SPARTANBURG, S.C. – When last we heard from Vanessa Juliet Lauber, Wofford’s 23rd Presidential International Scholar was writing a blog from Peru for the Wofford website (link for your perusal).
Getting that scholarship was not easy for Lauber, the English and history major (and Phi Beta Kappa) from Taylors, SC. The bar is set pretty high. The Wofford president himself selects the scholar personally each year, looking for “the singular student best fitted to benefit humankind.” Like those before her, Lauber spent her senior year visiting a developing country to conduct research on an independent study project. She is returning for a fifth year to complete regular coursework and share what was learned during her travels.
“When I began, I intended to study cultural perspectives on environmental change, specifically change initiated by forces of modernization and globalization in developing nations,” says Lauber. “By observing the effects of aspects of development, such as hydroelectric power projects, economic initiatives, and sustainability and conversation plans, I wanted to explore the difficult conflict between traditional culture and modernization with primary emphasis on how this plays out in the day-to-day life. During my travels, I focused primarily on community-based initiatives linking environmental conservation and management with cultural preservation.”
That’s the technical side of what she learned. Aside from all of that, she learned simply how to get through the daily logistics of traveling from country to country, and culture to culture.
“Flexibility is a quality I had to prepare and develop, just to absorb all the little problems and surprises that come up along the way,” Lauber says. “But overall, everything went quite smoothly. Knowing that each day when I woke up and went outside that I would meet new people and try new foods (the most unappetizing of which ranged from starfish to blood cubes to silk worms) and engage with new problems and cultural encounters was both challenging and an incredible thrill of experience and sensory overload. And, amazingly enough, the airlines never once lost my pack.”
That’s a victory in and of itself, but her travels were far more rewarding than that.
“At times it was overwhelming, but always exciting,” she explains. “Even if just for the challenges that I faced each day in reassessing priorities and the way that people work together and interact. I saw an incredible amount of diversity and life in a relatively short period of time and it will take a great deal longer than that to really process all that I encountered. There were days when it was difficult to keep moving forward because I wondered what I was doing, and then there were days when I felt energized and could not have wished to be anywhere else.”
As one might expect, Lauber’s experience will shape her future for years to come. She plans on trying to share in her bounty of experiences and new knowledge as much as possible.
“There will be a great deal I have to think about and process, but that will bring a new imperative to what I will do now,” she says. “Particularly with the responsibility I feel to share what I’ve learned with fellow students as a means to passing on that imperative of action and engagement.”
This upcoming year will be about graduating, but it’s time to start planning for beyond 2009. What lies in store for Lauber?
“That is still a big question,” she says. “For the time being, I’m investigating and applying to graduate programs in English and history with an emphasis on colonial studies.”
Few students have ever had as much experience to draw from while completing those endeavors.