To Asia and back three times over: Leah Pinckney ’17 shares her enlightening experiences

Leah Pinckney '17

From Beijing to Kunming to Taiwan—Leah Pinckney ’17 has taken to the world in a journey of self-discovery, bringing her ever-evolving cultural understanding back to Gettysburg College.

Pinckney first came to Gettysburg with academic interests in public health and research. She declared a Health Sciences and Globalization Studies double major, garnering a full academic plate from the get-go. Confident in her ability to juggle the workload, Pinckney even made room in her schedule to pursue her budding linguistic interest—Mandarin Chinese.

“Coming to college, there was a language requirement, so I decided to take Chinese because it was something that I knew I was interested in—it all stems from my own personal background,” Pinckney revealed. “I was adopted as a baby and my parents always supported me in exploring my own heritage. It's a part of me.”

For Pinckney, what began as a curious inquiry quickly developed into an exploration of her roots—and ultimately, a driving force behind her Gettysburg journey.

She fell in love with Chinese studies, and instead of calling it quits after completing the two-semester foreign language requirement; she decided to continue her training in Mandarin throughout her sophomore and junior years.

The decision paid dividends.

Pinckney was awarded the Dwight D. Eisenhower – Conrad N. Hilton Scholarship to study abroad in Beijing in the fall of 2015. Offered through the Eisenhower Institute in partnership with Center for Global Education, the scholarship provides the opportunity for standout Gettysburgians to explore their interests in global affairs, international issues, global trade, and cross-cultural exchange.

While abroad in Beijing, Pinckney studied epidemiology, determinants of health and disease, and traditional Chinese medicine. She had the opportunity to conduct her own research and expand her knowledge of global, public health.

The experience proved invaluable.

Pinckney was then inspired to take her study of Mandarin to Kunming, a province in Southwest China, for the spring semester of last year. Pinckney was able to sharpen her Mandarin skills by living with a homestay family, thus providing her with the linguistic confidence to apply for a demanding language program, the U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship (CLS)—in the summer of 2016.  

The highly competitive program is part of a government effort to increase the number of students gaining proficiency in critical foreign languages.

Leah Pinckney '17

“I was really fortunate to be selected to go to Taiwan with the CLS program. It was the first year that the program was extended to Taiwan and it was somewhere that I had never been before.

“I had spent the previous semesters abroad in Beijing and Kunming, which were fantastic experiences, but this program really brought something new to my study of Chinese culture and language.”

The 8-week scholarship experience included language class five days a week, as well as an out-of-classroom language pledge that prohibited students from speaking English. Although she’s certainly no stranger to academic rigor, Pinckney admits that the CLS scholarship was a challenge.

“It was hard. It was definitely hard. But it was something that I'm glad that I had that opportunity to do because I was able to prove to myself that I can go to a different country and function in that language.”

Leah Pinckney '17

Following a full year abroad, Pinckney is now back on campus for her senior year and busier than ever. She’s finishing her degree programs, playing violin in the symphony orchestra, taking advanced Chinese, and scheduling time to burn off some stress at the gym—so there’s definitely a lot going on.

As graduation approaches in the not-so-distant future, Pinckney has given some thought to her life post-Gettysburg.  

“I think at some point I'd really like to go back to East Asia and do research, maybe through a Fulbright or some other scholarship. For the near future, however, I think I'm looking to switch things up a bit,” she said. “I've been thinking about going to graduate school in the States to study public health or maybe going to Europe, just to get a different view of the world.”