Isabel Staccuneddu ’17, Elisabeth Luce Moore ’24 Wellesley-Yenching Teaching Fellowship at Ginling College in Nanjing

Mariah and Isabel

Image Caption: Mariah Lin ’​19 and Isabel Staccuneddu 17 on Purple Mountain, Nanjing

Tell us a bit about what motivated you to apply for the Wellesley-Yenching Graduate Teaching Fellowship.
I did not study abroad at Wellesley, but I’ve always wished that I had. The Wellesley-Yenching Graduate Teaching Fellowship appealed to me as an opportunity to live abroad with the support of other Wellesley grads sharing the same experience. I was also drawn to the opportunity to teach in a flexible, independent environment. Fellows build their own curricula, teaching classes on everything from mythology to English-language TV and movies.

How was your fellowship impacted by Covid-19 when it first appeared in China?
When Covid-19 first appeared in China, we were on winter break. My co-fellows were out-of-town with family, and I was living in Nanjing over Chinese New Year. During the official national holiday, businesses close so everyone can be with their families. As such, Nanjing was very quiet and I spent my days at home. When the government learned that this was a new and contagious illness, the country pivoted very quickly to mandating masks and temperature checks. WeChat introduced a feature that displayed the daily count of Covid-19 cases. I continued to stay inside, and felt very safe, given the circumstances. Wellesley has a strong partner in Ginling College; both the dean and the Wellesley-Ginling liaison routinely checked-in with me over WeChat. The dean even took the time to drop masks and snacks at the apartment for the landlady and me. Wellesley was also very communicative, with Kate reaching out daily over email.  She helped me to know and weigh my options, and to make the best decision available at the time. Since we didn’t know when Covid-19 would end, and how long I would be quarantined alone, Wellesley encouraged me to fly back to the US. I am very grateful for the support of both Wellesley and Ginling, and was incredibly privileged to have had the resources to return to my family.  

Can you share a bit about your experience adapting to remote teaching for your fellowship?
My favorite feature of the fellowship is the latitude that fellows have in the classroom. The Wellesley-Yenching Graduate Teaching Fellowship is a fantastic opportunity to explore teaching. This continued to be true as we transitioned to remote teaching, especially with the support of my co-fellows. Being one of three fellows makes every element of the fellowship collaborative — from solving problems to celebrating successes. We kept this momentum across continents and time zones. Our first semester of remote teaching was touch-and-go, as we thought that we’d soon be returning to Nanjing for in-person teaching. Thankfully, fellows have significant freedom over their curriculums and classroom organization styles. This allowed us to pivot quickly with each new pandemic development, especially once the permanence of remote teaching became clear.  Surprisingly, remote teaching has resulted in more one-on-one time with students as we work around the in-person limitations.

What has been the most rewarding part of your fellowship experience thus far? 
The most rewarding part of my fellowship has been the time I spent with my co-fellows, Mariah Lin and Suma Cheru. When Kate led orientation for the incoming fellows (Mariah and me), she asked us to share our areas of growth with each other.  We both agreed that a shared goal for the year was to “say yes” and make the most of our time abroad. Though we spent only three months together, we made good on our promise.  Nanjing is an incredible city, both vibrant and historic. I am truly grateful to have had this opportunity to be a guest in Nanjing and to connect with residents from a variety of backgrounds. Most importantly, Nanjing will always be where Mariah, Suma, and I forged our friendship. Thankfully, the city has emerged from Covid-19 and is bustling again.  I look forward to the day Mariah, Suma, and I can all visit safely together again.