Missie Rennie Taylor ’68 was a young television producer who had traveled to Africa and the Middle East but “didn’t know Asia at all” when she first read about the Luce Scholars Fellowship in 1974. “I heard about the program, it sounded like a unique experience, and I thought, ‘Why not?’”
She applied and within a year was a full-time reporter in the Philippines, doing on-air work and evening news broadcasts for government-run TV, as well as producing commercials and making several short, educational films.
“I fell in love with Asia,” Rennie Taylor says. “The fellowship’s one of the few opportunities you have to go to another part of the world with which you’re not familiar and work in a local organization—and that’s a very different experience.
“You’re fitting in with the culture and mores and decision-making of a workplace that’s very specific to the country you’re in, rather than an American organization. It made me feel very comfortable in other cultures in general and I learned I could make my way through any situation.”
Each year, the Luce Scholars Program sends 15–18 U.S. college graduates (recent graduates and young professionals under age 30 by the July 1 start date) to one of 15 Asian nations to work for a local company or organization. Luce scholars have backgrounds in virtually any field—medicine, the arts, business, law, science, environmental studies, journalism. Before the fellowship begins, the Henry Luce Foundation funds two months of intensive language instruction for scholars.
What’s unusual is that those with significant experience in Asia or Asian studies aren’t eligible for the program; instead applicants must be current or future leaders who are curious and interested in learning about Asia and using that experience in their professional field.
Six Vassar graduates have participated in the program: Missie Rennie-Taylor ’68, the college’s first recipient and now a member of the Luce selection committee; Barbara Shoback '74; Michael Specter '77; Elizabeth Brown '00; Marie Doezema ’00; and Liana Bianchi ’01. Vassar can nominate up to three candidates per year for the highly competitive fellowship.
When Rennie-Taylor returned to the U.S. and resumed her career as a CBS News producer, she was considered an Asia expert and sent to cover nearly every major event in the region, from U.S. presidential trips to China, Korea, and Japan to anchoring the 1998 Olympics in Nagano. Currently, her philanthropic activities focus mainly on Asia, where she travels twice each year and has been to nearly every nation except North Korea.
Just as significant, however, is her ongoing connection to the 600 other Luce Fellowship scholars. “It’s a small, dynamic group that feels very connected to Asia, the Luce Foundation, and one another,” Rennie-Taylor says. At the end of their year in Asia, scholars gather in one nation, then travel together to other countries in the region. “I’m in touch with every single person I was a scholar with. We still make an effort to get together.”
The fellowship turned out to be a life-changing experience for Marie Doezema ’00, as well. After studying French and Arabic at Vassar and continuing those studies post-graduation, Doezema thought she’d spend her life in France and North Africa. Those plans changed in 2004, however, after she became a Luce scholar. The program allowed her to live in Tokyo and work as a features writer at one of Japan’s largest daily newspapers, the Asahi Shimbun, where, as the only U.S. journalist on staff, she covered a variety of topics, including food, arts, culture, travel, and politics.
“At the end of that first year I felt like everything was just beginning. I was feeling more comfortable speaking Japanese and I had formed a community of friends and colleagues,” Doezema says. “And being in Tokyo made me addicted to living abroad. It confirmed that I love living in other places and learning other languages. The experience really carved out a spot inside me.” At the end of the yearlong fellowship, she was hired as a staff writer by the paper and spent three more years in Tokyo.
Doezema describes the Luce program as a “fellowship for the curious.”
“It’s for those who are interested in a new culture, who want to learn a new language—it’s one of the most extraordinary fellowships out there. I can’t encourage anyone enough to apply for it.”
Luce scholar candidates are nominated by their colleges or universities. Vassar’s liaison for fellowship programs is Lisa Kooperman, email@example.com, and the application deadline is October 5 for the 2013–2014 program. For more information, go to: http://fellowships.vassar.edu/fellowships/graduates/luce/index.html
Currently scholars are being placed in Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.