Passion is a tricky thing to pin down, something that Liz Selbee understands more than most. Though her journey to realizing her own passion was a bit unconventional and certainly full of surprises, it was the Hindi language that guided her along the way. As an undergraduate at Michigan State, Liz majored in Comparative Cultures and Politics. It was in her language classes, part of her minor in India and South Asian Languages and Cultures, that she began to fall in love with Hindi. In her junior year, Liz enrolled in an intensive language program through The American Institute of Indian Studies, taking her to the capital city of Jaipur in Northern India.
For the duration of her four-months in Jaipur, Liz was fully immersed in the city’s language and culture. Moving in with a host family and having a new wardrobe made from a local tailor was just the beginning. “I had to relearn how to live,” she explained. Not only did she adapt to a new way of life, she discovered a passion connected to her language studies: research.
As the only undergrad in her program, Liz was exposed to her fellow students’ research projects that took the purpose of the program beyond achieving language proficiency. She got a chance to pursue research through the lens of her second language upon returning to MSU in a Women and Power class. While completing a project that focused on women in leadership roles in Southeast Asia, Liz got to delve deeper into the topic thanks to her language skills: she was able to use primary sources in their original language, conduct interviews in Hindi, and present a more authentic perspective on the topic.
Inspired by these experiences, Liz hoped to continue her research further by exploring the intersection of women’s issues with Indian art. Influenced by the abundance of local art in Jaipur and many inspirational female Indian artists, she had become curious about the representation of women in visual art, and how those representations are influenced by cultural and societal norms. Excited about research, and inspired by her time abroad, this was the future path Liz talked about exploring during her interview with MSU Languages two years ago. It was also where we thought our story ended. But when I reached out to Liz about sharing her story this fall, I found her living in India once again, and learned that the version we originally heard was far from the final one. Thanks to her Hindi, she had finally stumbled upon her true passion.
Story by Katherine Stark