The following message is from Lauren Trushin, class of 2017, who graduated with a double major in Public Policy and History and a minor in Asian Studies. Lauren is a wonderful example of how substantive work in Asian Studies, including study abroad, can be transformative for students who want to work in a variety of careers. At UNC, she researched the intersection of Anti-Semitism and Civil Rights in the South; she wrote about gender inequality and women’s political involvement in America and Guatemala; she worked as an intern for U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz; and she spent a summer interning at a law firm in Tokyo.
Lauren is now in Law School at Georgetown University.
In the summer after my first year of college, I had the opportunity to join the SEAS (South-East Asia Summer) program and spend the summer living and taking courses in Singapore, Malaysia, and Japan with twenty-four other rising sophomores. This trip undeniably changed the course of my life. Not only did I fall in love with the countries that we visited, but I also gained a new understanding about my academic interests and my ability to thrive in an unfamiliar environment.
The SEAS program courses were aimed at providing us with a historical background and cultural context for the places that we were visiting and this in-class education was buttressed by out-of-class visits to museums, imperial castles, temples, and other cultural sites. Personally, the courses made me realize that I had an interest in Asian culture and almost immediately after returning home, I declared a minor in Asian Studies. My love for the program also encouraged me to apply for a job as a student mentor/ research fellow for the SEAS program that would take place the following year. I was lucky enough to be chosen for the position and return to Southeast Asia: this time, to Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Through this second summer experience, I had the opportunity to conduct a research project about Singaporean nationalism as it relates to Singapore’s cuisine. I also mentored the new SEAS students and help them in becoming familiarized with the coursework and the setting. I was honored to share my experiences with them and support them as they experienced their own life changing moments of academic advancement, independence, and cultural awareness.
Beyond an intense desire to return to Asia, which I have since done twice, one of my chief takeaways from my SEAS experiences was my deep desire that many more students would be able to have the same transformative experiences that I was enough lucky to have. It’s difficult to put this into words, but the SEAS program had an impact each student that went far beyond education and the joy of travel. I personally witnessed the fact that the program instilled a newfound sense of confidence and self-worth in the students on my trip, largely because we felt that, for the first time in our years of schooling, we were part of a program that was designed in such a way that made it clear that we were valued and our educations and lives were worth investing in. UNC’s Asia Department put such an incredible amount of thought and effort into planning SEAS and the care and time that went into that could not have been clearer to us. As a result of this obvious investment of care and effort, as well as department and donor funding, the experience truly instilled a sense of pride in each SEAS student, as we all felt distinctly honored that the department’s faculty had carefully planned each day of the 8-week program and designed it in a way that made it clear that they valued our education, but also trusted us to be independent and experience Asia through our own lens.
I couldn’t be more thankful for the UNC Asia Department and I can only hope that countless future students can benefit from the same kind of transformative experiences that I had.