making yogurt

Watson's World

By Kayla McGrady ’05
More than 70 Carleton alumni have used the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to embark on a life-changing yearlong experience abroad. In recognition of the fellowship’s 50th anniversary, we present five of their stories.

The Watsons took globalization seriously long before it was a buzzword.

As business leaders, philanthropists, and diplomats during the 1960s and ’70s, the Watson siblings understood that in order for the United States to thrive, Americans must look beyond their own borders. Specifically, they believed that the best way to do that was to live beyond those borders.

And so, in 1968, Thomas Watson Jr., Jeanette Watson Irwin, Helen Watson Buckner, and Arthur Watson founded the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. Funded by a foundation established in honor of their father a few years earlier, the fellowship allows graduating college students a year to “explore with thoroughness a particular interest, test their aspirations and abilities, view their lives and American society in greater perspective, and, concomitantly, develop a more informed sense of international concern.”

Fifty years later, recent college graduates are still using the Watson Fellowship to travel abroad. A handful of fellows are chosen each year from nominations submitted by 40 small liberal arts schools, including Carleton. Recipients must spend a consecutive year outside the United States (or their home country, if they are foreign nationals), beginning in the summer following graduation. They are given wide latitude to pursue their projects as they see fit.

We spoke to five Carls about their Watson year.

Tom Freedman ’85

trekked from Zimbabwe to Somalia to see how journalists were covering the African famine.

Tug Wajale refugee campTug Wajale refugee camp Photo: Tom Freedman ’85 I figured out some things ahead of time, but I had to make a lot of decisions on the fly. If you’re in the middle of Zambia and your train suddenly stops, you have to get off and find a place to stay until it’s running again. Another time, my bus left early and I was stranded in a little town for a few days.

Tug Wajale refugee campTug Wajale refugee camp Photo: Tom Freedman ’85 I remember staying in a refugee camp called Tug Wajale. Tens of thousands of people had crossed the border from Ethiopia to Somalia. They were very weak, and the children sometimes died in the night. The horror of that camp has stayed with me my whole life.

In that cold, flat place, a simple tent could make the difference between whether or not children survived the cold night. But the tents weren’t distributed in a rational way. There was a lot of corruption; the local government was intercepting some of the aid. The philanthropic response among all the nonprofits and the United Nations was somewhat incoherent.

I was working as a stringer for some U.S. newspapers; I thought I wanted to be a journalist. But what little coverage there was in Western media tended to focus on the suffering and not on long-term solutions or causes. I decided I could help more by getting into the policy side of things.

Eventually, as a senior adviser to President Bill Clinton, I worked on the McGovern-Dole Program, a $300 million program that fed about 9 million kids a year and still exists today. Clinton sent me back to Africa, and I revisited many of the places I had been. I remember having a sense of completion. I was able to come back with a project that was really meaningful.

Freedman is now president of Freedman Consulting, a Washington, D.C., firm that advises nonprofit organizations, companies, and foundations on strategy, policy development, and communications.

Kai Knutson ’11

traveled to France, Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary, Turkey, Finland, India, Nepal, China, and Mongolia to research the history of yogurt.

Kai Knutson ’11 on his Watson yearKai Knutson ’11 on his Watson year Photo: Kai Knutson ’11 I’d arranged months in advance to meet a yogurt researcher at a preeminent university in Ankara, Turkey. I was pinning a lot of my hopes for this project on him. When he learned I didn’t have approval studying yogurt culturestudying yogurt culture Photo: Kai Knutson ’11 from the Turkish Ministry of Agriculture to conduct research in the country, he turned me away. He’d never mentioned this in any of our previous conversations, and the approval process would have taken months. That was when I hit my low point.

I spent two aimless weeks trying to decide where to go next. I had no other contacts in Turkey, didn’t speak the language, and felt very isolated.

taking yogurt to markettaking yogurt to market Photo: Kai Knutson ’11 Waiting for a bus in Ankara, I heard two people behind me conversing in fluent English. I turned around and basically accosted them. I was desperate for human connection and they were kind to me.

The next day I saw them again on the bus. They greeted me with, “Yogurt guy!” and introduced me to their Turkish friend. To studying yogurt culturestudying yogurt culture Photo: Kai Knutson ’11 my surprise, she told me a myth about the origin of yogurt and offered to introduce me to her mother, who made yogurt herself and seemed like the perfect person to speak to for my project. Then, as they were getting off the bus, she asked, “[Do] you want to come to an Ultimate Frisbee party?”

Ultimate changed my Watson experience in a way I never could have expected. Team members let me stay with them and even came with me to farms and yogurt factories to translate. People all over Turkey—and later India, China, and Hungary—would ask me where I learned to play Ultimate, and when I said Carleton, they’d say, “Oh my gosh! CUT!” I’d say, “Yeah, no. I didn’t play for CUT. I’m just a guy who went to Carleton.”

Knutson is a sourcing manager at Land O’Lakes.

Karen Yamashita ’73

traveled to Brazil to learn about the experiences of Japanese immigrants there.

Japanese Brazilian farm communeJapanese Brazilian farm commune Photo: Karen Yamashita ’73

Japanese Brazilian farm communeJapanese Brazilian farm commune Photo: Karen Yamashita ’73 A Japanese scholar at the Center for Japanese-Brazilian Studies in São Paulo helped me come up with an anthropological project: recording oral histories of Japanese women who arrived in Brazil from 1908 to 1920. I went around and looked for these very old women.

Japanese Brazilian farm communeJapanese Brazilian farm commune Photo: Karen Yamashita ’73 After a while, I was hearing the same thing over and over again. And I wanted to see more of Brazil than the city of São Paulo. So I decided to visit a pair of farming communes run by Christian Japanese Brazilians in an area called Araçatuba in the interior of Brazil.

At the first commune, an old man came out to greet me. I didn’t want to tell him I’d been interviewing old ladies for the past three months, so I told him I was a writer. He sat me down at a table in the dining hall and said, “I’m going to tell you my story.” That story—about his life at the commune—took up an entire week.

Japanese Brazilian farm communeJapanese Brazilian farm commune Photo: Karen Yamashita ’73 I told the people at the second commune that I had been listening to this man’s amazing story. They said, “Oh, he lied to you. It’s all lies.” And then they started to tell me their stories about the communes. I was hooked. People remembered the same events very differently. They would say, “I know you talked to so-and-so, but I want you to hear my side of the story.”

I interviewed almost everyone at the two communes. I became an expert on Japanese Brazilian immigration. I did research on the context around the stories I was hearing and on the family histories of the people at the communes. Eventually, I turned an anthropological historical project into fiction, and it became the basis for my second novel, Brazil-Maru.

Yamashita has published seven books with Coffee House Press. She won the 1990 American Book Award and was nominated for the 2010 National Book Award. She teaches literature and creative writing at the University of California–Santa Cruz.

Kimberly Lee Tseng ’00

worked on the World Health Organization’s Integrated Management of Childhood Illnesses initiative in Vietnam, the Philippines, and Nepal.

WHO visit at remote villageWHO visit at remote village Photo: Kimberly Lee Tseng ’00 I spent fall term of my junior year on an off-campus program in Copenhagen, Denmark. One of my professors, a doctor named Freddy Pedersen, told me about his work in Vietnam on a World Health Organization (WHO) initiative to reduce morbidity and mortality from common childhood diseases in developing countries. The Watson Fellowship made it possible for me to work with him.

Through Pedersen, I connected with administrators at Children’s Hospital No. 1 in Ho Chi Minh City. I lived for six months with a family that was related to one of my Carleton friends. My host family didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Vietnamese, but they had a friend who was able to speak with me in Mandarin. (I’m from Taiwan.) I took language classes at a university and developed wonderful relationships with my host family and the hospital staff.

Kimberly Lee Tseng ’00 on her Watson yearKimberly Lee Tseng ’00 on her Watson year Photo: Kimberly Lee Tseng ’00 I was privileged to be welcomed by the families at the hospital, even when they were in a moment of crisis and grieving or worrying about a sick child. I learned that life is precious.

I traveled with Filipino doctors who were working with WHO to the island of Mindanao, where we went into very rural areas that were accessible only by foot. There had been several kidnappings of foreign tourists for ransom, but because I was traveling with local doctors and nurses I felt completely safe.

I visited a village that was installing its first working toilet. Some clinics would immunize an entire village with a single syringe by sterilizing it with alcohol after every use. I met a group of women in Mindanao who had just graduated from a literacy course. Each of them stood up and wrote her name. These experiences helped me realize how much we have to appreciate.

Tseng became a doctor and is currently the medical director of Chinatown Child Development Center for the City and County of San Francisco’s Department of Public Health. She specializes in child and adolescent psychiatry and also is a volunteer clinical faculty member in the psychiatry department at the University of California–San Francisco.

Halah Mohammed ’14

Halah Mohammed ’14 wrote this poem in honor of the other Watson Fellowship recipients from her cohort.


i don’t want to
lay you down
on a shelf
in a space
that doesn’t feel
like you do

and cry like you do
a summer shower
hot and steamy
dries quickly
like it never
and it never

i don’t want to
forget you
remember you
were never here
when the smell of you
is air

if i don’t breathe
   i don’t breathe

i don’t want to
never hear you laugh
         waves in an ocean
       ripples in a river
            layers in a sunset

i don’t want to
see me in a reflection
i want to wear you
and never
                take you off
and never
                lay you down

i want you ever woke

i want you
right here
right here
in me

talked to people in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, and Canada about how they use spoken-word poetry to express themselves.

My identity was always in flux in South Africa. At a party in a predominately white neighborhood, one lady assumedHalah Mohammed ’14 and poets in Abu DhabiHalah Mohammed ’14 and poets in Abu Dhabi Photo: Halah Mohammed ’14 I was a housekeeper. (I didn’t think anyone—a housekeeper or any other person—should be treated the way she treated me.) Some people thought I was colored [mixed race]. Some people thought, she’s black, but is she tribal black? Is she Zulu? Is she Xhosa? I’d get greeted in all kinds of beautiful languages that I couldn’t understand. When people heard me speak English, they’d treat me differently, with more respect. That was the most surprising thing about my trip.

The hip-hop and slam poetry scene in Abu Dhabi and Dubai is amazing. I saw poets and a rapper alternate between English and Arabic. I wrote some Arabic poetry at Carleton, but I can only wish I was at that skill level.

Halah Mohammed ’14Halah Mohammed ’14 Photo: Loud Poets I met two women from Sudan who were studying at New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus. They said that it was liberating to be there, but that their education was creating a gulf between them and their families in Sudan who were still rooted in tradition. They spoke about the sadness of trying to reach over that gulf without losing what they’ve learned.

I was welcomed and loved by the Jewish community in Leeds, England. I grew up Muslim, but they took care of me as if I were one of their own. I shared meals with them, and we had so many wonderful conversations. I found a familial love with them that I’d been missing traveling by myself.

Mohammed is a senior recruiting associate at 24–7 Intouch, a company that hires customer service representatives for large companies.

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