Meet Pomona’s 2023 Yidan Experiential Learning Grant for the Study of Asia recipients

Diana Truong stands behind a podium in Oldenborg Center wearing a mask and glasses.
Diana Truong PO ’24 and Griffin Campion PO ’24 shared their summer experiences studying in Asia in the Oldenborg Center on Tuesday. (Wendy Zhang • The Student Life)

On Tuesday, Nov. 14, Diana Truong PO ’24 and Griffin Campion PO ’24, the 2023 recipients of the Yidan Experiential Learning Grant for the Study of Asia, presented their summer experiences at a lunch colloquium in the Oldenborg Center.

The grant, sponsored by the Oldenborg Center, offers financial assistance to students at Pomona College who are interested in pursuing experiential learning opportunities such as intensive language study, community engagement and master classes that engage with Asia and Asian cultures. Awards are granted in varying amounts of up to $4,500.

This summer, Truong participated in the Pitzer in Vietnam Summer 2023 Program, a 6-week study-abroad experience focusing on intensive Vietnamese language, culture, history and community immersion.

As a first-generation, low-income student, the Yidan grant offered Truong the financial support she needed to visit Vietnam through Pitzer’s summer program and to connect with her Vietnamese culture.

“I wasn’t raised learning the Vietnamese language because my family wanted me to assimilate in America and avoid the discrimination they experienced — so this was a really important way for me to connect with my heritage as a descendant of the Vietnamese diaspora,” Truong said in an email to TSL.

At the talk, Truong spoke about the influence of her family’s displacement from Vietnam on her interest in Vietnamese culture and language.

“The main source of my connection to Vietnamese culture without the language growing up was the cultural traditions of respect for family, emphasis on education, art and food,” Truong said. “My aunties would make big bowls of pho and egg rolls that we’d share. Instead of giving out cupcakes in elementary school, we gave egg rolls. And so, engaging with art and food was a really big source of connection for me growing up as well as being able to learn the history.”

While studying abroad, Truong grappled with her sense of identity as a Vietnamese American. She recalled an instance when she was riding on a boat at the Mê Kông Delta serviced by an elderly Vietnamese woman and questioned how she was benefiting from the woman’s labor.

“I felt really bad, because I should be rooting for her,” Truong said. “What does it mean for my position as someone of the Vietnamese American diaspora to be serviced by an elder and the different types of labor that she has to do — and she makes less than we do in the [United States]?”

But, after completing the program, Truong felt proud to be a Vietnamese American.

“I came to learn that being separated from your ancestral language is not a failure, but rather a natural consequence of the violence of imperialism and displacement,” she said.

Truong expressed her excitement to continue learning Vietnamese in the spring through the Intermediate Vietnamese language course at Pitzer College with professors Cô Tâm and Anh Công from Huế University. Eventually, she hopes to use her Vietnamese to help non-English-speaking patients as an EMT.

I hope that my Vietnamese language access can be helpful for communities who are going through emergencies,” she said.

Campion, the other grant recipient, studied abroad in Osaka, Japan, to learn Japanese and conduct research for his senior thesis on the role of food in the creation of national identities.

He was inspired to study abroad in Japan, as he was curious about the language after completing an exchange program when he was in high school.

“I got to go visit the school that the Japanese students had come from, and stay with a host family as well,” Campion said at the talk. “But back then, I didn’t speak Japanese — it was all English — and so I felt like there was kind of a missing piece there.”

This inspired him to study Japanese at Pomona for two years, after which he applied for a summer study abroad program in Japan to further his learning. The Yidan grant offered him the financial support he needed to participate in the program.

In Japan, Campion took intensive language courses, traveled to cities like Kyoto and Hiroshima and immersed himself in Japanese culture. One of the most important things he did was take a language pledge.

“The language pledge was that when we were on the university campus, or in housing, with our Japanese housemates, we agreed to speak Japanese exclusively,” Campion said. “For the entire first week I was there, I did not speak a word of English. That was a very new experience.”

Another thing Campion learned while studying abroad was how to enjoy being alone. His first foray into this was when he and a group of other people headed to the biggest shopping street in the world. When everyone else decided to return home, he chose to stay and continue exploring the area by himself.

“Figuring out how to be happier by myself and doing the things that I wanted to do by myself — that’s never been something that I do a lot,” Campion said. “I have a twin brother, we grew up on each other’s toes 24/7 and so this was pretty new to me, but it felt good.”

The biggest challenge Campion faced was creating a whole new community in Japan. Because of the time difference, it was hard for him to stay in touch with friends and family back home. 

“The community of people that I built in the program and in Japan had to be socially sustaining for me for those two months,” Campion said. “And although that was a huge challenge, it was something that I was really happy that I was able to do, as it made me more confident in my ability to form connections in a community.”

Another challenge Campion faced was accepting that basic tasks were going to be different.

“Part of the culture shock was that everything was hard, all of a sudden,” he said. “The basics of laundry, taking a shower and taking out the trash are so different. I had to learn to grapple with the honeymoon phase of, ‘this is cool and different’ to the kind of more challenging phase of, ‘why does everything have to be different.’”

Campion noted that participating in the study abroad program would not have been possible without help from the Yidan grant.

“Since Pomona doesn’t have a summer study abroad program, people who want to study abroad during the summer have to figure out the process by themselves, including the funding,” he said. “Because of the financial support of the grant, I was able to make this experience happen and I’m really grateful to have had it and learned so much from it.”

Updated information regarding the grant can be found on the Oldenborg Summer Funded Opportunities website. Students can also follow them on Instagram @OldenborgCenter to stay up to date on all things happening at Oldenborg.

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