This year the Center for Asia Pacific Studies selected six Asia Bridge Junior Fellows to work on original research papers on topics of their choice with the guidance of fellowship coordinator, Dr. Cynthia Schultes. While they were hard at work on their papers, these six unique individuals took a few minutes to share their personal stories, what drew them to the Center and the Asia Bridge Junior Fellowship program, and how they have grown academically, professionally, and personally in this time with their cohort of peers. Though their research topics varied, they share some key personal qualities and interests that brought them together and made their fellowship year a fruitful and formative adventure, even if they were disappointed that due to the ongoing pandemic, it had to be done through a screen. Although they could not be physically in San Francisco, being a part of this microcosm of the University of San Francisco (USF) community helped the junior fellows find connection and advance their academic and professional goals. But who are the people behind the projects?
Most of the fellows have deep ties to Asia. Some of them, including Frances Eusebio and Cyan Thea Marie Balantac, have lived in Asia, and in the Philippines, to be specific. Frances, for example, studies the politics of her home country, noting that the Philippines and Asia are particularly interesting places to learn about and “even if I grew up there, I don’t necessarily know everything about it.” As a junior fellow, Frances put that curiosity to work researching how young Filipinos utilize organization and social media to raise awareness about the Martial Law period under the regime of Ferdinand Marcos.
Cyan, who grew up in the Philippines until she was 7 before moving to Chicago, actually chose USF in part because of its strong Filipino community. Being around this community allowed her to access a hobby that requires a critical mass of participants: traditional Filipino dance. Cyan’s enthusiasm brimmed over as she shared: “I love dance! I’ve been doing it ever since high school!” She especially enjoys choreographing for and dancing with her friends in USF’s Filipinx dance troupe, Kasamahan, which is likewise the subject of her fellowship research examining how this generation of Filipino Americans conceptualizes their identity in relation to their understanding of colonial history and colonial mentality through dance.
Junior fellow Madison Burk also has Filipino heritage, and was similarly quite excited to come to San Francisco from Michigan, a place where as she put it, “there wasn’t any Filipino community at all, so I grew up for 18 years only knowing my grandma, my aunt, and my mom!” Madison’s curiosity to learn more about her family background blossomed into an interest in Asia in general, and has branched into curiosity about Korea’s feminist movements. Her fellowship research on this topic combines her passion for women’s rights and sexual violence prevention by focusing on the online South Korean feminist movement and how the internet can be a space where women can reclaim their power by providing new ways to organize and protest.
Like Madison, Emily Chang wanted to branch out and expand her knowledge about Asia; on trips to visit family in Asia, she learned about her family background. However, on these repeated trips she also realized that “there’s so much more to Asia than just Taiwan and Malaysia where my parents are from…I’ve been able to create a newfound interest every time I go to Asia!” This is how she became enamored with Singapore, which she is currently researching about in this program. Linking her interest in economic and social policy in general, Emily’s fellowship project looks at Singapore’s National Family Planning Program, and specifically, the Two Child Policy.
Like the other junior fellows, Evan Matthew Chan is using this fellowship to deepen his academic knowledge about his personal experience. Evan is learning more about his family’s history as migrants to the US from Southern China, and how Chinese diaspora culture(s) intersect with LGBTQIA+ identities by studying “homosexuality within the Chinese family unit.”
Junior fellow Natalie Ortez-Arevalo also found research inspiration from personal experience. As a first generation Honduran American, her own cross-cultural background–along with a love for K-Pop–prompted her desire to examine transnational K-Pop idols’ experiences as they navigate the space “in between” their different cultures. Through the Asia Bridge Junior Fellowship program, the students have enjoyed the creative space and freedom to learn about their family backgrounds, themselves, and their rooted identities.
Finding resonance among their differing topics and across disciplines, the junior fellows built each other up, making new connections between ideas that helped each of the six become more motivated. Reflecting on the benefit of having a small cohort of peers that matched her boundless enthusiasm for learning, Madison Burk emphasized that just knowing that others “were also passionate in this way” was energizing: “One person is talking about economics in Singapore, while somebody else is talking about the feminist movement in China, but they’re both talking with the same level of excitement as I am.” Madison and the other junior fellows truly seemed grateful to be in it together this year. Cyan Balantac agreed. Diving into topics of shared interest outside of class allowed her to feel like she and her cohort were seeing more deeply into topics than they were able to during limited class time.
The Asia Bridge junior fellows gained more than just a community of like-minded peers over the course of this year-long program. They also gained valuable experience and skills that will help them in their future academic and professional endeavors. As Evan Chan pointed out, “original research is not something that you necessarily get to do a lot as an undergraduate, and so this extracurricular program as a junior fellow is an amazing opportunity.” One of the things the fellows most appreciated about the program is the academic scaffolding and guidance that helped them to learn and grow. Workshops and mentoring by the fellowship coordinator as well as Center for Asia Pacific Studies faculty board members provided the fellows with a special chance to gain new skills from scholars in the field. Natalie Ortez-Arevalo valued the “step-by-step on how to do this [kind of research] if you’ve never done it before.” Natalie further enthused, “That’s one thing I’ve really enjoyed about the fellowship…having someone else to guide me through how to do this but also letting us research whatever we’re interested in!”
Junior fellow Emily Chang was amazed that she learned something new in every Asia Bridge meeting, even though she already had research experience. She referenced specific things she’s learned over the course of the fellowship: “how to write an abstract, how to draft a proposal, how to create titles; it [the fellowship] will definitely benefit me in the end…and improve the skills that I need to be successful in school and hopefully, the workforce.” Frances Eusebio, too, is grateful for the Center’s mentorship and research guidance. As she said, “I’ve always just been interested in research,” seeing it as a way “to reach more people…and give them more knowledge,” especially about her home country of the Philippines. The students’ academic and professional growth was on full display at their end-of-year conference in which they presented their work to an audience of professors, fellow students, family members, and friends. The culmination of their hard work, the students–in the words of fellow Madison Burk–each succeeded in making their audience care about their topic in an academic setting “without losing its relatability or passion.”
The Center for Asia Pacific Studies is proud of its 2020-2021 Asia Bridge Junior Fellowship cohort. Despite the distance of online learning, the junior fellows persevered–flourishing both as individuals and as a community. They came together, a group of students with regional interests in Asia and the Pacific, to learn together, grow together, and find commonality across their disparate experiences. Throughout their fellowship journey, these fellows have embodied the goals of the Asia Bridge program: to provide outstanding students with the opportunity to engage with Asia and to provide them with the skills they will need to succeed in today’s increasingly globalized world. As the year comes to a close, we are honored to have had these enthusiastic and erudite young scholars in our program.
If you are interested in following in their footsteps and applying to be an Asia Bridge Junior Fellow, keep up with the Center’s announcements via our email newsletter. And if you would like to support these and other curious and driven students who care about the Asia Pacific, please donate here.