New Shansi Director Brings Experience, Vision to Program

November 11, 2013

Elizabeth Kuhr

Oberlin Shansi Director Gavin Tritt at the organization’s open house last spring
Oberlin Shansi Director Gavin Tritt at the organization’s open house last spring.
Photo credit: Dale Preston '83

This year, Oberlin Shansi welcomes Gavin Tritt as its new executive director. A nonprofit located on Oberlin’s campus, Shansi facilitates programs that place Oberlin undergraduates, recent grads, and faculty in China, India, Indonesia and Japan, where they teach English. Shansi also brings individuals from those regions to Oberlin to teach their native languages.

“This is such a wonderful community,” says Tritt, who arrived with his wife, two children, and two dogs in December 2012, of Oberlin College and the Shansi program.

Tritt succeeds Carl Jacobson, who led Shansi for 31 years before retiring in 2012. Tritt says he feels honored to represent Shansi, which he calls a “remarkable institution,” and that he worked hard to gain the position.

Learning of the executive director search “got me really excited,” says Tritt, “because it brought me back to how I got started on this field.”

In 1988, after graduating from Yale University with a degree in East Asian studies and Chinese history, he began what was supposed to be two years teaching English in Changsha, China, with the Yale China Association.

Though Tritt describes it as fruitful and enriching, his experience took a sudden turn in the summer of 1989, when political demonstrations swept the nation, and the Chinese government violently struck down student protestors on Tiananmen Square on June 4. In response, the program withdrew Tritt from the country.

“It was quite shocking,” recalls Tritt, who returned to Changsha six months later to finish his fellowship. He remembers that his students’ morale had weakened because of the preceding events. “That was a very defining aspect of my experience there.”

After finishing his program in China and earning a graduate degree in international development, Tritt joined the Asia Foundation, which provides Asian countries support for economic, political, and social development. During his 19 years with the foundation Tritt worked in San Francisco, the Philippines, and Cambodia.

As Tritt has grown more acquainted with Shansi’s current fellows and the programs in which they participate, he continues to ask questions: Are they contributing to the community? Do they feel their time is valuable?

Among Tritt’s plans for Shansi is to expand the experience of Shansi fellows beyond teaching English. In his time with the program, he has shifted its focus to include non-profit, community-based work.

“We’re looking at ways to build new relationships with nongovernmental organizations and advocacy organizations in Asia that work around service learning,” says Tritt. “There’s a greater interest on the campus among the students and our partners to do so.”

Amelea Kim ’12, who is teaching English at Sanxi Agricultural University, says that when Tritt visited China he “immediately dove into meeting with the administration and establishing relations there, meeting with us and listening to all our concerns, and getting to know us well.”

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