Connecticut College Magazine · Spring 2006


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Nancy Farwell ´73

Nancy Farwell ´73
Nancy Farwell ´73

A life with an international perspective

By David Treadwell

Saba Chu van Haagen Farwell. The four-continent name of the adopted nine-year-old daughter of Nancy Farwell ´73 reflects the multicultural prism of this international scholar, world citizen and dedicated humanitarian.

Farwell felt the global pull from an early age. She began studying Chinese in Boston at age 11, when her more conventional peers were barely weaned from Barbie Dolls. Today, she speaks Mandarin, Cantonese, French, Japanese and basic Tigrinya in addition to English.

She first attended the University of Washington because of its noted program in Asian languages and literature, but then she transferred to Connecticut College. Today, an ironic twist, she´s back at the University of Washington as associate professor in the School of Social Work.

A meeting with Charles Chu, professor of Chinese, during her senior year in high school had first piqued Farwell´s interest in Connecticut College. Chu, who retired in 1984, remains, to this day, a great mentor and friend. “Professor Chu is a phenomenal teacher. In addition to having a great command of the material, he compels students to engage with him, using Chinese.” Last June, Farwell and her family (husband Richard van Haagen and Saba) went on an Alaskan cruise with Chu and his wife, Bettie, confirmation of a deep and lasting friendship. Farwell also cites Charles Shackford in music and June Macklin, in anthropology, as significant influences on her.

Farwell´s global career began right after graduation. In Kowloon, Hong Kong, she spent a year as assistant to the director of King Hu Film Productions, following a year of post-graduate work at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Afterwards, back in the U.S., she spent three years applying her knowledge of Chinese language and culture to designing an innovative bicultural adult education program and competency-based curriculum for Boston´s Chinese community.

Then it was on to Oakland, Calif., where this global entrepreneur, still just in her 20s, founded a center for refugees, providing services in adult education, literacy, English as a Second Language, cultural orientation and job development and placement. “We did whatever it took to help people function effectively in their new situations,” says Farwell. Her multi-ethnic, 20-person staff spoke 18 different languages.

Farwell earned her master´s and doctoral degrees from the University of California, Berkeley, where her numerous honors included a Faculty Prize for Excellence in Writing for a paper titled “Mental Health Issues of Southeast Asian Refugee Children” and receiving a Pacific Rim Travel Grant to China.

When she was running the refugee center in Oakland, Farwell was touched by the plight of refugees from Eritrea, an East African nation bloodied by the struggle for independence from Ethiopia. So she interrupted her graduate studies to spend three years in Eritrea, funded in part with a Fulbright Research Fellowship. Her research focus ultimately became the topic of her Ph.D. dissertation, “After the war: Psychosocial well-being of Eritrean youth,” and numerous scholarly papers on issues in post-conflict society ranging from war rape to women´s economic self-sufficiency.

Farwell moved to the University of Washington in Seattle in 1998. Her many titles and eclectic responsibilities convey her diverse contributions not just to the university but to communities and cultures well beyond the campus. In addition to serving as associate professor of social work, she co-founded the school´s Global-Local Community Action Institute and chairs their International Committee. She also holds an appointment in the School of International Studies, as Chair of the UW African studies program.

“We have to foster a truly diverse society by bringing together people with different viewpoints,” Farwell says. “It´s endlessly fulfilling and exciting to find multiple ways to work with a global perspective. We are not in separate containers. Our fate is intertwined with that of people in every other nation.”

Farwell´s daughter Saba, born in Addis Ababa, shares her mother´s passion for multicultural understanding and global justice. Moreover, mother and daughter sing in an intergenerational choir. No doubt they make beautiful music.

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