Yuanhao Zou ’22 was awarded the prestigious Thomas J. Watson Fellowship along with 41 other students from across the country in March. Founded in 1968, the Watson Fellowship funds a full year of travel and independent study for graduating seniors after undergraduate studies.
Zou, a dual major in History and Mathematics with minors in Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies, will explore global folk music traditions in endangered languages in various countries including Mexico and Malaysia.
“[The] watson [Fellowship] doesn’t require you to have a product, it’s more about personal exploration and the grantees themselves,” Zou said. “I am very interested in world music and languages in particular. When I learn a language, I also want to appreciate the music of that language; [the two] always come together for me, which is why I bring them together in this project.”
Zou’s particular focus on endangered languages is a key element of his work.
“The inherent subversiveness of minority languages in tension with majority languages is an important part of the project,” he said.
Zou came to Carleton to study music. Although he didn’t ultimately take that path, his passion for music remained an important part of his education. During her time at Carleton, Zou has picked up a variety of instruments including the oud, a Middle Eastern stringed instrument; the Chinese pipa; and a Turkish lute called Bağlama. He has also performed in the Carleton Choir and a Middle Eastern music ensemble.
“I want to be a part of the music making community in [the places I travel],” he said. “I’m hoping to get a feel for the local music, instruments and ideas of what music should be.”
Zou is no stranger to travel. In recent years he has conducted research in both Uzbekistan and Turkey. When he travels, Zou says he always carries a guitar with him and often makes music with people he meets along the way.
The Watson Fellowship is unique in that it has very few requirements for fellows other than requiring them to travel outside of the United States and their home countries for a full year beginning in August. However, Zou hopes to leave the year with a tangible product of his travels.
“I have chosen six communities around the world and consider developing a songbook to be an important part of my experience [from them]’ he said, ‘including the folk songs I shall encounter this year.’
Zou thanked several of his professors and other advisors who helped him with the application process.
“I appreciate Marynel very much [Ryan Van Zee] at the Fellowship Office and their help,” he said. “She really pushed us to start planning early [in order to apply].”
Zou also thanks his advisor, Director of Middle East Studies and Professor of Asian Studies and History Adeeb Khalid and Associate Professor of Arabic and Senior Lecturer in Oud Yaron Klein for their guidance and letters of recommendation, as well as Director of Chinese Musical Ensemble and Senior Lecturer in Chinese Musical Instruments Gao Hong for her pipa lessons and Bahar Taş ’23 for introducing the bağlama.