ThaoMee Xiong '98 expects to spend six weeks this summer visiting Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and China as this year's recipient of the Karen Snyder Sullivan Memorial Travel Award. The $5,000 prize is highly competitive and usually attracts twenty-five to thirty student applicants each year.
Xiong was chosen from five finalists based on a one-hour presentation to a selection committee, in which she described her plans to research conditions women experience in Hmong refugee camps and communities in Southeast Asia. The award, established in 1986 in memory of avid world traveler Karen Snyder Sullivan '68, provides the financial means for College women to begin their own voyages of discovery.
Xiong, who is Hmong and was born in Laos, came to this country at age three with her family, refugees from war-torn Southeast Asia. The family was originally sponsored by a Catholic church in Appleton, Wisconsin, where Xiong's family now lives.
Xiong is very active in campus and Five College programs concerned with Southeast Asian history, cultures, and immigration/acculturation in the United States. As cochair of Asian American Sisters in Action, Xiong feels strongly that it is "so important to learn about your history and culture in America" and that the college years are a time when these topics can be explored in depth.
She's also deeply involved with the University of Massachusetts's CIRCLE project, a statewide program working with refugee and immigrant groups to develop leadership for collective action. CIRCLE provides area college students with opportunities for community service learning from an ethnocultural approach. Xiong's involvement includes working with youth in the area's Cambodian and Vietnamese communities.
She describes her CIRCLE experiences as "social justice work that is hugely satisfying, even though it takes up huge amounts of time. CIRCLE is where we put into action what we learn in class at Mount Holyoke, and is very important to my development and growth as a person. Mount Holyoke really fosters an environment for doing community service. CIRCLE is where the whole thing comes together."
Xiong eagerly anticipates her summer journeys and is currently developing the contacts and travel arrangements needed to conduct her research.