Cory Rogers '11:
Shansi Fellowship ... a carte blanche for probing new possibilities of self and community in Indonesia
Cory Rogers was the 2012-2014 Shansi Fellow at Gadjah Mada University. This is his second year narrative.
“The only way my life makes sense is if, regardless of culture, race, religion, tribe, there is this commonality, these essential human truths and passions and hopes and moral precepts that
are universal…If that is not the case, then it is pretty hard for me to make sense of my life. So
that is at the core of who I am.” -Barack Obama
The Shansi Fellowship is often imagined as an effort to “join worlds.” But this conception, as least as I understood it in the summer of 2012, fails to capture what made my personal experience in Yogyakarta formative and profound.
The “worlds” one connects with as a Shansi Fellow are really only as big as the relationships formed around real people and communities. And what made my experience particularly edifying was not the result of trying to build bridges to span interpersonal and intercultural gulfs. It was the result of identifying and capitalizing on preexisting, interpersonal and intercultural synchronicities.
Looking back, then, the goal of my Shansi Fellowship was not really about joining worlds but uncovering them. It was about finding what was Indonesian about my American-ness and what was American about others’ Indonesian-ness more so than it was about integrating something new.
Over the course of the two years, as the fog of being in an alien environment lifted and cultural asymmetries lost the their exotic veneer, the possibilities for clear-eyed negotiations of self and purpose came into sharper focus, as did the possibilities for acquiring an enlarged sense of community and integrating new experiences in a manner that was usable.
Complex negotiations of intercultural and interpersonal difference happened, of course, internally and externally, but not to create some kind of transcendence of difference, but rather the identification -- sometimes instantaneous, other times gradual – of common ground.
When I arrived in Jogja, for example, I was fairly sure that serious study of gamelan and other native musics would be my primary pursuit. Gradually, however, I had to admit that I was more interested how gamelan worked as an expression of Javanese culture than I was in how it was developed as an art form, and I had to settle for appropriating the parts that fit my own musical palette – rhythmic patterns I could employ as an accompanist, textures I could use as a percussionist, etc – rather than embarking on a full-scale program of study.
Where one finds the greatest potential for finding a common ground, or a common cause – whether in the workplace, in the arts or on the street – is where a Fellow in Jogja ought to invest his or her time, and where Shansi as an organization should focus efforts at improving the program.
In my particular case, which is outlined more fully in prior reports, by participating in community organizing efforts, writing journalism and making all sorts of different music, I located those shared points of contact and that was what shaped and guided my experience.
This idea of the common ground is strongly correlated to the mandate for personal authorship, which itself is a redeeming strength of the program.
Even in the classroom, individual authorship of the fellowship position holds sway, due to UGM’s steadfast faith the capacities of the Fellow to excel as an educator.
Both at the Faculty of Cultural Sciences (FIB) and at the Center for Religious and Cross-Cultural Studies (CRCS), Shansi Fellows are left almost entirely on their own to design and implement teaching ideas, assess student performance, and solve problems. While much has been made about how this can alienate Oberlin graduates accustomed to professor feedback and grades to gauge success, I’ve found the opposite true.
Because Shansi Fellows are from the outset, for better or worse, regarded as skilled teachers and given free reign in the classroom (a treatment no doubt stemming from Fellows’ stellar track record and veteran teachers fondly remembering time spent at Oberlin campus) I felt immediately party to a legacy of success.
This was more motivating than any kind of quality-control oversight would have been because it forced me early on to view myself as an “insiders” with a responsibility to uphold a tradition. I think students benefit too, as they get a richer sense of the Fellow. More than one professor has remarked that this freedom is by design, as it allows us to engage with students in a way that engages them on our own terms.
I bring this up because there are often discussions between Fellows (and occasionally with the directors) about the weaknesses of this kind of hands-off approach. But, requires a thoroughly personal accounting of success in the classroom, which is an ingredient to the kind of success Shansi is looking for. And students get a fuller example of who we are as people.
Looking forward, there are certainly additional organizational goals that Shansi hopes to realize, including but not limited to faculty exchanges and targeted programs. But from the perspective of an outgoing Fellow, I want to stress that I think real value still exists in making Fellows the authors of the program rather than the executors of an institutional partnership.
The Shansi Fellowship to Yogyakarta, is, truly, a carte blanche for probing new possibilities of self and community in Indonesia. And it was worth a heck of a lot to me.
So how do I cash this check that has such unquantifiable value? I’m still figuring it out But I know that I’m a more capable, worldly, empathetic as a result of the experience, and I’ll be eternally grateful for the opportunity I was given. The rest will figure itself out.
Some practical recommendations:
Regarding incoming fellows:
Require all fellows teach a letter-writing unit at the end of the first year that asks their students to reflect on the value of having an American instructor of English. What is the value of that for the students? Require that these letters mailed to the incoming Fellow’s OCMR and have that Fellow read the letters and write a reflection as preparation for the classroom experience.
Regarding active fellows:
Request that the “special outing” trip funded by UGM, which is always scheduled at the end of the second semester, take place at the beginning of the first semester; this way junior and senior fellow can connect outside the workplace before the year really gets underway.
At the Center for Religious and Cross-Cultural Studies – keep the summer program -- it’s a key primer for the grad students and an unbelievable experience for Fellows. But cut the semester teaching course; the students cannot find time to take it seriously and it takes away from time that could be spent doing writing consultations. Focus on doing regular writing consultations during the semester.
Regarding outgoing fellows:
For those like myself who are poised for deeper engagement with Asia, dedicating resources to creating more accessible and organized alumni network could help translate the Shansi experience into a professional endeavor.