Small Groups, Big Questions: Jessica Peng on the Humanity in Action Fellowship

Jul 16, 2012
Kyera Singleton (American Fellow), Isa van Krimpen (Dutch Fellow), Jessica Peng (American Fellow), and Bajro Muric (Bosnian Fellow) at the 2011 HIA International Conference in Berlin

Jessica Peng is a ‘traveling’ educator who has used fellowships to pursue her academic interests in colonial histories and their political, educational, and social legacies in contemporary issues. Upon receiving her B.A. in International Studies from Vassar College in 2011, Jessica participated in the Humanity in Action Fellowship program in Amsterdam. The Humanity in Action Fellowship sponsors international groups of Fellows to study minority rights and produce original research exploring how and why individuals and societies, past and present, have resisted intolerance and protected democratic values. Fellows are students and recent graduates from universities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, Ukraine and the U.S. who are selected for separate 5-week programs that take place every summer in Amsterdam, Berlin, Copenhagen, Paris, and Warsaw.

2009 HIA Fellow Amy Larson quoted the famous words of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” We asked Jessica about her path to the HIA Fellowship.

1. What inspired you to apply to the Humanity in Action Fellowship?

I was drawn to the Humanity in Action Fellowship program because of its emphasis on creating a dialogue between student leaders from the U.S., Western Europe, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.  With my background in International Education, I was eager to be a part of an educational non-profit that focused on histories and their legacies, and promoted activism.  The fellowship also offered the opportunity to travel to Amsterdam and Berlin, both of which were new cities for me.

2. What do you think made your application stand out?

The HIA selection process is unique in that it is the Senior Fellows who read the applications and recommend potential candidates to the Board for final selections.  I think the most important aspects of the application are the essays and recommendations.  In the essays, the readers are looking for applicants who exhibit a level of emotional and professional maturity, language sensitivity, critical personal and social reflections, and a nuanced perspective they can offer to the team of fellows.  The recommendations that stand out most are those where mentors and professors speak specifically about the accomplishments and distinct attributes of the applicants.

3. How did the HIA Fellowship have an impact on your career, and what do you plan to do next?

Fortuitously, my HIA fellowship in Amsterdam preluded my Fulbright grant in Indonesia, a country with a long and dense history of Dutch colonialism.  Having explored issues of immigration and integration, racism and discrimination, educational segregation in communities of color in the Dutch context, I arrived in Indonesia with some background knowledge of its colonial history, at least within the Western discourse.  In this way, HIA has really paved a direct road for me to academically explore the political, educational, social legacies that have lingered in a decolonizing Indonesia.  I often consult the works of guest speakers we had met during the program and talk to my Dutch friends.  Many work opportunities have also come up.  For example, a HIA Senior Fellow, whom I was connected with through the senior fellow network, started the ethical travel magazine I now write for.  But most importantly, I have met some of the most impressive activists, academics and young professional leaders.  Some of the fellows from my program have become the core of my support network, both in my personal and professional lives.

This fall, Jessica will return to Yogyakarta, Indonesia to continue teaching English at Gadjah Mada University and Sanata Dharma University as a Vassar Maguire Teaching Fellow.  She shares stories of her travels in her column, “traversing hi/stories,” at Shatter the Looking Glass Magazine:

© Victoria Johnson 2012, all rights reserved.