2019-2020 Trinity Union Scholars at St. Paul's Chapel
All six students in the 2019-2020 cohort of the Trinity Union Scholars joined Trinity parishioners for worship in October 2019 at St. Paul’s Chapel.

Trinity Union Scholars: A Year of Adjustment

The second cohort of the Trinity Union Scholars, who received their Master of Sacred Theology degrees in mid-May, experienced an academic year nobody could ever have predicted. The six graduate students, three from India and three from China, began their fellowships last August, then saw their second semester dramatically altered by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

A few days after their online commencement, three of the Fellows spoke about their reasons for coming to New York, highlights of their studies, the challenges of the pandemic, and how their experiences might shape their futures.

“I’m from a rural church. My hometown is not a city, it’s a village in the rural area,” Ganlan Ma explained.

“Before I come here, English only existed in a textbook. For me, it’s the first time to live and to study and to learn in an entire English-spoken environment. It’s really a challenge and adventure.”

“In January, the coronavirus broke out in mainland China. I need to worry about my family and my friends,” Ganlan recalled, noting that he had more information on the virus from media outlets in the United States than his family had in China.

“Suddenly, the situation in New York became very, very serious, and even the whole city locked down and Union locked down and we had to move away. For the international students it’s really a challenge because we have no place to go.”

Ganlan Ma, standing in front of a body of water.

Ganlan Ma, after he and several other Trinity Union Fellows decamped to Vermont following New York City's novel coronavirus lockdown.
Ganlan Ma, after he and several other Trinity Union Scholars decamped to Vermont following New York City's novel coronavirus lockdown.
 

Ganlan Ma moved to Vermont, along with several other students in the Fellows program, including Ruguang Wu, where they finished out the final two months of the second semester.

“I think I’m lucky,” Ruguang said. “Moving to Vermont and living in this house, for me, was the gift from God, and because of the generosity of Trinity Church.”

“We are really, really like living in a family. We cook together, we eat dinner together. We worship together. So, now we become really like the real brothers.”

Kahuli Swu, a fellow who was born in the state of Nagaland in Northeast India, also left New York City following the March lockdown, ending up in Connecticut where she had friends from her previous studies at Hartford Seminary.

2019-2020 Trinity Union Fellows sit at table enjoying their dinner.

Kahuli Swu says the members of her Trinity Union Fellows cohort supported each other with fellowship during the academic year.
Kahuli Swu says the members of her Trinity Union Scholars cohort supported each other with fellowship during the academic year.
 

“The second semester came and I thought that at least I have adjusted to some level and then this pandemic situation came and then it just made everything upside down in my life. So it was really hard dealing with so many things, also my family at the same time back home.”

Swu also felt challenged by the technology that seems to have become ubiquitous during the pandemic.

“There were so many Zoom meetings, Zoom checking, whatever. So it really stressed me.”

The care offered by Union Seminary and Trinity helped in the transition, according to all three students.

“It’s really touching, such as the Dean of Students interviewed me about my family; whether there is discrimination exposed upon me because I’m from China,” Ganlan Ma recalled, adding “For me, I never experienced any discrimination from any people.”

All three students have found a way to see the unique challenges of their academic year as positive forces, and say they’ve been motivated to utilize and share what they’ve learned.

“I should say that this kind of pandemic situation, when you are away from home, all alone by yourself has really, really prepared me mentally, emotionally, intellectually, and physically for future challenges,” said Kahuli Swu, whose work in India has focused on conflict resolution.

“I really appreciate the great ethos of Union and also the ethos of Trinity, striving for social justice. It really inspired me to live in a context of justice, to strive for it, to enjoy it, and to share it,” said Ganlan Ma.

The Wu Family of four faces the camera, standing in Central Park.

Ruguang Wu plans to return to China, and his wife and children, as soon as airline flights can be arranged.

Ruguang Wu, who concentrated much of his study on learning the Biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek, is also anxious to return to China, to reunite with his wife and two children, and then share some of what he’s experienced and learned this year in the United States.

“I want to introduce the work done by Trinity Church to my own community in China,” said Ruguang.

“Maybe the context is totally different. However, I think the work done by Trinity Church can be regarded as good examples for our churches in China.”