Lawrence seniors Janie Ondracek and Rachel Hoerman were recently named recipients of the prestigious Thomas J. Watson fellowship. The Providence, Rhode Island-based Watson foundation awards selected students from 50 participating liberal arts colleges $22,000 with which to fund a year of travel and independent study outside the United States.Watson Fellowship recipients choose a specific area of interest, hobby, or passion to investigate and pursue during their year abroad. Applicants for the fellowship are required to plan exactly how they will use the money allotted to them, right down to scheduling flights, finding lodging, and securing visas.
Ondracek will use her funds to learn about the cuisine, preparation etiquette, and culinary traditions of France, Japan, and India. She will spend four months in each country watching chefs prepare traditional cuisine and learning about how each region’s culinary arts are passed through generations.
“These countries indicate very distinct cultures,” she said. “I am interested in how foreign influence has affected cuisine in places like India versus in places like France and Japan, where cuisine is a part of the national identity.”
For Ondracek, a neuroscience major, cooking has always been a passion outside of her academic work. Both of her parents are avid chefs, and watching and learning from them sparked Ondracek’s interest in culinary arts. Through the Watson fellowship, she can cultivate and develop that interest.
For Hoerman, the fellowship provides a means to research a life-long passion that also happens to be her academic interest. Hoerman, a studio art and history major, will travel to Bhutan, Tibet, Japan, and Australia to research the traditional art forms found there.
“Bhutan is the only surviving Buddhist kingdom and still doesn’t have much contact with the outside world,” she said. “Ancient art forms are found there that have continued to be practiced because they’re still useful to the people.”
In each country she visits, Hoerman plans to first familiarize herself with the existing art in each country and then to learn specific techniques from local artists. She also hopes to lodge with host families and to learn basic conversational skills in the local languages.
Like Ondracek, Hoerman’s interest in art began in her family. One of her relatives fought in Japan during World War II and exposed her to traditional Japanese art. Another relative’s experiences with traditional art while living in Asia piqued Hoerman’s interest.
Both Hoerman and Ondracek are excited about the opportunity the Watson fellowship has granted them. They see the experience as a chance to expand their horizons, test their independence, and find new insight into their lifelong passions and interests.