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Photo: Group of Shansi Reps

Kathryn Skillman, Maneesh Saini, Victoria Chong Der, Daniel Martinez De La Vega, Carrie Carter and Margaret Spearman head off to Asia for the 2001-2003 fellowship term.


Shansi: Something to Write Home About

by Brian Dowdy and Sue Kropp

Photo: Dan Wilder
Dan Wilder begins his Shansi experience with a taste of the local cuisine.

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SEPTEMBER 26, 2001--In a trendy fish restaurant on the slopes of volcanic Mt. Rafi in Indonesia, Dan Wilder '99 began his two-year experience abroad, eating a fish head.

"The eyeballs were pretty tasty," he says.

Wilder spent two years in Yogyakarta, on the island of Java, Indonesia, studying Indonesian and teaching English as part of Shansi’s Postgraduate Fellowship Program.

Shansi--one of the oldest educational exchange institutions in the United States--sends Oberlin alumni to Indonesia, India, Japan and China, where they stay for two years. Shansi representatives learn the languages of their host countries and teach English to undergraduate students and faculty members.

Wilder and fellow Oberlin graduate David Gaskell '99 taught at the Pusat Pelatihan Bahasa (PPB) language-training center, an affiliate institution of Gadjah Mada University. At PPB, Wilder and Gaskell worked with Indonesian faculty members to help teach English and academic writing (in English) to young professors hoping to go abroad to earn higher degrees.

"I helped faculty members read more articles in their field, enter more debates, and meet people, not just in Indonesia but across the world," says Gaskell.

Outside of the English classroom, Wilder continued to study Bahasa Indonesian and Javanese, while trying to maintain his French. He also worked with an Indonesian organization that offers communal housing and education to homeless families, where he tutored elementary-school children.

Gaskell spent a year working with an Indonesian high school teacher carving wooden shadow puppets. The puppets are used in Indonesia to tell folkloric stories called Ramaiana. On his birthday, David's students gave him a new story to tell.

"A student approached me and said 'David, it's an ancient, ancient Javanese tradition that when it's your birthday you get thrown in the lake. But because you're our teacher and we like you so much, we're not going to throw you in the lake. Instead, we'll just take you to the washroom and pour water over your head,'" Gaskell says. "So they marched me off to the bathroom and each person in the class took a turn pouring water over my head. I'm still trying to find out if it's a real tradition or not."

Having returned to Oberlin, Gaskell and Wilder are working as interns with the Shansi office on campus. This summer they helped orient new Shansi representatives and will offer support and assistance during the academic year to scholars that come to Oberlin as part of Shansi’s Visiting Scholars Program.

The Visiting Scholars program brings Asian scholars to Oberlin's campus as language teaching assistants and visiting instructors. Shansi also sends members of Oberlin's faculty and staff to Asian institutions to teach. This spring, Ronald Kahn, professor of Law and Society at Oberlin College, will travel to Kunming, China, to teach a course at Yunnan University.

In addition to the postgraduate fellowship and visiting scholars programs, Shansi is launching several new initiatives this year, including scholarships for travel during Oberlin's Winter Term and summer study programs. Shansi also will sponsor several conferences during the coming academic year, both in Oberlin and aborad. The first conference will be held this spring, in collaboration with Anuradha Needham, professor of English, who will help facilitate discussions on secularism in India.

"Educational exchange contributes to understanding and tolerance," says Carl Jacobson, director of Shansi. "As an organization, Shansi is rededicating itself to building mutual respect and collegial collaboration between the people of the United States and nations in Asia."




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