine, a professor in Political Science and author of the book “US Policies in Central Asia: Democracy, Energy and the War on Terror,” was born in Russia, grew up in New Zealand and then moved to Bulgaria to teach at AUBG. With his passion for global politics, he motivates and inspires students to “[appreciate] the complexity and strangeness of our world without giving up on trying to understand it.”
Tell us a bit about yourself – where did you grow up and where have you studied and worked?
I was born in Russia back when it was part of the Soviet Union. During the 1990s, my parents immigrated to New Zealand. I lived there until my 20s, completing a BA in politics and economics at Victoria University of Wellington. Afterwards, I spent several years in Australia, writing a Master’s and a PhD in international politics at the University of Melbourne. I then returned to New Zealand briefly, worked a bit at my old university, and then joined AUBG.
What led you to AUBG?
I saw an ad on a website, thought that it looked interesting, and applied. Ending up on the other side of the world is not unusual for a New Zealander. It’s a beautiful country but it’s geographically isolated and has only 5 million residents. As a result, up to a million New Zealanders choose to live overseas. This is one of the better places to end up in.
What are your favorite teaching topics and research interests?
I have a pretty wide range of interests. This is good for a teacher and not so good for a researcher because an efficient researcher dedicates himself to a very narrow range of topics and then pumps out a stream of publications about these. By contrast, I like teaching Introduction to Global Politics because it lets me touch on a wide range of subjects, from IR theory to international law to terrorism. My PhD thesis was about US policies in post-Soviet Central Asia. I got to visit the region as part of my field research. I’m still interested in the area and teach a course about it. Unsurprisingly, I’m also interested in Russian politics. I created a course about that as well. My enthusiasm for economics suffered towards the end of my BA as the material became increasingly abstract. However, I’m still fascinated by the places where economics intersects with politics. And again, there’s a course. At the moment, I’m writing a review of a book about Russia and developing a research project with a colleague about media coverage of government responses to Covid-19.
What are some achievements in your professional field that you are especially proud of?
I developed my PhD research into a book - US Policies in Central Asia: Democracy, Energy and the War on Terror. It’s very satisfying to see years of work turned into something tangible.
What are some traits that one can develop or gain thanks to studying political science?
Thinking, speaking, and writing in a logical and clear manner. Appreciating the complexity and strangeness of our world without giving up on trying to understand it. Knowing that, whether we like it or not, politics affects our lives every day, from where and how we study or work, to what we eat, breathe and wear, to what we read, listen and watch.
If teaching was not your profession, what would have been?
Something analytical. I like trying to make sense of the world.
Has AUBG helped you develop personally and professionally and in what ways?
It’s helped me to develop a better understanding of my field. Teaching involves taking complex ideas, breaking them down into their constituent parts, and explaining these parts and their connections in the simplest manner possible. Doing this well requires a deep understanding of the subject. This is especially the case when you’re teaching students for whom English is a second language. As a result, you’re constantly teaching yourself things that you didn’t know before, particularly when creating or updating your courses.
What is most challenging about your job? And what is most rewarding?
The most challenging part is the need to adjust to the wide range of abilities and levels of motivation that you find in a classroom. You’re trying to keep your most capable and serious students interested and reasonably challenged without completely losing your less motivated students. The most rewarding part is when you feel that you’ve successfully transmitted some of your own enthusiasm for the subject to a student.
What has been your experience living and working in Blagoevgrad and Bulgaria?
The food and the countryside are lovely. The locals are a bit like Russians with more joie de vivre (from French “joy of living”). I still haven’t figured out why the old ladies all dye their hair red, pink, or purple. It’s also interesting to move from a place that was a three-hour plane ride from the nearest neighboring country to one that’s a three-hour bus ride from Thessaloniki.
Apart from your hard work in your professional field, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Before Covid-19 arrived, I liked travelling and going out for drinks to places with good music. These days, I’m leaning more into Netflix, audiobooks, and the occasional novel. However, being a social scientist is terrible for your fiction reading because you already spend so much time reading non-fiction for work. I also spend too much time observing people getting angry about politics on Twitter.