- Synopsis: Introduction and Personal Background of the NarratorKeywords: nullTranscript: JOANN LOSAVIO: Today is August 1st, 2019. My name is JoAnn LoSavio and I am here with Dr. Judy Ledgerwood. We're going to conduct an oral history interview for the NIU 125th oral history project. We're located in Zulauf Hall on NIU campus, on the third floor. Dr. Ledgerwood, do you give your consent to have this interview recorded?
DR. JUDY LEDGERWOOD: Yes.
LOSAVIO: Thank you. I know you have something that you do want to talk about which is the Study Abroad program here at NIU. Before we launch into that, would you mind speaking a little bit about what you do here and what your role is here at Northern?
LEDGERWOOD: I've been at Northern Illinois University since 1996, so my 24th year. I came here as assistant professor of anthropology, was promoted in anthropology, became chair of anthropology for two terms, then I was director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies. For the last two and a half years, I've been acting dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, so several different roles.
LOSAVIO: Wonderful. When it comes to the Study Abroad, you've run one or is that's quite a few of them?
LEDGERWOOD: I've run a few of them over the years, but I wanted to start and say why I think it's important to talk about it. When I was an undergraduate, my life was completely changed by Study Abroad, my senior year. I was going to be a lawyer, I was an undergraduate political science major but an Asian studies minor. My senior year, I did a one-year travel study program through Asia, studying in Korea, Japan, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Nepal in nine months. In each of those countries, we did a different class and then there was one class that ran throughout on Buddhist art. It just completely changed the trajectory of my life. I switched to anthropology, I became interested in Theravada Buddhism. When I came back and graduated with this bachelor's degree, my first job was in a refugee resettlement office. Through meeting Cambodian, Vietnamese and Lao in that office, then I switched and decided to study about Cambodia, go back and do a degree in anthropology. I know that the other students who went on that trip where similarly transformed by that experience.
LOSAVIO: I'm going to raise the volume just a little bit but I can still hear you.
- Synopsis: First Time Running a Study Abroad in CambodiaKeywords: Angkor Wat; Cambodia; Southeast Asia; Buddhism; Culture ShockTranscript: Ledgerwood: As an anthropologist, being able to study about other cultures and teach about other cultures and coming here to the Midwest where many people had never travelled, had never been maybe sometimes never west of the Mississippi let alone off to another country, to be able to teach about other countries is very rewarding, other cultures. To be able to take students there and have them have those kinds of immersion experiences like I did, is really rewarding. I've been taking students ever since I came here in the summer of '96. That very first summer I took students to Cambodia.
LOSAVIO: How did that work? Was that a formal program that you had done with?
LEDGERWOOD: I was already running a program with the University of Hawaii and taking students to Angkor Borei and Southern Cambodia. The main thrust of that research was archaeological, they were doing excavations there. I was working with a geographer on talking with farmers about the ecological zone and what they could grow there, which was also related to the archaeology research because they were trying to figure out why this ancient city was located in that particular place. I published a very early article arguing that it was tied to the economic zone it was in. South of the city, you could do white rice agriculture in the dry season, and north of the city you did white rice agriculture in the rainy season and so it was a kind of breadbasket. Then they had rice that fed the trading entre ports that were down on the coast, the very early turn of the Millennium.
LOSAVIO: Do you mind if I ask, you said that the Study Abroad experience changed something for you personally. Do you mind if I ask if you recall what that particular experience was? Going from a lawyer to anthropology is a huge shift. Was it a specific encounter with a person or something that you saw?
LEDGERWOOD: I don't think it was a specific— it was the experience in totality. Being in a country for a month, then you just learn some basic language and how to count the money and how to ask where the bathroom is and how to navigate your world. Then, boom, in the next month you're in a completely different place and doing it again and I think realizing— I was from a really small town. My father was a farmer who didn't make it in farming and moved to the city, which was a town of about 5,000 and he worked in a lumber mill. My mom was a nurse. It was a very closed kind of environment. Going to college really was getting me out of that small town and then going to Asia just really opened the world.
LOSAVIO: That first year that you ran the Study Abroad here in '96, did you see that with your students? How many students did you take with you?
LEDGERWOOD: That very first time I think I only took two. No, there there were still two from the University of Hawaii and then I took one from NIU. So, two archaeology students and then an anthropology student from here. I shifted so '96, '97 I was still working on that project in Angkor Borei. Then I designed a new— I wanted to do a project on the rebirth of Theravada Buddhism. During the 1970s, the Khmer Rouge Revolution destroyed all religion. They destroyed all the churches and mosques, but especially Buddhist temples. Cambodia is 90% Theravada Buddhist and it varied around the country, but on the central plains where we were working, most Buddhist temples were destroyed or the images and the text were completely destroyed and the buildings were used for other things, storage or even jails. This was in 2000, 2003, 2007 and 2010. Basically, I did it every three years across the 2000s. I took NIU students and then it was a collaboration with the Royal University of Fine Arts so there was an anthropology class for the students and faculty of archaeology at RUFA, Royal University of Fine Arts. We did a week in the classroom at RUFA on research methods and Cambodian culture. I taught the sections on research methods. How do you do structured interviews, structured observations, mapping, photography, life history interviews, different kinds of interviewing techniques and so on? Then the American students took lectures on Cambodian history, Cambodian Society from Cambodian professors. That was the first week. Then for two and a half weeks, we went out to the countryside and every day we would go out really early in the morning and do interviews all morning, break for lunch, go to like 3:00 in the afternoon and then come back into the city. It doesn't take very long to get to the countryside or then it didn't, now it's very different because the city has grown so much there's big suburbs. Back in the early 2000s, you could get out of the city in half an hour or an hour. They worked in teams of three; one American and two Cambodians in each community. We dropped them in different communities along the road and they would work in a particular temple. They interviewed monks and nuns and community leaders, temple lay leaders about, tell us about how your Buddhist temple got rebuilt? When did it get rebuilt and how did you bring everything back? Who redid your Buddhist images? Where did you get the new text? Where did you find men to ordain? How many people have you ordained? How many people were ordained today? Just talk about the whole revitalization of religion across from, say, really from '89 because everything was destroyed from '75 to '79, but from '79 to '89, it was very tightly restricted. Only men over 50 could ordain as monks and money was diverted away from religion and into schools and other things that were seen as more necessary by the communist government. Between '89 and that, how had it been rebuilt?
LOSAVIO: What were students' reactions like to seeing this?
LEDGERWOOD: For the Cambodian students, it was a field methods class, but they got to hang out with Americans. For the Americans, it was field methods but really it was being dropped into another world because being in Phnom Penh, in Phnom Penh they were staying in a hotel that had air conditioning and seat toilets and they could go out to dinner in the evenings, but in the day times, they were in poor, self-sufficient rice-growing community. It was really the first time they had ever been in wooden houses or houses made of bamboo, growing rice, using animals to plow and just seeing life in a completely different place.
LOSAVIO: That sounds a lot like culture shock. They looked to you right as the leader, do you recall any particular instance of— you don't have to name names, obviously, of students or anything like that, but anything that stuck out to you?
LEDGERWOOD: The first year we'd come back into the city and I started leaving them at their hotel, but we learned that when we came back in, we needed to have a decompress session and sit and talk for an hour or so in the evening like, "How'd it go? What'd you see?" Let people discuss those kinds of experiences. Everything from, "The student I'm working with isn't translating very well," practical kinds of problems like that to, "Oh my gosh, this woman told me about her children dying during the Khmer Rouge." Or, "This monk told us about this amulet that has magical powers." Just all kinds of things that you couldn't have anticipated.
LOSAVIO: I remember having culture shock moments like that going to Southeast Asia and sometimes there were lots of tears involved afterwards or coming to terms with what I'd seen or what someone else had seen and talking about that. Do you think that that life-changing thing happened? Did you get to witness it, do you think?
LEDGERWOOD: Sure, I think I did in some cases. In all these years, there was only one student who ever really just couldn't do it and I put her on a plane home. She had serious health issues that she hadn't put on the health information form before we went. I called her parents and said, "This just isn't going to work. I'm putting her on an airplane and sending her home." They said, "We're really glad she made it as long as she did." They knew that if you have serious health problems, you shouldn't get on an airplane and go to rural Cambodia. Most people did very well, there were a few people who got sick and we had to find healthcare for them in Phnom Penh.
LOSAVIO: What about the success stories?
LEDGERWOOD: I remember one woman clearly who said, "I'm trying to decide if I want to become an anthropologist and I'm doing this to see what it's like." About halfway through the program, she came to me and she said, "Okay, I've decided I don't want to be an anthropologist. This is really hard. It's hot and I'm sweaty." In the end, when we came back to the United States and she looked back on the experience, she was one of the people who did a master's degree based on that data. That was one thing, is that all of the participants, both the Cambodians and the Americans, could use the datasets from the research if they wanted to. She ended up writing a master's thesis using it. Even though she said initially, "No, no, I don't want to do this," in the end, she went on and got a master's degree in anthropology.
LOSAVIO: That's pretty amazing, that's a really good success story.
LEDGERWOOD: One of the Cambodian students did too. She did a master's degree at the Buddhist Institute and went on and is still a researcher in Cambodia today. I think she works now for UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund] For the Cambodian students, one of the outcomes for them was that it was resume building, "I did research on this project." Then they went on and did other kinds of research. They did research with me, I have a name there so that helped them. For the American students, several of them went on and did anthropology degrees. One of them went into social work for many years, but has just gone back into a PhD program. One of them went on and did a library studies degree down at Urbana and works as a university librarian out in Colorado. I don't know where they all ended up, but some of them—
- Synopsis: Study Abroad Programs at NIUKeywords: Students; teaching; Cambodia; International relationsTranscript: LoSavio: It sounds like that travel, that exposure really did something for them to help them shape what they were doing, which I think is what you were trying to get at where you're saying that this is a life-changing-- I do want to ask, since you brought up for the Cambodian students, can you talk a little bit about that merger with NIU and overseas institutions and through this kind of program, what does Study Abroad do for that?
LEDGERWOOD: That's a very good question. One of the advantages of this kind of program— the Center for Southeast Asian Studies runs this. This is the one that was in Cambodia but we've also run them in Thailand and Malaysia and Indonesia over the years. When you run them in collaboration with a specific institution, it helps to build these ties. The Royal University of Fine Arts has a faculty of archeology. Archeology is so important in Cambodia that it's an archeology department that has cultural anthropology and instead of an anthropology department that has archaeology flipped from America. It's set up a pipeline for students. I've had four students who have come from RUFA and done master's degrees here at NIU and two of them were involved in the field schools. I have gone there and taught on Fulbright and then when we did the big Cambodia Studies Conference here in 2012, we brought scholars from RUFA to come to the conference. It's built other kinds of connection. I think that's true for the universities and organizations in other Southeast Asian countries too.
LOSAVIO: How does that Study Abroad experience, that exposure and that travel translate then? It sounds like that translates for students here at NIU who have never left because they still get to experience some of that residual Study Abroad benefit. How does—?
LEDGERWOOD: Well we're lucky to have a national resource center as you know. The Center for Southeast Asian Studies has federal funding to teach the languages. So you have this group of students, as you well know, who are studying Southeast Asian languages and learning about the region. For them to go on a field school or for them to go on a language study program in the summer in the region or to have language instructors like the foreign language teaching assistants, Fulbright FLTAs come here and teach, and have Cambodian or other Southeast Asian students come here and study, you get this interaction going back and forth. With the Friday Brown Bags and the speaker series and so on, you develop a community and that opens up a much wider learning experience.
LOSAVIO: What do you think that does?
LEDGERWOOD: It's also a wider learning experience for the American students who are trying to learn about the region but it goes the other way too. When we're in the region recruiting students, I was just doing that this summer, we're able to say, "If you come to NIU, there's a community here of other Southeast Asian students but also American students who are interested in the region who will be welcoming to you and you have a home here."
LOSAVIO: I hope you don't mind if I go back to Columbus, but you said when you were growing up, you came from a farming community. That's pretty similar to what most kids here or some kids at least here at NIU experience too. I know you want to talk about the Study Abroad. What does that Study Abroad do for them, for NIU students, who come from maybe similar circumstances? I think you're trying to tell me that there's something really important about the Study Abroad in terms of exposing kids to something else that's going on elsewhere in the world. It's going to be a life-changing experience. I'd like to actually hear you talk a little bit more about that. Maybe in terms of, if you were to tell an NIU student and you're trying to convince them like, no, come do this, what would you tell them? What would you say? You'd say, this is going to?
LEDGERWOOD: They can't really know the full extent of the experience until they do it. It's kind of hard to explain. They get excited about the idea of just going to a new place, but then when they get there, it can be even more than what they anticipated just because everything is so different — food, culture.
LOSAVIO: Did you get that as an instructor at some point? When you first went to Asia, you went as a student? Going back as an instructor, do you have experiences about seeing it from the other side? Was there a moment for you like that that was like a second awakening in a sense? I've had, as an instructor, things I wasn't expecting.
LEDGERWOOD: Give me an example.
LOSAVIO: Even though when I started teaching I thought, "Oh, well, I've been a student, so I should know." Then seeing some of my students' reactions to certain material or struggles that they go through, I wasn't expecting. Then I had to sit back and think, "Oh, I still don't know everything." Even though I had similar experience, I don't know and it kind of dulled me a little bit. I was wondering if for you because you've done the Study Abroad experience on both sides, or really on all sides, as an administrator and then running the center and then also as an instructor, but then also as a student, were there a particular experiences or memories about that for you personally? I know so far, we've been talking about what the students have gone through but what about for you?
LEDGERWOOD: I'm trying to think. I guess for me, part of the joy in it is learning about these different communities and their individual different stories and watching the students see it too. The Cambodians are like, "It's Cambodians talking about the Cambodians is field methods whatever," but they were city kids. We're taking city kids to the countryside. Watching them have to deal with, "Oh, I just stepped in a cow pie," or, "Oh, I have to listen to this farmer." That was interesting that I had not anticipated that. That was a different dimension to it that I hadn't really thought about. Watching them interact with the American students and see their different worlds, whether you talk about riding in a van for an hour each way going in and going out. The Cambodian students among themselves, they talked about music and pop stars but when they talked to each other and they were talking about what they were seeing, to some degree, they were both seeing something new even though the Cambodian kids lived there, which I hadn't anticipated in quite that way. There were some things that were hard for the American students that I hadn't thought would be hard. Like that bathroom story. When I went out to these temples, I'd gone out before and visited them all and asked permission if we could come and do this research and would they be accepting to have people come into their community and so on. In each of these places, I said, "Well, can I use the bathroom," because I wanted to see what it looked like before. At this one temple, the students in the bus on the way back school, "Oh my God, the bathroom was disgusting. There were spiders. I was terrified." I thought, "That was a perfectly good bathroom, I remember that bathroom." The next day, I went to the temple and walked in. Well, of course, they had taken me, the professor, to the head monks bathroom, which was spotless, but then they had taken my students to the open community bathroom, which everybody uses when they come to the temple, which really was appalling. Little things like that I tried and tried to do planning for but then the best plans there are still going to be things that go awry. The students were appalled at that but they dealt with it.
LOSAVIO: What was that coping mechanism like, dealing with it or seeing how them talk like that?
LEDGERWOOD: One way they dealt with it was to rely on each other. These groups of young people became really close. The American students became really close and they weren't all Americans either. That's the other thing is that this feels cool because it was Buddhism and because it was open so it didn't have to be NIU students. Sometimes there were students from other schools who were doing it as students at large. I've had British, French students. Mostly they're anthropologist, but sometimes they're Buddhist seekers, which is not really what it was about. We're really documenting the history of the rebirth of these particular temples and how the communities had worked together to rebuild a particular place. If you're coming in looking for enlightenment, that really wasn't. We did do one day where we went on to a meditation retreat center and had nuns talk with us about how to do meditation. It was a very surface side, weekend side trip, it wasn't the focus.
LOSAVIO: What about seeing the rest of Cambodia?
LEDGERWOOD: At the end of the trip, it was a month, the last five days, we went up to Angkor and we spent time at Angkor Wat, which is amazing. It's temple of ruins from the 8th to the 14th century. Because we were working with RUFA, we had really good archaeologists, guys who took us around. The students, many of the RUFA students had worked up there as student workers. We had a really good experience visiting one of those.
- Synopsis: Khmer Rouge Trials and StudentsKeywords: Khmer Rouge; Tuol Sleng; Choeung Ek; Study AbroadTranscript: LoSavio: For me personally, seeing the prison and some other memorials was really eye-opening for me. I'm assuming the students got to go see some of that--
LEDGERWOOD: Yes, we did that too. We did that during the first week when we were talking about the history and the circumstances. Understanding the Khmer Rouge period and how the temples had been destroyed and what people had lived through in the 1970s so visiting Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek was a part of that. We also went to the later ones. We went to visit the tribunal because the tribunal of the Khmer Rouge leaders was ongoing.
LOSAVIO: Not there, right?
LEDGERWOOD: In Phnom Penh.
LOSAVIO: Wow. Were you allowed into--?
LEDGERWOOD: Yes, we got a briefing from a tribunal official.
LOSAVIO: What was that like?
LEDGERWOOD: It was good. They took us into the courtroom and it's a big seating like in a theater. Then the court is up there in front and then there's a bulletproof glass wall between the seating area and where the tribunal's working. We saw that and listened to explained who was on trial and what state they were at.
LOSAVIO: That must have been a very interesting moment to witness, to see that. That was a lucky group of students.
LEDGERWOOD: That was in 2010. I think in 2007, I can't remember the exact, it wasn't started yet. We'd visited but just talked about the planning, and then in 2010, we visited it in progres
- Synopsis: Teaching a Study Abroad and its ChallengesKeywords: Pedagogy; Study Abroad; InstructorTranscript: LoSavio: What might you say to a potential instructor who's thinking about doing a Study Abroad? What advice would you give?
LEDGERWOOD: It's a million details to work out, that's the [laughs]— You really have to go and do this groundwork in advance like working out the relationship with the university and how things are going to work with the university, and who's going to do what. Then also at the research sites, making sure it's okay. In a way, Buddhist temples were perfect because old people go to the temple and hang. Old ladies go and sit there all day, and old men come and go. There was a group of people for them to talk with. Monks were pretty generous with their time too. Then there was a place where they could sit and talk to people. They also went and walked through the communities, but it was a good match-up. When you're going up through anthropology research, it's always a problem because you're ready and eager to talk and people are busy. That time year was plowing and planting, and a lot of young people were out in the fields working but older people usually have time to chat.
LOSAVIO: Did the students get a chance to do any of that? I remember you had said once, I think it was in a class of yours, you had mentioned that you got into the paddy fields yourself.
LEDGERWOOD: Yes. I don't do [unintelligible 00:32:27]. I don't do transplanting. It's just too physically difficult, but I've helped with some kinds of labor. I've gone out and cut kindling and—
LOSAVIO: Did any of the students do anything like that?
LEDGERWOOD: They didn't. They were really focused on Buddhism, but they did do some work involved in the ritual activity, participated. One young man ordained as a monk for three days, four days. The temple where he was doing his research had a young Cambodian come back from abroad, from France, who was going to ordain for these three, four days, symbolic ordination. He invited the American student's Cambodian counterpart if he wanted to do it, and so Frank did it too. There were three. The three of them were ordained as monks for one weekend. Frank who was a Catholic from Pennsylvania, got into the spirit of it. I got married because I got to be his mother, play the role of his mother in the ordination and went through the ceremony and lived as a monk for three days, one alms rounds, and learn some simple chanting. He was a student who enrolled from another university, and he ended up coming here and doing a master's degree, wrote about Balinese rituals for his master's degree. He's the one who just went back and is now in a PhD program.
LOSAVIO: What was the ethnographic experience like, for students? For me, I found it very difficult. I think the participant observation part was easier. I think some of that like ethnic research is pretty hard, and you had mentioned that before.
LEDGERWOOD: We had worked out sets of questions. That's the other thing when I'm talking about groundwork in advance. We had gone out and field-tested questions and then modified the questions. For the formal interviews, they were asking the same questions in different places. That probably made it more-- Then they had translators. The Cambodians were helping them to do that, they weren't on their own. That's the other thing is the dynamics between the three people, the two Cambodians and the American. If those teams got on well, then that really made it a better experience. If they were having trouble with or they thought they were having trouble with translation, then that made it harder.
- Synopsis: Study Abroad Program benefits for Cambodian StudentsKeywords: Cambodia; Degree; higher education; Buddhism; social mobilityTranscript: LoSavio: Sure. Obviously, there are things that you want to talk about the Study Abroad, is there anything in particular that you want to bring out?
LEDGERWOOD: I think I've talked through most of it. One thing was the relationship between teaching and research. I thought that this would be primarily just a teaching experience. By setting out, I got a small handbook on how to do field methods and these different methods and so they were doing these short little bursts of different methods. You don't really expect to get a lot with that scattershot, but they were doing them in multiple villages, but in the same area. What I found was that there was really interesting data, and no one else had those data because nobody else had asked about how this process of rebuilding temples in that area or across that time period. I published four pieces that were in part based on the research that was done in these fields schools. There's more that could be done. I always thought that I would have more master's students who would do it. Like I said, there were a couple of master's degrees and one bachelors honors thesis. Mainly, they've just been used for those articles that I did.
LOSAVIO: Have students taken any of that data and worked on it anymore?
LEDGERWOOD: No. Beyond the ones that did the master's students, no, although I offered them access to it. Or they may have done something and I just don't know. A couple of the interesting things were that, because we were looking at temples that were near Phnom Penh, the number of young men who were becoming monks had just crashed. In a generation before or in their grandfather's generation, every man became a monk. It was a rite of passage into manhood. Also, before there was a modern education system, it was the way that men became literate. It was after you had been a monk for at least one rainy season, which would be three months, but very often a man was staying for about a year. When he came out the other side, he was ready to get married. If you were arranging a marriage, you'd want your daughter to marry a man who had been a monk. It was considered he had a moral education. He was a righteous person after he had done that. In the contemporary times, after the devastation of the war and revolution, it was a pathway to education. There's a monk education system that was built-up parallel to the public education system. The public education system is in theory-free, but in reality, there are costs. You have to get a uniform, you have to get books, you have to give a little extra money to the teacher. If you're really poor, your son can ordain and then he can go to Monk Primary School, Monk Middle School. You have to set exams to go to a Monk High School. The young men that we were finding in these temples near Phnom Penh were from further out in more distant rural villages, and they had come to these larger temples near the city to go to Monk high school, or to continue up the Monk Education System. In some cases, they were going to Monk University in Phnom Penh, or preparing to go to Monk University in Phnom Penh.
LOSAVIO: For them they were really then the lower class?
LEDGERWOOD: They were poor smart kids. Smart enough to get to learn-- Because the Monk Education System had both, you study Buddhist texts and Buddha's teachings, but also there were math classes and history classes and so on. You were doing the work of the regular school system plus the Buddhism. So,Smart poor boys.
LOSAVIO: Education really was like a method of mobility.
LEDGERWOOD: Yes, and it had been two before the revolution back in the 1950s, according to the ethnographic literature, it had been a way for young men to—They’d become monks for a time to get an education. That phenomenon was repeating itself. The sad part is when they got through monk high school or monkey university, then they left. Since there had been— Monks had been killed or made to disrobe in the 70s, and then in the 80s, only men over fifty could become monks. By the time he got to the 90s and 2000s, those earlier generations of monks weren't there. There's this crisis in leadership in the Sangha. There were Abbots in temples who were in their 30s, which before the revolution would've just been unthinkable.They would've been elders 60s and 70s who would take have worked their way up to be leaders. Part of what we were talking about was the data that we got was about people saying on the one hand, while Buddhism, we said, "Well, what's changed about Buddhism?" They said, "Well, nothing's changed about Buddhism. Buddhism is Buddhism." When you say what's changed about institutions. They talk about this crisis in the monkhood and Monks just ain't as well trained as they were before. Then other interesting things like who are the donors? Donors included overseas Khmer, they included people who had grown up in these little villages but had moved into the city but came back out on holidays and so on who were giving money to rebuild in their home communities.
- Synopsis: Benefits of Higher EducationKeywords: Student loans; Student debt; Earnings; Income; Benefits; Higher EducationTranscript: LoSavio: Yes, that [unintelligible 00:41:55], do you mind if I ask, this is a little bit off-topic, but education as a social mobility, do you think that works here for us?
LEDGERWOOD: It does. There is good research that shows statistically that it still does. Something like one million [dollars] difference in earnings over the course of a lifetime if you have a bachelor's degree than if you've don't. It's still a pathway, but it's certainly more difficult than it was before. I mean, in my generation, I was smart and poor [chuckles] like those monks and there were good sources and there were both grants and loans. I had financial aid to go to my— I had very few loans and they were really low-interest rate. Now today with public loans through banks, it's much more expensive and then the overall cost is risen so much. It's much harder to get through for your generation than it was for mine. I think that I'm the very end of the baby boom, but I think the baby boomers in general, post world war II had-- It was an explosion in universities across the country. They were growing, they were well funded by their respective state governments and now there's, in the last fifteen years or so, twenty years, there's been this massive de-funding of higher education. At the same time the resources that allow you to go and help you are down. Then because of state funding is cut and we're shifting to rely on some more and more in tuition. The costs have risen so dramatically. The pathway is much more restricted than it was before.
LOSAVIO: It's still stuff like the study abroad that makes it worth it. Maybe the emotional or psychological gain benefit of that exposure.
LEDGERWOOD: I think so, but I'm a cultural anthropologist. Certainly, the benefit on the other side for the Cambodian monks to have done that. Absolutely it was so smart for them to have done that because they really— Once they got that education, it was such a rare thing there for bachelors degrees were still rare thing less today, now, ten years out, ten years further on but nine years further on, but still very important.
- Synopsis: American Students Again in Study Abroad Programs at NIUKeywords: Students; Graduate School; graduate research; financial aid; scholarships; money; funding; grantTranscript: LoSavio: Do you remember if I ask--- If you recall any of the names of any of the students that you had taken with on a study abroad so that we might approach them for interviews on the same topic?
LEDGERWOOD: Sure. I can get some names for you. I'm still in touch with Frank because I wrote him a letter not long ago and I saw Kate when I was out in Denver last year. I met up with her for dinner.
LOSAVIO: Would you mind talking a little bit about where are they now?
LEDGERWOOD: I don't know where they all are now. I wouldn't know. I stayed in touch with them for a few years because I was writing letters as they went on and did other things, but I'm not sure where they've gone- [crosstalk]
LOSAVIO:They did go on further, at least in the--
LEDGERWOOD: Yes, some of them went on for master's degrees or PhDs in anthropology. Then like I said, Kate's a librarian.
LOSAVIO: Did any of those stay in Southeast Asian studies do you know?
LEDGERWOOD: Frank is still doing Asian studies, but he shifted to India after he'd done the stuff in Bali here.
LOSAVIO: I'm sure that this experience probably had something to do with it- [crosstalk]
LEDGERWOOD: I don't know, is the ones that were sort of seekers, that were out to sort of find themselves? Those are the ones I probably least in touch with.
LOSAVIO: Would you mind talking a little bit more about that? I feel like in most cases, at least in my case doing a study abroad even academically was still a self-seeking cathartic kind of thing.
LEDGERWOOD: Sure, absolutely.
LOSAVIO: Do you mind talking a little bit about maybe not just the seekers themselves but like that whole process?
LEDGERWOOD: Yes, and how partly it was the dynamics of how they interacted with the temple, where they were. Jordan went on one of my field schools.
LOSAVIO: Did he?
LEDGERWOOD: Yes. He ended up— That's a really great story because while we were there and we were going out in the daytime and doing the research, he was going in his free time and hanging out at this place where forced returnees, Cambodian Americans who committed felonies in the United States, mostly drug offenses, after they served their prison time, they were deported. These were the deportations that were going on under the Obama administration. They got back to Cambodia and most of them had left Cambodia as infants or been born in the refugee camps. They didn't speak the language. They didn't know anybody there and here they are. Then they've grown up and pretty tough, like inner-city neighborhoods in the United States. They dressed like inner-city, gang kids and tats and here they are in Cambodia. He'd go and hang out with those guys. Out of that developed-- He ended up doing a master's degree here and did research with those guys and wrote a wonderful master's thesis about their difficulties of adapting back into Cambodian society. On one of his trips back to visit, he met a Cambodian woman and he's married and has kids and that's one story. There was a woman who was albino, so very white skin. She had to be really cautious because it was tropical, she was always really well covered and a big hat to protect herself from the tropical sun but she ended up going to a temple where there was a monk who was known as a magical monk. He did special blessings and incantations and so on. When this woman showed up at his temple, he took it as a magical sign. That she was a blessed person coming to his— He treated her with that, made a really big deal out of her being there and took her around. When they went on arms rounds, she went on the— When the monks went out on arms rounds. It was an interesting dynamic, but she just went with it.
LOSAVIO: I bet she has some great data.
LEDGERWOOD: Took it as— Have you read In The Realm of The Diamond Queen? A book about [crosstalk] yes things on book on Kalimantan and she's doing, she's out doing research. Everybody tells her, "You got to talk to this one woman. You've got to talk to this one woman." She goes and she finds the woman and she walks into her house and the woman says, "It's you, I've been waiting for you all my life to tell you all my stories. You're the diamond queen." I think it was sort of like that. It's, "Oh my Gosh, I've been waiting for you. Please come in and I'll tell you everything." That was a pretty unique experience. There was a bad, there was a disappointing one guy who was from a very wealthy family, very privileged. He'd gone on many study abroad, different study abroad, and he was one of this, "Yes, I'm a Buddhist seeker. I've studied yoga. I've studied meditation." When we went on that meditation retreat and we were with these nuns and they were explaining to us how to do Theravada Buddhist Meditation, Vipassanā Meditation. He started trying to tell the nuns how to do it, that he'd learned the correct way and he needed to tell this like 80-year-old nun who had been meditating all her life how to do it right. I could have just physically thrown him in the van and locked the door. I was so a taken aback.
LOSAVIO: How did you mediate situations like that?
LEDGERWOOD: Well, I just told him he was being inappropriate. He's 20 years old or something, I don't think he got it, but it's really insulting too. Elder— [crosstalk]
LEDGERWOOD: That's learning about culture too, right? She was respected because she was a nun, because she was a teacher, because she was an elder in multiple ways, he should have been more respectful for her. That was a learning experience. I wanted to cuff him upside the head, "Stop it." [chuckles]
LOSAVIO: There is a pedagogical element to this particular interview to where we're going to use part of this as examples for some of the students in the course. Any advice about, because you have a lot of interviewing experience, I mean as an anthropologists and you have ethnographic experience. Any advice for students?
LEDGERWOOD: Students who might go on one of these, my first advice is go. Beg, borrow, steal whatever you have to do to get the money to go. I didn't have— I was going to school on scholarship and this big trip I took a year off between my junior and senior year to raise some money to go. I worked in fast food and I waitressed and I worked in a liquor store and I went. What finally got me the money is I got on a crab boat in Alaska. Not the ones you see on the TV show, the catcher ones, but a processing boat. You stand all day and process crab. That got me enough money, all those things together added up got me enough money to go over the course of the year. That's the first thing is figuring out how to go. There's more financial aid available than you would think. Work with the folks at the university, in the financial aid office and in the study abroad office and try to help you find things. When you do go, be patient with yourself when you first start out because you will have some form of culture shock and you'll get over those initial things that seem really trying won't seem so important once you're in the middle of it or once you're a in the middle of the learning experience so don't panic when you first arrive. Sometimes you won't even see the complete effect that it has had on you until after. Like the woman who said, "I've decided, I don't really want to do this." Then when she got home and thought about it, she went, "I think I do." [chuckles]
LOSAVIO: Do you think for you as an instructor they're still those moments for you where like you think about when you think back on the study abroad, the ones that you've taught and the ones that you've gone on yourself and think about what did they do for you?
LEDGERWOOD: Well, I have another sort of unique angle on them and that I have two sons and my husband and I have been taking our sons to Cambodia since they were very small. Now that they're in high school and college, and they write things. Then I read things that they write and see things that I've seen in Cambodia for years and years. I see them through their eyes and they see them differently or they see them in things that I've come to just accept that they see in new ways. My elder son brought a piece for a class about death and talked about going to funeral service in Cambodia and on the way there we saw a motorcycle accident and there was a person who was dead in that road. That through double exposure to death in a single day and the emotional impact that had on him. We're always learning.
LOSAVIO: That's got to be really— For you though, is there anything that you think back now, I think, "Oh wow, that's how my study abroad experience has changed me," so many years later from your own personal epiphany moment?
LEDGERWOOD: Well, I've already said the importance of the teaching and research and how the two came together much better than I thought that they would. The appreciation of the scale of work that it takes to do one of these. If you're a faculty member and you're thinking about doing one of these, you have to dedicate a lot of time and energy to making it work. The payoff is huge because you see the growth in the students and you see how much they appreciate it, but it takes a tremendous amount of effort to run them well.
LOSAVIO: Do you think you'll do another one?
LEDGERWOOD: I don't know. I've thought about it. I couldn't do the same model again just because of the way that the city has changed. The city's too big. You can't drive in and out. By the time you get out there it'd be midday and it'd be too hot. I had talked with Roofer about doing something in a provincial town and then driving out from the provincial town in the day. Also, the life in rural villages has just changed so much. With climate change and the changes to the Cambodian economy, young people are leaving by the millions. They're going to Thailand, they're going to Malaysia, they're going to Korea and in some rural villages, there's just old people and children. Anybody of working age is either gone to the city or has left the country. It's a very different-- I would do probably talk about that. The talk about labor migration and how the economy has changed would probably be my topic today.
LOSAVIO: I don't want to take up too much of your time. We were hitting just about the hour and now you've got an hour. Is there anything that you want to close out with or anything that you want to--?
LEDGERWOOD: At NIU, which is a state university and a lot of students are first generation students and not wealthy and so you think this experience is impossible. You're just cut off for that student. That's just not the case, that especially with the center here and the NRC funding and the fact that they can study languages before they go with funding really opens up different opportunities. I want to tell people that it's there and it's been there across the history of the institution. We've been sending young people to Southeast Asia since 1963. The study abroad office it's not just, of course, we have study abroad programs to Oxford and to South America and to lots of other places. Its an important part of the life of NIU. I think a lot of students can come here and with their heads down, their heads in the books and working part-time and they don't realize that that opportunity is there. That's why I really wanted to do this because I wanted to say international experiences are part of the lifeblood of the institution.
LOSAVIO: Well, and we see it for you it changed its trajectory of your career.
LOSAVIO: I hear the trajectory of your life. Yes, that's a huge impact. Well, definitely a lot students will hear this. For sure the students in our class but then the interview itself will go up on the website and then they'll post parts of it off and yes. The Southeast Asia center to once [unintelligible 01:01:10] to the interviews of course too for the next volume two of a-
LEDGERWOOD: The history
LOSAVIO: — the history of the center, yes. Wonderful.
LOSAVIO: Thank you so much.
LEDGERWOOD: You're welcome.