Video: A Delightful Dance — Anya Yermakova is a Rhodes Scholar, but that's not all. She's also an accomplished flamenco dancer and Russian guitar player. See more videos from Northwestern magazine.
Sit down and ask Anna Yermakova what she does for fun. Math problems, she'll say with a straight face before breaking into laughter.
"No, I'm kidding," she says. "I'm probably somebody who takes everything too seriously though."
The piano performance, biochemistry and philosophy of science and logic major has needed some seriousness to finish her three very different courses of study. On the surface they may look random, but she pursued all three as a way to unite music, science and everything else she loves.
Yermakova, born in Russia, spent 11 years living in Elektrostal, near Moscow, before her family moved to the United States in 1997 due to difficult financial circumstances and limited opportunities.
"It was definitely a tough move, but I matured pretty quickly as a result," she says. "There were things I had to learn about who I am and what's going on and why I am so different from all the other kids that every 11-year-old probably doesn't go through."
In Russia she learned the importance of school and how to manage her time. When her family arrived and settled down in the Chicago area, Yermakova came face to face with a U.S. culture whose priorities weren't necessarily focused on education.
But the opportunities before her in the United States were undeniable. And she strove to take full advantage of them.
At Northwestern she's excelled in music, science and philosophy. She's traveled to Spain to study flamenco. In Seville, Yermakova conducted research on the improvisatory and communicative aspects of flamenco performance. She brought back the lessons learned abroad and incorporated the music and choreography of Spanish dance into the Ballroom, Latin and Swing Thing annual show.
Yermakova's academic and extracurricular exploits earned the attention of the Rhodes Scholarship committee. The application process tested her resolve. Years of study, months of preparation and research and 15 drafts of the same two-page personal statement all came down to a face-to-face interview with the Rhodes committee.
"It was a tremendous opportunity, win or lose," she says of the selection process. "You got to sit in a room for 30 minutes and have really brilliant people question you about stuff you like. Who wouldn't like that?"
Yermakova says it was that interview that sealed the deal. "I think I came across as somebody who has figured out what I want out of my life, what I want to contribute to this world," she says.
This October Yermakova will make another trans-Atlantic move and begin classes at Oxford University. There she'll focus her studies in the field of mathematical biology. She's excited to see the music scene in London and maybe even start a chamber group at Oxford.
Yermakova says the future is largely uncertain for her at this point, but she likes it that way. Ideally, she sees herself in academia, but music and philosophy will never be out of the picture.
"I need all of these things in my life to be satisfied," she says. "I just can't cut one of them out."