WorldView: A Language Blog

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An Interview with Inaugural Dietrich Fellow Evva Fenja Parsons

Published: August 18, 2021

The WorldView blog team interviewed Evva Fenja Parsons about her plans as the inaugural Dietrich Fellow for 2021–22. The $25,000 Dietrich Fellowship is an annual, merit-based financial award given to a current staff member of Concordia Language Villages (CLV) who has shown an exceptional dedication to global citizenry and language education and is a passionate, compassionate leader of others. Fenja, who graduated from Colorado College with a degree in political science and German, has spent a portion of every summer at Waldsee since the age of nine. Currently in her eighth year on staff, Fenja spent the last year volunteering on a Camphill farm in Pennsylvania. She departs on her nine-month journey around the world this September.

Tell us about your experience at Camphill Village Intentional Community.

Evva stands in a grassy field.
Fenja at Camphill Village.

Camphill is a model for dignified and meaningful living for folks with disabilities that developed in the 20th century from Rudolph Steiner’s anthroposophical philosophy. In the last year, I’ve appreciated examining things like food systems and ability and disability while interrogating them in my day-to-day life in an environment that actively de-centers ability.

It felt like the work that I was doing mattered. The difference between someone being fed and not fed is their health. The difference between someone being clean and not being clean is their dignity and their quality of life. And the work had to be done. Someone else had done it before me and someone else would do it after me. Being able to find that sense of belonging and meaningfulness there has taught me some of the skills to do that in other places.

Why did you apply for the Dietrich Fellowship? How has your experience as a villager and staff member at Waldsee shaped your plans?

When our Village dean made the announcement, I was going into my senior year of college and I was thrilled at the prospect of a year traveling. In studying and learning German at CLV and studying Arabic (and also German) in college, I’ve learned that I value returning to places I've started building community. That hope to put more time and energy into places I've lived before has shaped my travel plans.

Eva jumps across the Markplatz
Fenja playing Wildsaujagd (wild pig hunt) at Waldsee.

Waldsee has influenced more things about my life than I could parse. One of those is the impulse for adventure which I have, and many people at CLV feel. Waldsee and the Language Villages have been a primary example of community in my life. Looking at how communities create and work toward justice has emerged as the theme of what I am exploring during my Dietrich year. We extend care to each other, I think, in a very radical way. I’m lucky that the experience will be bookended by two summers at CLV, so I will have the stability of this community that is so important to me.

What’s the plan for your upcoming year as a Dietrich Fellow?

My plan as of now is to farm in Italy for a few months in the fall. I am looking on WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), which connects small organic farms with tourists who want to volunteer in exchange for room and board. It has a deep aspect of cultural and linguistic exchange. The goal behind that is really pushing myself in a language I do not know.

Then I intend to do an internship in Berlin, working with either different community initiatives or justice organizations. After Berlin, the other three countries I am hoping to go to are New Zealand (to do an internship in their criminal justice system), Japan (to spend time in an alternative retirement care center) and Jordan, where I’ve also had study abroad experience, (to either spend time on a farm or at an organization doing justice work). My plan has had to change somewhat with COVID, border and visa restrictions.

How else have you been preparing?

I have started creating a framework for myself, with three categories to think about: creativity; immersion and connectedness; and concepts of community and justice. I have goals for myself within each of those categories. Within creativity, those include fostering things like taking risks, silliness and curiosity. I want to continue building a high tolerance for discomfort and mistake making and keep building my capacity for openness and thoughtfulness with others.

Evva and her colleagues at Waldsee 2020.
Fenja and her colleagues at Waldsee 2020.

My framework includes questions like: When was the last time I talked to a stranger? Interacting with other people is the heart of the Dietrich Fellowship, and the heart of what we're doing at CLV. I'm not teaching you German so that you can solely read books or engage with the language outside of the context of the people who speak it. So, where am I witnessing or experiencing community? How does my volunteer position engage with questions of justice?

Any advice for others out there who might be thinking of taking a similar path?

I would always encourage villagers at CLV who see other villagers or counselors out there doing cool things to ask about it. And if they're excited about it, to pursue it themselves. I did the Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange, the State Department scholarship, for a year after high school. I knew about it because, when I was 13 or 14, one of my counselors sort of pulled me aside and said,”You should think about this.”

What’s something you are looking forward to about the year ahead?

I love the feeling of sitting around a table with people whom you didn't know a month or a year before and eating good food together and talking about anything and watching the conversation meander in so many different directions.

Do you have a motto, proverb or something that speaks to you as an individual?

This passage, from emi kuriyama:

it's all a dump in a sandy landfill, but that main library is BUILT and walking through its automatic doors gives mi that blessed-to-be-mortal feeling--the wOne where i know i'm never gonna read fast enough to spend enough time with all of these stories, but y'know i feel good cuz i'm happy to be around to understand that i'll fail and know i'm gonna die trying. i'm exaggerating, but it does feel good to know--in this blink of a lifetime--that there's mOre wOrld than i could ever read, cuz sometimes i think about how there's more world than could ever be written. Regardless of speed. i play Go for this feeling too.

What sits behind that quote for me is how much range and possibility there is, and that we can all be, you know, experiencing toward it.

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