Seniors Kristina Ferris and Lara Simonton have received Fulbright Scholarships that will take them far from Oberlin this fall. They say it was the solid and broad grounding they received at Oberlin that is sending them in new directions—Ferris to Amsterdam and Simonton to Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia.
A religion major, Ferris, who completed her studies at Oberlin in three years, will pursue a Master of Science degree in the Gender, Sexuality and Society program at the University of Amsterdam. Her Fulbright is co-sponsored by the Netherlands-America Foundation.
“The program provides a strong background in social science methodology and deals with the ways different societies construct sexuality,” says Ferris, whose ultimate goal is to work on HIV prevention internationally.
She says her service as a sexual health education coordinator at the College’s Center for Leadership in Health Promotion opened her eyes to the possibilities and challenges of sexual health work. “I took several classes that reinforced the diversity of sexualities in the world and the need for non-traditional approaches to conflict,” she says. “I also had an amazing group of supportive professors, who consistently pushed me to do the best work I possibly could, to dream big, and to pursue those dreams.
“Ten years from now I would like to combine public health with bridge building between communities—an area that has not yet been fully explored—by creating an advisory group at the United Nations or another international body that brings individuals from diverse or conflicting areas together to strategize about HIV prevention,” she adds.
Simonton, a Russian major, will study at Kyrgyz National University in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. There she will pursue history and regional studies as well as independent research focusing on the topic “Conceptualizing the Nation: The Revival of the Kyrgyz Manas Epic.”
Simonton says that study at Siberia’s Irkutsk State Linguistic University during her junior year kindled her desire to work abroad after graduation. “While there I met Kyrgyz and Uzbek merchants who had fled their homelands or emigrated to earn money to send back home. That increased my interest, particularly in the native cultures and languages of the non-Slavic peoples of the former Soviet Union, and the interaction between Russian language and culture and Asian languages and cultures.
“The Russian department here is wonderful,” adds Simonton, who became interested in the former Soviet Union through her experience in language classes and activities. She also took classes on Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia.
“Being able to cross disciplines—comparative literature, Russian, politics, sociology—helped me improve my research skills and introduced me to scholarship in multiple areas,” she says. “That was key, since my project deals with the intersections between the language, culture, literature, and politics.”
Simonton says her long-range goals include work in or about the former Soviet Union, perhaps in international affairs or education, but adds, “Since I came to Oberlin intending to major in music performance and ended up majoring in Russian with an interest in Central Asia, I think I’ll wait and see where graduate work takes me.”
The Fulbright Scholars Program enables U.S. students, artists, and other professionals to conduct independent research in over 140 nations. Congress has provided funding (and accepted contributions from participating countries) for the Fulbright Program since 1946, fostering mutual understanding among nations through educational and cultural exchanges and providing an alternative to armed conflict.