A Lifetime Endeavor
For Kenton Thibaut, proficiency in another language doesn’t just open doors — it opens worlds.
“Language is really a portal into another culture. You can't really understand another culture until you understand how people relate to each other,” said Thibaut. “Words have cultural resonance, and they have history to them, and they contain within them all of these ideas about what people value, and how people conceive relationships between others.”
Thibaut was recently awarded a Blakemore Freeman Fellowship for Advanced Asian Language Study, and will be spending the next year deepening her knowledge of Mandarin at National Taiwan University in in Taipei, Taiwan.
However, Thibaut’s experience with foreign language, travel, and academic excellence began much earlier. Thibaut, a 2011 LSU Honors College alumna, first discovered her love of Asian studies as a pre-Freshman. Selected for the Honors College’s first summer trip to China, Thibaut spent two weeks learning about the history and culture of the country. According to Thibaut, the Honors College trip sparked her interest in Asian studies.
“It was the first time I had ever really been out of the country, and it opened my eyes to both travel abroad and studying abroad,” said Thibaut, “It was kind of a gateway into China and Asian studies”.
Drawn to a new culture, Thiabut pursued, and eventually graduated with, a dual degree in Political Science and International Studies with a concentration in Global Diplomacy. She also minored in Chinese, Asian Studies, and French. In addition to taking Chinese language courses at LSU, Thibaut also spent her senior year abroad at Sichuan University in Chengdu, China, honing her language skills even further.
In 2011 Thibaut graduated with College Honors and received an Outstanding Thesis Award for her thesis “Citizenship, Social Protest, and Possible Foundations for Institutionalizing Conflict Resolution in China.” In addition to these recognitions, Thibaut was also awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to spend a year in Taiwan teaching English. Having worked with Adult Literacy Advocates, it was a love of teaching that encouraged Thibaut to apply for the Fulbright.
“I've been looking for a way to marry my interests in education, social justice, and political conflict, and it came together this year [with the Fulbright],” said Thibaut. “It got specific enough to where I could actually apply my skills to do something instead of just learning.”
The Fulbright experience also revealed her passion for women’s issues in Asia.
“I was able to teach, and it kind of opened my eyes a little bit to education, and what access to education really means for people, especially women,” said Thibaut. “That really turned me on to what my passion is, which is social justice.”
For Thibaut, this epiphany was the most rewarding.
“I think that's the best thing that came out of my grant is the realization that social justice, working for justice, working to help tear down the walls of oppression is really what I want to do,” said Thibaut. “I couldn't be happy doing anything else.”
Now, having received the Blakemore Freeman Fellowship, Thibaut is entering the next stage of her journey.
The Blakemore Freeman Fellowship involves a year of high intensity language. Thibaut will be taking the International Chinese Language Program, which is comprised of 20 hours of language study per week. This is split between cultural learning courses and standard grammar and writing courses, all taught in Chinese.
Thibaut is looking forward to the experience, particularly to gain a better knowledge of the Chinese language and Taiwanese culture.
“To really do the work that I want to do I need to have a more thorough understanding of the language, and a more thorough understanding of how the culture works, and better understand how people relate to each other within that culture,” said Thibaut. “My primary goal with the grant is to get the capacity to access original Chinese texts to further my academic research.”
Though she has what she describes as a “working proficiency” in Chinese, Thibaut says her learning is far from finished.
“It’s important to remember that language learning — there's no real end,” said Thibaut. “It's a lifetime endeavor. It's not like mastering a skill.”
As for any future plans once she has achieved the language proficiency she desires, Thibaut hopes to engage in social justice using her Political Science and International Studies experience.
“I already have a background in international relations and in public policy, and so I'd really like to be able to use my knowledge in this to create opportunities for women in Asia to get access to education or improve their abilities for civic participation,” said Thibaut.
Having had her share of rewarding and fruitful experiences, Thibaut had some advice to offer on how to excel in life, starting as early as undergraduate studies.
“I would encourage students in high school or who are already in the Honors College to really take advantage of the resources the Honors College gives you,” said Thibaut “They really offer a lot of amazing opportunities to get you wherever you want to go.”
Story by Jacqueline DeRobertis, LSU Honors College
For more information, contact the Honors College at 225-578-8831