Wooster-in-Thailand Program Puts Different Spin on ‘Theory to Practice’
Students learn about Asian women and Asian-American theology
WOOSTER, Ohio — Lessons learned in the classroom and applied in the field fit nicely into The College of Wooster’s concept of “theory to practice,” but sometimes that process flows in the opposite direction. In the case of Linda Morgan-Clement’s course in Asian and Asian-American Feminist Theology, for example, students experienced a form of “practice to theory” after traveling halfway around the world as participants in the College’s new “Wooster-in-Thailand” program.
The basic objective was to give the students an opportunity to observe a vastly different culture from a woman’s perspective and then discuss it in detail when second-semester classes began in January. A group of 13 Wooster students joined four others, including Morgan-Clement, in boarding a plane on Dec. 28 for a 17-day excursion that would wind up having a deep impact on their view of the world.
“Most of us make meaning by first having an experience and then reflecting upon it,” said Morgan-Clement. “Asian and Asian-American feminists begin their reflections from standpoint of being both women and Asian. I have been teaching this class for several years, and students always struggle to get their heads around the experiences that shape the theology that emerges. The immersion is designed to give students a sense of being the minority, as well as being linguistically challenged.”
Sarah Hunt, a senior women’s, gender, and sexuality studies major and sociology minor from Buffalo, wanted to be part of that type of immersion in a very different culture. “I came away with a much healthier way of thinking,” she said. “I better understood that my life is shaped by the people around me, and it caused me to become much more grounded. I hope that these lessons will stick with me for the rest of my life.”
Heidi Strike, a first-year student from Northfield, Minn., wanted to learn more about Asian culture. “I really got a lot out of it,” she said. “It changed my point of view on a lot of things.”
Anna Regan, a sophomore studio art major from Denver, had never traveled outside of the United States and saw the Wooster-in-Thailand program as an enticing opportunity. “I asked myself, ‘why not?” she said. “Why not take advantage of Wooster’s emphasis on global citizenship? Why not dive into it and learn about a culture that is so different from mine?” Regan said the trip broadened her horizons and bolstered her self-confidence.
Celeste Tannenbaum, a junior religious studies major and education minor from Ann Arbor, Mich., got a jump on the process by serving as a sophomore research assistant under Morgan-Clement. “I knew for a year and a half that I would be going, but it was still very exciting,” she said. “It was interesting to see how many connections Wooster has over there and how global the College really is.”
With the trip still fresh in their minds Hunt, Strike, Regan, and Tannenbaum, along with the other nine students in the class, have been engaging one another in lively conversations for the past six weeks.
“The trip has served as our textbook,” said Tannenbaum. “The first half of the class has focused on Asian women. The second half will look at Asian-American theology.”
One of the hottest topics in class has been the participation of many Thai women in the sex trade. “They don’t call themselves prostitutes,” said Tannenbaum. “They call themselves sex workers.” Students have also been talking about some of the visits they made to HIV clinics, activist organizations, and various other destinations. “It was a great experience,” said Strike. “We all came away with a much better understanding about the culture in Thailand, and what it’s like to be a Thai woman.”
As a result of the trip, class discussions have become more passionate and meaningful as the students talk about what they learned. “It is a whole new teaching experience to gather with a group that has already invested so much into the topic,” said Morgan-Clement. “By bringing practice to theory we have been able to engage in self-reflection about our own attitudes, behaviors, and assumptions that would otherwise have been invisible to us. Not only did the trip become our textbook, but we ourselves also became a textbook, which is the heart of a feminist teaching methodology. It is clear that in this case, practice to theory creates integrated learning for all parties. I hope that this is one life-changing experience that truly lasts a lifetime.”
Members of the class will make a group presentation during Women’s Gender, and Sexuality Studies Week in April. Additional information is available by calling 330-263-2558.