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Student Spotlight: Bjorn Carlson (MARS-REERS ’24)
February 13, 2024

Carlson is a recipient of the Pepsico Travel Fellowship and the Harriman Junior Fellowship.

What region/topics are you focusing on at the Harriman Institute?

My primary focus is on the Balkan states. I am particularly interested in peace and reconciliation movements in the region, namely throughout states’ post-communist transitions. I have felt that the Balkans are often overlooked in lieu of larger states in the East European region and have been grateful for the freedom the Harriman Institute has granted me to explore the Balkans more in depth.

What is your thesis about?

I am exploring contemporary perspectives on forced labor camps in Bulgaria under the Communist regime. Still today, within the towns in which the camps were located, you have both survivors and camp guards alike living next door to one another. Without any major governmental led truth and reconciliation movements having taken place to date, I’m especially interested in what contemporary Bulgarians feel is necessary to confront or explore in their own country’s past.

What are some of your favorite things about studying here?

It’s clear to me that—among a number East European and Eurasian regional programs—the Harriman Institute is perhaps the most supportive of students exploring any part of the region that interests them. From the Balkans to the Caucuses, the Baltics to Central Asia, it seems that all of us are given the opportunity research and investigate the states that interest us most.

What’s your most memorable experience here so far?

After an INCREDIBLE Alumni Weekend Dinner at the Penn Club, the class of 2024 serendipitously found ourselves by the fireplace in the lobby. Getting to sit around and chat with the lovely folks in my cohort surrounded by beautiful bookshelves felt emblematic of my graduate school experience. Just another incredible reminder of how grateful I am to have the opportunity to study here, particularly with these exceptional people.

Where in the region have you traveled?

I have been ridiculously lucky to have travelled throughout the entirety of the Balkan states, as well as Hungary, Slovakia, Czechia, and Turkey. The Baltics and the Caucasus are next on my list… just have to figure out an excuse to get over there!

Fun fact about you:

My nickname is multilingual! My name in Swedish means bear, but my Bulgarian side of the family insists on calling me “Мечо,” the Bulgarian translation of the word.