Fulbright Winner Laura Brymer '07:
Crossing Borders, Geographic and Disciplinary
Because Laura Brymer has completed her A.B. degree in three years, a junior year abroad was not an option for her. A Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Hong Kong will offer her an opportunity to travel to East Asia, an area that has long interested her. Although she has never traveled to East Asia, Brymer has traveled from East Asia — as an eight-month-old adopted from South Korea by American parents. Her Fulbright year will mark her first return to the region.
"It seemed like a great opportunity to go abroad, but not just as a tourist," Brymer says. "In Hong Kong, I'll live on a university campus, so I'll really get an idea of what's going on in the youth culture there. I'm looking forward to immersing myself in a completely new environment."
At the University of Hong Kong, she'll be teaching college students, many of whom are likely to be people of about her age. That experience won't be entirely new to her: at Bryn Mawr, she has worked in the academic peer mentoring service, and she served as a Spanish tutor to classmates in her high school.
Brymer, who grew up in a multiracial family in Louisville, Ky., has long had intercontinental interests. As a history major, she has concentrated on West Africa; she has also taken courses on African and postcolonial literature and in East Asian studies. Her broad interests tend to defy disciplinary as well as geographic boundaries: she has studied creative writing and dance as well as history and literature.
Last summer, Brymer was awarded a Hanna Holborn Gray Undergraduate Research Grant for a project on the Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka.
"When I wrote the grant application, I didn't realize that Soyinka was going to be reading at Bryn Mawr the next semester," she says. "So it was a real thrill to be able to hear him read and to meet him before I started my research project."
Soyinka, a poet, playwright, novelist and memoirist, is also a prominent social critic and political dissident. He was arrested and imprisoned by the Nigerian government in 1967 after attempting to broker peace between the parties in the civil war that erupted as southeastern provinces of the country attempted to secede and form an independent Republic of Biafra, and wrote some of his most celebrated work in prison.
Brymer's research on Soyinka led to a broader interest in the Nigerian civil war, and she is now completing a senior thesis in history on the topic.
"I'm looking at primary sources — reporting from The New York Times, diplomatic exchanges between the U.S. State Department and its staff in Nigeria, speeches by the Biafran leader and a memoir published by a dissenting member of his government. It's fascinating to see where these accounts differ, especially how what is presented to the newspaper-reading public in the West diverges from what is being said in Biafra. All the sources agree that a lot of people died of starvation during the war, but what caused those deaths is controversial."
The Fulbright program encourages English-teaching assistants to pursue independent research during their assigments as time allows. Brymer, who has studied ballet and is now a member of two modern-dance ensembles at Bryn Mawr (she'll be appearing in the Spring Dance Concert this weekend), is especially interested in investigating dance in Hong Kong and may undertake some research in the topic while she is in the area.
After the Fulbright year, she says, she'll probably pursue graduate study, but she hasn't yet decided on a field. She is interested in law as well as history and humanistic studies. She'll use the Fulbright year to take stock and explore her options.
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