Tongue Ties

Nondini Nagarwalla shares her love of language with students in Taiwan.

May 17, 2023

Brittany Moseley

Nondini Nagarwalla.
Photo credit: courtesy of Nondini Nagarwalla

For Nondini Nagarwalla, learning new languages is an opportunity to foster understanding between cultures. This, as well as her parents’ experiences immigrating to the United States from India in the 1980s, influenced her decisions to study Spanish and Mandarin.

Now Nagarwalla, a graduating senior from Brooklyn, New York, will share her experiences with Taiwanese students and help them share their own stories during an upcoming year teaching English as a Fulbright Fellow in the Asian island nation.

“I want to give them the opportunity to learn English and be able to influence more of the world, and communicate with more of the world, and share their voices and ideas and their identities as Taiwanese people,” says Nagarwalla, who will be matched with a grade-school language program upon arriving in Hualien City this summer. In her free time, she looks forward to immersing herself in Taiwanese culture and putting her Mandarin language skills to use with native speakers.

Nagarwalla’s interest in Taiwan was sparked by the class Taiwan Native-Soil Literature, taught by her advisor, Visiting Assistant Professor of Chinese Chialan Sharon Wang.

“I want to be a part of fostering an understanding between people and representing the debate and democratic ideals of the U.S.”

“We read a lot of Taiwanese literature, and they talked about seeking to make an identity for themselves, because they’ve been colonized by China and Japan in the past,” Nagarwalla says. “We learned about their process of having their own written vernacular language…because it’s always been Chinese or Japanese or Roman symbols.”

Her hopes for the fellowship rise above mere bonds over language. “I want to be a part of fostering an understanding between people and representing the debate and democratic ideals of the U.S.,” she says.

Through her majors in economics and East Asian studies, Nagarwalla developed interests in international affairs, policy, and environmental issues. She completed an internship with International Bridges to Justice, a Geneva-based organization that works to protect the rights of citizens in developing countries. That experience, which unfolded remotely over the summer prior to her senior year, involved creating an e-learning module about China’s legal system used by lawyers in China; she also co-wrote a “youth manifesto” that was part of a global campaign focused on youth justice.

She is a member of the South Asian Students Association and the Women and Nonbinary Finance Group as well as a facilitator for Barefoot Dialogue, a program of the Office of Spirituality and Dialogue through which students are invited to share personal stories and engage with one another over meals.

Sparking dialogue is a recurring theme in Nagarwalla’s work, both academically and outside the classroom. It’s one of the aspects of Oberlin she will miss the most. “I feel like people are always willing to have a dialogue and are very accepting and welcoming,” she says.

Nagarwalla is interested in a career that combines economics with sustainability and the environment. Upon completing her Fulbright, she may pursue a graduate degree in public policy, research, and development or environmental social governance.

The Fulbright Program was established in 1946 to increase mutual understanding between people of the United States and people of other countries by sponsoring students and scholars to study, teach English, and conduct research overseas. The U.S. government’s flagship international academic exchange program, Fulbright supports exchanges between the U.S. and more than 150 countries around the world. In February, Oberlin was named a top producer of Fulbright Fellows for the 14th consecutive year. It ranks third among U.S. colleges and universities on the all-time list, with more than 260 Fulbright recipients.

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