By Calla Wiemer ’77
The deal struck with my parents was that if I stayed in town for college and worked in the family business (then Cherokee Lanes, now Enterprise Park and Sunshine Lanes), there were no holds barred on winter term. In the 1970s, Drury held a four-week session in January offering travel and other out-of-the-ordinary educational opportunities. In my first three years at Drury, I went to Hawaii, Mexico and India. The world was a bigger place back then, and this was high adventure for a girl from the heartland.
Were it not for the intimate experience of India shared with Drury students by Drs. Rabindra and Protima Roy, I suspect my life would have played out very differently. In graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, I got the chance to go to China to carry out dissertation research. Having been to India gave me the confidence to take the plunge. In 1981, China was just beginning to open to the outside world after decades of isolation. As far as Americans were concerned, the place lay beyond the edges of the known universe. Nighttime satellite photos showed the Chinese landmass emitting almost no light, man-made illumination amounting to little more than scattered low-watt incandescent bulbs. Everyone dressed in the same drab Mao suits. Limits on speech and thought pressed down incredibly tightly. The transformation that was about to unfold was beyond imagining.
I went on to make a career as a specialist on the Chinese economy. The taste for adventure kindled at Drury was fueled mightily by this career choice. Altogether, I’ve spent more than seven years living in China, yet the country never ceases to surprise and challenge me. In 2003 I was blacklisted for contributing a chapter to a volume on the troubled region of Xinjiang in China’s far west. For the next seven years my visa applications were denied one after another. Since 2010 I’ve gotten into China three times, but only with considerable effort and high level vouching that I do not pose a threat. The first four years of my exile I spent at the National University of Singapore. Since 2008 I’ve made a home in Los Angeles where I hold a visiting scholar position at the University of Southern California.
The college years are such an important time for expanding one’s range of experience and gaining a sense of life’s possibilities. Travel opportunities at Drury are a vivid part of this, whether in the form of the winter term of the 1970s or the semester and year-long programs of today. Of course, classroom learning is also part of the process. Drury’s liberal arts curriculum allows for wide-ranging intellectual experimentation. And the small class sizes and engaged faculty cater to highly individualized pursuits.
I took my first economics course as a sophomore from Dr. Rohlf, and was hooked. I went on to take his courses in economic development and urban economics, but what was most special was when he supervised me in a readings course in environmental economics, then a brand new field. In my senior year I told Dr. Rohlf I was trying to decide between his industrial organization course and intro to philosophy. He told me to take the philosophy course, so I did.
The principles textbook Dr. Rohlf was working on when I was a student at Drury went on to sell well through many editions. A few years ago, I decided to write a principles text myself, with the twist that my book is aimed at analyzing macroeconomics for emerging East Asia where international influences and managed exchange rates mandate a very different approach. I pitched the idea to Dr. Rohlf and came away from our discussion with many valuable pointers, especially on how to deal with a publisher.
Going to China in 1981 was a challenge I probably would not have taken on had it not been for the Drury trip to India. Writing a textbook is a new challenge, and I’m turning to a Drury professor some 30-odd years later for help. Challenges are an ongoing part of life. When the time comes for me to face the challenge of life’s next big transition, I will tap into the spirit of that first India trip to seek out something new and exciting.