Yuanhao Zou ’22 awarded Watson Fellowship for world travel

Yuanhao Zou plans to study global folk music during his year abroad.

Isabel Rameker '24 25 April 2022 Posted In:
Portrait photo of Yuanhao Zou '22

Yuanhao Zou ’22 was awarded the prestigious Thomas J. Watson Fellowship alongside 41 other students from across the country in March. The Watson Fellowship, established in 1968, funds a full year of travel and independent study for graduating seniors following their commencement.

Zou, a history and mathematics double major with minors in Arabic and Middle East studies, will be exploring global folk music traditions in endangered languages in various countries, including Mexico and Malaysia. 

“[The] Watson [Fellowship] does not require you to have a product, it’s more about personal exploration and the fellows themselves,” Zou said. “I’m really interested in world music and languages in particular. When I learn a language, I also want to appreciate the music of that language; [the two] always come together for me, which is why I put them together in this project.”

Zou’s focus on endangered languages specifically is a key component of his work. 

“The inherent subversiveness of minority languages in tension with majority languages is an important part of the project,” he said.

Zou came to Carleton considering a music major. Although he ultimately did not follow that path, his passion for music remained an important part of his education. While at Carleton, Zou has picked up various instruments, including the oud, a Middle Eastern string instrument; the Chinese pipa; and a Turkish lute called bağlama. He has also participated in Carleton Choir and a Middle Eastern music ensemble. 

“I want to be a part of the music-making community in [the places I travel],” he said. “I hope to gain a sense of the local music, instruments and ideas of what music should be.” 

Portrait photo of Yuanhao Zou among old buildings
Yuanhao Zou ’22

Zou is no stranger to traveling. Over the past few years, he has pursued research in both Uzbekistan and Turkey. When he travels, Zou says that he always carries a guitar with him and often ends up making music with people he meets along the way. 

The Watson Fellowship is unique because it has very few requirements for fellows beyond necessitating they travel outside of the United States and their home countries for a full year beginning in August. However, Zou does hope to leave the year with a tangible product from his travels. 

“I selected six communities in the world, and I see it as an important part of my experience to develop a book of songs [from them],” he said, “including the folk songs I will encounter over this year.”

Zou expressed gratitude for several of his professors and other advisors who helped him in the application process. 

“I really appreciate Marynel [Ryan Van Zee] in the Fellowship Office and her help,” he said. “She really made us start planning early [in order to apply].”

Zou also thanks his advisor, Director of Middle East Studies and Professor of Asian Studies and History Adeeb Khalid, and Associate Professor of Arabic and Senior Lecturer in Oud Yaron Klein for their guidance and letters of recommendation, as well as Director of the Chinese Music Ensemble and Senior Lecturer in Chinese Musical Instruments Gao Hong for her pipa lessons and Bahar Taş ’23 for introducing him to the ​​bağlama.