A Note from Returned Fellow Leah Aki Wood '16

This week, we hear from the Returned Fellow who stayed in Japan to teach for the remainder of her Fellowship as Covid-19 unfolded. Since coming back to Oberlin, she has collected self-interviews from recent and past Fellows and made a video that looks at some of the meaningful aspects of the Fellowship experience.

Read her message below:

"Dear Friends,

I am Leah Aki Wood, current Returned Fellow/Grants and Fellowships Coordinator for Oberlin Shansi and 2018-2020 Shansi Fellow at J.F. Oberlin University (JFOU) in Machida, Japan, where I taught English language and supported extracurricular and study abroad programs.

In January of 2020, I rang in the new year with friends visiting from the US and one of my co-Fellows, all packed into my tiny apartment where we enjoyed traditional osechi fare and sake. We left the next day for Kyoto where we visited Fushimi Inari-taisha, a shrine famous for its thousands of tori gates. I was shocked by the crowd as we shuffled along in a river of unmasked humans––and now I can’t even remember what that was like.

I went to India in late February and visited the Lady Doak Fellow and then later the Jagori Grameen Fellow. A couple days after we’d been covered in colorful powders to celebrate Holi in Rakkar, Austin (the Jagori Fellow) and I received Shansi’s emails first indicating optional departure followed by one 24 hours later with a mandatory departure order. This reflected the close attention by Executive Director Gavin Tritt and Deputy Director Ted Samuel to the hour by hour development of Covid-19. I sent frantic WhatsApp messages to Ted and Gavin indicating that I didn’t want to go back to the US, and they responded quickly and thoughtfully, offering to discuss it further once I was back in Japan. After many cups of black tea, handfuls of cashews and dried coconut, and a long walk into the foothills of the Himalayas, Austin and I slowly came to terms with what was happening to the world and to the remainder of our Fellowships.

After returning to Japan, JFOU worked swiftly to move the spring semester online. My co-Fellows were already back in the US and planned to teach remotely, but I was still resistant to the idea of going back. I’d built up a life in Japan over the last year and a half. I was confident that given my isolated living situation, that I have family in Japan, and my family in the US felt comfortable with me staying, that I would be more useful to JFOU in Machida than in Oberlin. After ensuring my safety and agreeing to regular check-ins with Ted, Shansi agreed to let me stay. For that, I am forever grateful.

Coming back to Oberlin as the Grants and Fellowships Coordinator for Shansi was unique this year since, due to the pandemic, there are no Visiting Scholars. I’ve turned my attention to updating the website and working on media projects. Past and current Fellows generously sent self-recorded interviews about their experiences, and with those I constructed a short video which you can view here. I also had the honor of designing the Annual Report (please look out for it next week). Though I assembled them, neither of these projects would have been possible without the participants and all of those who support Shansi in its work to create impactful opportunities.

If you’d like to hear from Fellows and Shansi directly, please join us for “A Community Conversation with Oberlin Shansi” on Thursday, December 10th at 7:00pm EST via Zoom. This panel discussion will offer you the chance to hear directly from Shansi’s leadership and recent Fellows. Visit here to register and learn more.

Being a Shansi Fellow changed my life. I can speak directly to how the Fellowship placed me in a position to develop myself both professionally and personally. I’ve found more clarity with what drives me. I know that I’m not the only one to have felt this, and I hope that I won’t be the last. With your generous support we can ensure that there will be more generations of Fellows. If you are able to donate to Shansi this year, please visit www.shansi.org/donate to give online or find instructions for mailing. It makes a difference, and for that, we can’t thank you enough.

We appreciate your time and consideration and wish you well during these trying times.


Leah Aki Wood (she/her)

Oberlin Shansi Fellow 2018-2020

Grants and Fellowships Coordinator 2020-2021

P.S. Follow us on instagram (@oberlinshansi) to see updates from our fellows! I’ll be taking over this week to offer an alumni perspective, but next week we’ll hear from Sheng Kao who is our current Independent Fellow in Taiwan."

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