Following graduation this May, Oberlin seniors Claire McGregor, Joseph Campbell, Skylar Sweetman, Jazmin Guerrero, Zoe McLaughlin, Sara Kadi, Peter Edmondson and Matthew Furda will each be spending two years in Asia as the most recent batch of Shansi fellows.
Shansi gave these Fellowship recipients the opportunity to become immersed in India, Indonesia, Japan or China’s culture while studying and teaching at affiliated universities.
Shansi was founded in 1908, placing it amongst the nation’s oldest educational exchange programs. Though the organization is located on campus, it has partner institutions in multiple universities in China, India, Japan and Indonesia. The Oberlin Shansi Fellowships are the independent nonprofit organization’s central method of achieving its goal to promote understanding and communication between Asians and Americans.
Zoe McLaughlin, a biochemistry and creative writing major, will be leaving in early June for Gajah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. She says she had been aware of Shansi Fellowships even before coming to Oberlin.
“My cousin was a Shansi fellow, I think eleven years ago, so I knew about the program. And living abroad was something I wanted to do,” McLaughlin explained.
McLaughlin, who is Malaysian on her mother’s side, is excited about exploring the parallels and differences between Indonesia and Malaysia. Her heritage, however, was just one of the many reasons that led her to apply. McLaughlin cited her Winter Term experience in Nicaragua as a particular experience that urged her to do so.
“We built houses and things of that nature and I speak very minimal Spanish. I mainly relied on my high school French and Italian, but I was amazed at how, after a little time, I could understand and be understood,” she said. The month in Central America revealed to McLaughlin the depth of her interest in experiencing life abroad.
Assisting Shansi’s partners by either teaching or volunteering is a large component in the program’s realization of its goal. McLaughlin is excited and intimidated to teach university students at Gajah Mada but feels that the Shansi winter term orientation program has helped her prepare for this challenge. During this month-long training session, the fellows received cultural training and participated in what McLaughlin phrased as a “teaching-English-as-a-second-language training session. We taught Oberlin ESL students. I definitely feel much more prepared now.”
The requirements and structure of each program varies from country to country. McLaughlin said, “The teaching duties of this [Indonesia] program are much more structured than some others, like India, for example.”
Jazmin Guerrero, who will be studying in Madurai, India at Lady Doak College, agreed with this sentiment. “I don’t necessarily have to teach English. I’ll teach whatever they need or whatever I have to offer and I’m thinking of doing Japanese, especially since they have expressed interest in Japanese classes.” Both McLaughlin and Guerrero will be teaching part-time and will have plenty of time to travel both within their own country and throughout Asia.
The freedom of their programs will allow each to become truly immersed in the culture and explore personal interests. McLaughlin has been dancing ballet since she was a child and began Indian dance at Oberlin. She is in communication with a Gajah Mada University faculty member who is involved with dance. “He’s very excited about doing collaborative dance between gamelan and Indian dance, a sort of fusion of the two.”
“I’m really looking forward to connecting with people I otherwise wouldn’t be associating with at all, to looking at the world from a different perspective and gaining new insights. The utter independence terrifies me but I’m also excited,” said McLaughlin.
Guerrero agreed that the experience will be “like a crash course of cooking and budgeting and having my own place. I’m also intimidated by the thought of navigating India’s train system.” Both students say they will be drawing on their experiences abroad, Guerrero from a year studying abroad in Japan and McLaughlin from her winter term in Nicaragua, during their fellowship.
McLaughlin and Guerrero both spoke of Shansi’s strong support system and the preparations that will begin in early June. Both Fellows will be taking intensive language programs over the summer, McLaughlin in Indonesia and Guerrero in the U.S. They agree that wherever each fellow goes, the next two years will be a singular experience for all of them.