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In the Spotlight: Lynda Nyota

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Lynda Nyota during a recent visit at her family’s farm in Kericho, Kenya.

Lynda Nyota first learned about trauma while listening to first-hand accounts of living through war and displacement from friends and co-workers in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. After that, she developed a keen interest in the topic that she knew she could only understand better by going back to Academia. So, she left her native-land, Kenya and moved west to North Carolina to get a PhD in German and Trauma Studies at Duke University. After graduation, she moved back east — just a few miles though — to become an Assistant Professor of German at the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures here at NC State. In the following email interview, Lynda kindly took the time to answer our questions and let us get to know her a little bit more. FLL: First, could you tell us a little bit about your background? Where are you from? Where did you go to undergrad and graduate school? I was born and grew up in Kenya, and graduated from the University of Nairobi with a Bachelor of Arts degree in French and German. With support from a German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) in-country scholarship, I also earned a Masters degree in German studies from the same University before going on to pursue my doctoral degree in Germanic Languages and Literatures at Duke University. FLL: Lynda Nyota: Can you tell us a little bit about the intellectual trajectory that brought you to academia and to German Literature? LN: I first came in contact with foreign language learning in high school in Nairobi. Back then only two high schools in Kenya offered German as a foreign language and thanks to a very dedicated German teacher I quickly developed a passion for language learning. After my undergraduate degree I worked briefly in the travel industry before deciding to return to school for my Masters degree. I then left academia to work for a German non-profit, first in Nairobi and then in Kampala, a hiatus that lasted 7 years. It was while living and working in Uganda and constantly hearing my co-workers’ and friends’ personal stories of living through war and displacement that I developed a keen interest in the study of trauma. I then decided that it was only in academia that I was going to be able to do what I enjoyed most and was curious about: German and Trauma Studies. FLL: What are you working on these days? LN: I am currently working on two short projects. The first is a paper that I’ll be presenting in Düsseldorf mid 2016, which examines the works of German speaking Hungarian author Terézia Mora and her depiction of the transnational space as both a geographical space as well as a condition of anxiety resulting from being trapped in a state of constant mobility and the lack of permanence. In addition, I have also revived a project from my Masters Thesis and I am working on an article on German-Jewish writer Stefanie Zweig, whose novels focus mainly on her family’s brief exile in Kenya during the Nazi era. FLL: In what ways do you think are your research and your teaching connected? LN: The intersection is greater in some courses than in others. In my “Film and the Holocaust” course for instance, the students discuss whether traumatic events can be adequately represented and talk about what they see as the problems of representation of traumatic memory in film. My research looks into these very questions. Therefore, it is refreshing to always have the students’ perspectives on the issue. In the lower level German courses we talk about Germany’s history, immigration and its benefits and challenges. I see these discussions as great opportunities to get students to start thinking about extreme events such as war and displacement, topics that my research deals with. FLL: What do you enjoy and find most challenging about teaching? LN: I really love watching the students work on major group projects. My favorite part is their final presentation at the end of a semester, whether it is a horror film based on one of Goethe’s ballads or a presentation of a business plan for a startup company based in Germany. It ‘s always rewarding to see the semester’s work come together in a concrete project. What’s most challenging for me is trying to address the unique learning styles of each student in a class. Designing lesson plans with this in mind is often a very involving, albeit worthwhile exercise. FLL: Anything you are reading right now? LN: I’m currently reading Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. It’s not only a classic, but also a great choice for readers with a short attention span because the chapters are delightfully brief! FLL: What’s your favorite place in the world? LN: Many places come to mind but very high on the list is Überlingen, a beautiful city on Lake Constance in Germany, where I spent the part of the summer of my junior year of high school on an exchange visit. It’s a place I dream of often. I also love Kampala, which was my home for 5 years. I love the people, the climate and the food. FLL: Anything else we should know about you? LN: I enjoy being outdoors, run about 12 miles a week and spend a lot of time gardening, weather permitting. Running and gardening give me a lot of energy and are great stress relievers. FLL: What do you look forward to most? LN: I always look forward to spending time with my husband and two children. FLL: Do you have any advice for students considering majoring or minoring in a foreign language? LN: Take advantage of every opportunity offered to study abroad. It changes the way you think about language learning and greatly enhances your learning experience. By  Jasmyn Morere and S. F. Sotillo

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