2001 Student-Faculty Fellows: Carthage College
Thailand: Individual Projects
Mentor: Pamela Smiley, English and Women’s Studies
Students: Miriam Eck ’02; Mary Jean Preston ’01
Abstracts of Reflections and/or Research
The Freeman grant, in addition to my Fulbright to Korea and the Ford Foundation grant to Southeast Asia (also through ASIANetwork), have opened up my writing to include the stories of Asian women. While in Temechula, for example, Jean Preston and I conducted an interview with two Karen women who had walked to the village to sell their weaving in order that their children might visit the doctor. One of the women, Sutje, held both of my hands in hers when we said good-bye. Through two translators-one from English to Thai and the second from Thai to Karen-Sutje told me that she wished she spoke English because her “heart [was] filled with things” she wanted to tell me but could not express. While I do not presume that I am able to tell Sutje’s-or any of the Asian women’s-stories in ways she is not able to do, I, as an academic and a writer, am in a unique position to bring the stories to new audiences. The commonalities of our positions as women-and the differences-are compelling. And that is what I want my own stories to do, to make women feel the connections between us and the responsibility we have for one another.
Because of my training is as an Americanist, I have not felt comfortable claiming authority in regard to Asian culture or literature. One unexpected result of the Freeman grant has been that I have become positioned as an intermediary between Thai and American culture. Guiding Jean and Miriam through Thailand, giving talks to local women artists, the Service League, and the Carthage community: I have learned much by having to teach others. I have come to see this, in part, as coming into adulthood, rather than the child who depends on the authority of another. Particularly in academics, with our respect for the territoriality of our areas, this signals a profound shift. I do not claim authority, but have come to respect the validity of my own experiences in Asia.
I have certainly had a wonderful experience in Thailand. The trip to the country has shaped my personal character by making me more sensitive to another culture and more understanding of how to approach issues of cultural differences. I have gained a heightened awareness of my responsibilities as a U.S. citizen, as well as my responsibilities when I am a foreigner in another country. Finally, I have gained important assets that will help determine my career future. Yet, most importantly, my trip has left me with a love of Thai culture and a desire to know more about the country as well as the world in general.
ASIANetwork and the Freeman Foundation Grant provided me with exciting academic challenges and the opportunity for personal growth. Our grant project demanded that I write stories — stories about women whose lives are dramatically different from our own, stories about the tenacity and courage with which these women confront the challenges of their lives, and stories which would ultimately show our connection to one another as women and as human beings despite a wide cultural gap. In addition, research for this project led me to choose an East/West comparison of authors (Dok Mai Sot and Jane Austen) for my undergraduate senior thesis requirement. On a personal level, I returned to the United States with an appreciation of the deep sense of tradition, spirituality, and connection to nature inherent in the Thai and Karen cultures, as well as a new perspective on our Western system of values.