When Worlds Meet
by Tom Pruiksma
continued from first page...
the year the program in India began. He started the practice of
writing letters back to Oberlin for distribution around campus that
continues to this day. In 1953 Joe described his own departure from
Madurai and asked himself, "Why had I come to India? What had I
accomplished in Madurai? How did these years fit into any sort of
life-career pattern?" His answers suggest that when people of differing
cultures meet and work together, the possibility of cracking stereotypes
and nurturing seeds of understanding opens. "Stereotypes may simplify
thinking," he wrote, "but they do not simplify the building of a
sane and peaceful world."
The lessons of a Shansi fellowship have a way of continuing well
after the term is over, shaping the lives of former fellows in
substantial ways. Joseph
Elder and his wife Joann, both '51, traveled to
life is the best answer to his own question. Not only did he pursue
an academic career--he is a professor of sociology and of languages
and cultures of Asia at the University of Wisconsin, Madison; the
director of the university's Center for South Asia; and the faculty
coordinator for study-abroad programs in India and Nepal, but he
also remains committed, as he puts it, to "looking at the United
States with an international perspective."
Former fellows pursue careers in medicine, law, public health, public
policy, and business. During her fellowship in Taigu, China, Barbara
Sinkule '83 sat in on a seventh-grade botany class to observe teaching
styles and learned Chinese in the process. Later she earned a PhD
at Stanford, studying the implementation of industrial water-pollution
control policies in the Pearl River Delta of China. In 1995 she
wrote a book, Implementing Environmental Policies in China. Barbara
worked in waste management at Los Alamos National Laboratory for
several years and is now a technical staff member in the Safeguards
Systems Group there.
Gretchen M. Engel '85, a fellow in Indonesia, is a lawyer for death-row
prisoners in North Carolina. "One of the most important lessons
I gained from going abroad was learning to appreciate and respect
differences--a source of strength, yet also a challenge." This increased
sensitivity, she said, made her cautious about making assumptions
concerning the disenfranchised population with which she works.
"My time in Indonesia helped me become more humble about what it
means to help other people and more realistic about how one tries
to do something good."
Common among the fellows, regardless of the country in which they
served, was the creation of meaningful friendships. "The fellowship
was not about accomplishing something that would be noted as great
by someone else," said Charlotte Briggs '85, a member of the Shansi
board of trustees. "It's about being changed by people and events
that inspire you to live a deeper and more meaningful life after
the fellowship is over."
In December, when I finally reached the airport in Chennai, I had
a difficult time saying goodbye to my two closest friends. I couldn't
find the words, the farewell, to reassure my return. But that day's
sadness is a testament to what we were for each other. And that
is the real reason for undertaking the work, for learning a new
language and culture, for leaving home and feeling out-of-place,
for listening, and sharing, and trusting. *
Tom Pruiksma is working on a series of creative
essays and assisting his Tamil teacher, professor K.V. Ramakoti,
write a book for students of spoken
Tamil and English.
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