“A Last Hurrah” for the Winter International Travel Fellowship

Inspiration struck junior Comparative Literature major Ben Read two years ago on a toilet in Greywood. He was a freshman, reading an essay written by Federico García Lorca for Professor of Creative Writing Samiya Bashir’s intro to creative writing and poetry class. 

Bashir instructed her class to read the essay in its entirety while on the toilet at least once before reading it separately if they wanted to. It took Read just over half an hour to finish all 20 pages. Little did he know that that essay would follow him through his next two years at Reed, nor that it would become the focus of his Winter International Travel Fellowship (WITF) project.

The WITF is a fund that provides up to $3,000 for students to do a 21-day (at least) trip internationally, explained CLBR Career and Fellowship Advisor Hayden Todd. “It really is a build-your-own project,” Todd said. CLBR awards students who can identify a clear project and have an understanding of how that experience will be transformative for them, in whatever way that may be, Todd explained. “That could be something that’s tied to their academic interests, career interest, or just general personal interest,” Todd said.

Read’s project blends both his academic and his personal interests. “I am going to three different cities in the south of Spain,” Read said. “I’m going to Granada, Malaga and Valencia to study and experience what the poet Federico Garcia Lorca calls duende.”

Duende comes from the Andalusian folklore tradition, and it used to be a small mischievous hobgoblin, Read said. Lorca, however, describes duende as a heightened state of emotion, expression, and authenticity that he observed in flamenco dance and then applied to his poetry. Read intends to do the same.

“I’m going to the Lorca archive in Grenada to read and translate some of his poetry and his writing, and then I’m going to be going to flamenco performances in the three different cities,” Read said.

Both Granada and Malaga are in Andalusia where duende’s relationship with flamenco originated, but Read will also visit Valencia, which is outside of Andalusia, to see how flamenco has changed throughout Spain. 

“In addition to that, I have spent the last two and a half years here at Reed dancing tango, so I’m going to be going to tango milongas to dance and try to incorporate duende into my own creative dance practice,” Read said. Throughout the trip, Read will also write his own duende inspired poetry in English as well as Spanish. This will be his first time writing creatively in Spanish, he explained.

Junior Anthropology major Alisa Chen also plans to expand on her language skills during her WITF project in Taiwan. Chen, who is also minoring in Chinese, will take the opportunity to practice her Mandarin. The focus of Chen’s project, however, centers around her love for hiking.

“I plan to better understand why hiking, especially volunteer-organized group hiking, is so prominent in [Taiwan],” Chen wrote for her project summary on CLBR’s website. “As I hike, I will listen to others’ stories about how they engage with wilderness, while also investigating how both the culture around hiking and the physical trail are more or less accessible than outdoors spaces I’ve enjoyed and worked on in the US.”

Chen previously lived in Taiwan during her gap year before coming to Reed, and plans to visit her former host family in Kaohsiung. She is interested in seeing if the elitist hiking culture she has experienced in the United States is different in Taiwan due to the large amount of volunteer organizing there.

“Something that I’ve experienced a lot in the US in spaces that I’ve been in as someone who’s worked on two trail crews, someone who’s worked on both the East Coast and Alaska, and as a Reed Outing Club leader here, is that volunteer organizing is really difficult to come across in the U.S.,” Chen said. Chen has often observed an extreme sense of superiority in trail volunteers. “There’s basically just this white supremacist ideal of wilderness being something that’s untouched, not something that was taken through colonization and something that continues to uphold white supremacy,” Chen said.

This is something that Chen has experienced ever since she began hiking back when she was 16. “I grew up in a suburb in Michigan, so there weren’t exactly trails everywhere or anything like there is in Portland,” Chen explained. When asked by her parents what she wanted for her 16th birthday, she simply replied, ‘I don’t want to be in Michigan.’ So, Chen and her family went on a hike at Cuyahoga National Park outside of Cleveland, Ohio.

“I realized that it was something I really liked, so I worked on a volunteer trail crew in Denali National Park the summer after my senior year,” Chen said. “The summer after my gap year, the summer before I got to Reed, I worked for the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps, and through that, I feel like I’ve developed a really like intense relationship, both positive and negative, with what is considered wilderness.”

Unfortunately, this year is the WITF’s last. A large reason behind it is that, at the end of the day, the original funds were meant to last six years and have now all been distributed. The funds also never belonged to CLBR, Todd said. “Funds come from a lot of different places, and this is a fund, in particular, that is not endowed, which means that there’s always a potential that it’ll end,” Todd said.

Read said his feelings about the end of the fellowship depends on what comes after. He hopes that the money can be diversified. “I think that’s one thing that’s unfortunate about the fellowship is that it’s only for eight to ten people every year,” Read said. 

This is an issue that CLBR is focused on addressing, Director of CLBR Alice Herra said. As a result, CLBR worked with Reed president Audrey Bilger to approve $30,000 for a Job Shadow Fund for winter break. Each student that wins is awarded $500 to complete a job shadow with a Reed alum. The deadline for winter job shadows was extended until today, while any leftover funds will transfer to Spring Break where students will have a second chance to job shadow. CLBR appreciates any student input as they look to allocate funds to support both career and fellowship opportunities for students. 

Read believes that the WITF is an opportunity for students to have experiences that maybe they couldn’t have otherwise at Reed. “For someone like me who wasn’t able to study abroad, this is a really great opportunity to improve my Spanish in a Spanish-speaking country,” Read said.

Chen believes that the WITF is a great resource for students who don’t necessarily have a place to call home during the winter break. She encourages students to not give up hope on the possibility of the WITF returning. “There’s always room to advocate with admin for something that you care about,” Chen said. “I think that this is something a lot of students care about, and that is really evident in the backlash that brought it back this year.”

Here’s a quick summary of the other nine projects that students are undertaking this winter, courtesy of the CLBR website (more information can be found on each project there!):

  • Anna Volz: Empowering marginalized communities through health partnerships (England)

  • Ashley San Miguel: Exploring generational and institutional memory after Peru’s 20-year conflict (Peru)

  • David Kerry: Following the dream of an independent Ireland (Ireland)

  • Isabelle Sinclair: Stepping into the life of Anna Akhmatova, a Russian poet who bore witness to several of Russia’s most enduring hardships (Russia)

  • Jules Oh: Undertaking a culinary exploration of rural Korea (South Korea)

  • Linda Johnson: Finding where blackness belongs in Brazil (Brazil)

  • Maria Wilkerson: Relearning storytelling through Sicilian Puppet Theatre (Italy)

  • Max Teaford: Discovering, speaking, and situating Mixtec (Mexico)

  • Patrick Park: Investigating post-Fukashima nuclear safety in Korea (South Korea)

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