by Carl Sederholm
Utah's Asian Studies program expands to meet demand.
By 2002, Utah's Asian Studies program should be ready for more than just Olympic Games. By then, according to Dean of Humanities Patricia Hanna and history professor Anand Yang, the program will have an academic reputation worthy of international competition. With Hanna and Yang heading up an initiative to expand the program to include a full-blown Korean major to complement programs in Chinese and Japanese studies, and more money to support study-abroad opportunities, Asian Studies is expected to become far more than just another local offering. In fact, since its inception in 1992, the program has experienced steady growth as students increasingly demand opportunities to combine the study of Asian languages and cultures with their professional majors. "We've gone from being a good program locally to becoming regionally and internationally recognized," says Yang.
The timing couldn't be more critical. The push to enlarge Asian Studies comes at a time when many U.S. universities are scrambling to make their own programs more attractive to slowly dropping numbers of Asian students on their campuses. Utah, however, has yet to see any such decline in its numbers. Of the international students currently enrolled, Asians represent the largest group. And current enrollment statistics suggest that the number of Asian students remains steady and shows no sign of decrease. "This regular growth expands opportunities for local students," Hanna explains. While 20 years ago Utah students would have attended other universities for instruction in Asian languages, many are now pursuing studies at the U.
A strong Asian Studies program not only provides opportunities for domestic students' involvement with foreign students, it forges significant links between student communities, adding to Utah's strength in diversity. Moreover, it strengthens the quality of Utah's undergraduate programs in Salt Lake City and abroad; for example, a Korean Studies minor is fully approved and a Korean Studies major is in the works. And Utah will soon offer more opportunities for the foreign study essential to learning a new language. These several means of studying in Asia range from summer fellowships to field studies, and from semesters abroad to internship opportunities. During the next few years, these opportunities will expand to include research fellowships and relationships with universities in Korea, in addition to already established programs in China and Japan. Currently, the U offers exchange programs with Kansai Gaidai University, Shinshu University, and Gifu University in Japan, and several options in China as well. Negotiations are also under way for similar opportunities in Korea.
Part of Asian Studies' uniqueness is that it attracts students from across campus. "There is interest in Asian Studies," says Yang. "Students want to explore and experience the richness and variety of Asian civilizations." Currently, students must combine Asian Studies with another major so they can apply the language, research, and professional skills they develop in their studies to their chosen occupations. The difficulty of combining three or more years of intensive language study with all the prerequisites of another major program demands that students be highly motivated. But it is this motivation that fuels the growing demand for the program. The students taking advantage of Asian Studies are future historians, linguists, literature scholars, art historians, business leaders, teachers, and engineers, to name a few.
Galen Shimoda, outgoing president of the Korean Students Association, bespeaks the program's opportunities. An undergrad-uate, Shimoda is majoring in Asian Studies and business and plans to work for an international company. Shimoda is not Korean; his father is of Japanese descent and his mother is from Hong Kong. He organized Utah's Korean Students Association to spread Korean awareness throughout Salt Lake City and to teach Korean language and culture to Korean Americans; it also provides former LDS missionaries, such as Shimoda, opportunities to practice their Korean language skills. "A lot of people, when they think of Korea, still think of M*A*S*H*," Shimoda says. "I want to help people recognize the beauties of Korea and respect its ancient culture." With the expansion of the Asian Studies program, Utah students will soon be able to study Korean language, literature, and history with regular full-time faculty.
What makes Utah's Asian Studies program especially unique is the large enrollment of former LDS missionaries who served 18 to 24 months in Asia. When these missionaries return to America, their basic language skills are broad, but their working vocabulary is frequently limited to religious discourse. Because of the nature of their service, they often cannot speak the language of commerce, the language of everyday life, or the language of the streets. As students, many returned missionaries want to combine their professional majors with language study to increase their effectiveness and marketability in an international economy. Still, the advanced language skills these students bring to the classroom add to the level of competitiveness among the students. "This competitiveness brings students into the fast pace," says Yang. "It enlivens the class and provides significant peer encouragement."
At the same time, some students who haven't served missions believe that Asian Studies must strive to help other, less-prepared students develop similar linguistic fluency. To be sure, the time missionaries spend overseas provides them with an advantage over other students in language classes. This often makes students who haven't had the same opportunity feel inadequately prepared for more advanced study. Because of this, some students, such as Kari Beck BA'98, a Japanese and Asian Studies major, feel that the initiative to expand Asian Studies, particularly its offerings in Japanese language instruction, is vital to making the program more useful to a general student body. "The program needs to address both returned missionaries and students who aren't," Beck says.
With each proposed expansion of Asian Studies, Utah's international alumni have taken greater interest in the program, offering the U more opportunities for research, fellowships, and library resources. Thanks to generous grants from the Chiang Ching-lew Foundation and the Japan Foundations, and donations from overseas, browsing through the stacks at the Marriott Library offers students the opportunity to read language, history, and literature texts in Asian languages. A boon for student researchers, the new collections in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean add to the already strong tradition of research and teaching at the U. Moreover, Utah publishes the Journal of Asian Studies, the main scholarly journal of its kind in North America. And the incoming chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature, Richard Chi, will be dividing his time between Utah and Vermont, as he was recently appointed to head up Middlebury College's prestigious Chinese Summer language training program.
If everything goes according to plan, faculty appointments, expanded library holdings, and new course offerings will enrich the academic experience of a growing number of Asian Studies students.
Carl Sederholm, Continuum editorial intern, is a doctoral student in American Studies at the University of Utah.