Yu San (Trista) Lai is a graduate student in East Asian Languages and Culture (EALC). She is currently working on her master’s degree in Chinese Language Pedagogy, a program specifically designed for those who intend to teach East Asian languages at the university level.
Born in Chiayi, a city in the southwestern region of Taiwan, she came to Indiana University to pursue a Master’s degree after completing her undergraduate studies in Taiwan. She, like many other students from East Asian countries, used an organization called ALLEX to find an American university to study at. ALLEX, and other organizations like it, help place students at universities to best suit their interests and needs. Though Yu San didn’t have the opportunity to visit IU before arriving in Bloomington she is very appreciative and thankful to be at IU.
Yu San’s research focuses on separable verbs, a concept found in many languages in which the verb can be separated into two parts, the core verb and the particle. A complex topic to be sure, Yu San says that her research project has actually been inspired through her interactions with other students at IU, something that she has been able to do readily as an Associate Instructor (AI) in Chinese and by staying active and involved around campus.
As part of the Chinese Language Pedagogy program students serve as AIs for undergraduate classes in their chosen language of study. This serves as a way for students to develop teaching skills and learn the best teaching methodologies but for Yu San her time in the classroom served as inspiration as well. She has taught both first and second year Chinese language students during her time at IU and enjoys seeing the progress that students make from focusing heavily on vocabulary and pronunciation in first year to the production of longer, more complex sentences and paragraphs in their second year of study.
In addition to teaching during the school year Yu San has had the opportunity to teach students during the summer as well. IU offers many intensive summer language programs every year including second and third year Chinese courses offered through the Flagship Chinese Institute. In these courses students speak only Chinese and are exposed to cultural and social activities which further their understanding of not only the Chinese language but culture as well.
For Yu San one of the best parts of teaching, both during the regular semester and the summer, is having the opportunity to not only see her students grow and develop but to grow with them as well. She also believes that because many cultures and societies are so different, there is much that can be learned from studying a foreign language. Learning a new language, she says, is important for people because it opens them up to different cultures which can be extremely beneficial, helping people to become more open minded and understanding of different cultures.
Between her own research and coursework and the time she dedicates to teaching and helping other students learn Chinese it would be no surprise if that was all Yu San was able to do but she also finds time to be active in a variety of events on campus organized by EASC, EALC and many other campus organizations. She enjoys attending the wide variety of East Asia related events held on campus every year and the many conferences and workshops she is able to attend without having to leave Bloomington. She believes these events help create new perspectives for students and bring people of different fields of study and different cultures together. The fact that she is able to remain so active around campus is truly a wonder but she says she doesn’t find it stressful and doesn’t mind having little free time because she enjoys what she studies and the events around campus.
After graduation, Yu San hopes to remain in the US and teach at the college level. Yu San’s energy, desire to learn, and willingness to help her fellow students makes her a well-liked and respected member of the EASC community. As she prepares to graduate she will undoubtedly be missed at IU but we wish her the best of luck in her post-graduation endeavors.
Sam Bass is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Departments of History and Central Eurasian Studies (CEUS) who also studied for an M.A. two years prior. This is his fourth and final year at IU.
Sam’s research concerns the history of Inner Asia during the Qing Dynasty, primarily the society and daily life of people living in what is now Mongolia, Xinjiang, North China, and the neighboring areas in the 16th–19th centuries. He is particularly interested in the history of slavery and emancipation in the Qing Empire, focusing on Mongolia. His desire to study this period and topic stemmed from his time as an undergraduate when he traveled to Beijing to study Chinese.
After graduation, he moved directly to China and visited Xinjiang province, which caught his attention to such a degree that he chose to stay and enroll in a university to study anthropology and hopefully conduct participant observation-style fieldwork. A turning point for him was interviewing a young Kazakh herder from northwestern China who told him that in order to understand what was happening currently, he needed to study the history of the region. Inspired by the herder’s words and upset at the poor treatment the herder had received after moving down from the mountains, he decided to find the best place in the U.S. to study the history of Inner Asia. That place was Indiana University.
After graduation, Sam plans to teach East Asian and Inner Asian history and society. His enthusiasm for the topic fuels his passion for teaching, and he wants to show Americans that their knowledge of the world is shaped by their understanding in terms of “East vs. West” and other potentially harmful binaries. He is currently an AI in the Department of History, where he engages in thoughtful discussions with students. However, he is sometimes disheartened by their lack of knowledge about things outside the U.S. in particular.
Sam thoroughly believes that East Asian Studies courses should be required for all students because there’s incredible value in studying the topics. For one thing, studying East Asia offers insight on current social, historical, and political situations where East Asian countries interact with the United States and other North American countries; for another, East Asian society and culture has greatly shaped the modern world, so studying its history enriches one’s understanding of the world. The most basic thing someone will get from studying East Asia, he says, is a wider perspective. In the humanities, that means finding connections or parallels in unexpected places or learning about ways of thinking and techniques of expression that are quite different from one’s own.
While he has spent a lot of time overseas, Sam Bass admits that most of his travels have been to China with a handful of some being to Korea, Mongolia, and Taiwan. He has visited places such as Beijing, Dalian, Ulaanbaatar, and Taipei, but most of his time is spent in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and its capital city, Ürümqi. He worked as an English instructor, an American and British history instructor, and a translator in Xinjiang, though he says that his time teaching was more enjoyable than translating. In 2009, things changed a lot because of the riots concerning racism toward Uyghurs. This inspired him to begin an M.A. program at Xinjiang Normal University studying ethnology. Though it was difficult to read and complete assignments in Chinese as well as think from a Chinese perspective, he is grateful for the field experience he gained during that time. He remembers fondly the people who lived in Xinjiang at the time and the experiences he had with them, and he recommends for anyone who wants to learn about a place to teach and immerse themselves in the local language and culture.
Sam says, his favorite events at IU are the book workshops. “Its great meeting and talking to a person who has finished such a big project who is still excited to share their research, introduce people to their ideas, and just talk about the process of researching and writing. It’s very humanizing because sometimes it’s easy to forget that every book has an author, a person who thought about the topic for a long time and committed part of their life to put their ideas on paper.” He loves how it’s a great opportunity to talk to currently active scholars doing innovative research, and he tries to attend when he can. There are many other great events, but he keeps his eyes open for book workshops in particular. Jokingly, he says that he also likes all of the EASC events involving dumplings, though he doesn’t attend enough of those, unfortunately.
IU Students Spend Spring Semester Studying Abroad in China
This spring nine American students, including two from Indiana University, participated in a program organized by the Council on International Education Exchange (CIEE) in Nanjing, China. The program is cosponsored by IU and is designed to promoting international education and exchange. We were able to talk with one of the IU students about her experiences while she was in Nanjing and what she had planned during the rest of her stay in China.
Ellen Vorhies is a junior majoring in Anthropology with minors in Public Health, Psychology, and Chinese. She began studying Chinese this past summer as part of Indiana University’s Summer Language Workshop and after less than a full year’s study she decided to travel to China to continue her studies this spring. The CIEE program is relatively small which Ellen says offers an enjoyable dynamic to live and study in.
Ellen says that in many ways the program is very similar to the IU Summer Language Workshop in the way that it is designed which made the transition easier for her. Participants in CIEE will spend anywhere from 6-12 hours a day with their classmates and teachers including four hour long blocks of classes. Though this style of education is clearly difficult the small group size makes it easier as everyone becomes very close and it creates an enjoyable atmosphere.
Once a week the students take field trips to local sites where students can experience first-hand the culture and history of China. This included a week-long trip to Sichuan, in southwest China, where students were able to visit a different part of China in a region famed for its culinary excellence and a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In this way the program is much more than an intensive language program and gives the students more cultural experiences. Students are able to immerse themselves into a new culture and being surrounded by people who speak the language they are learning is undoubtedly useful. Though she believes she is studying many of the same things as her classmates back at IU, Ellen believes being immersed in the language and culture has been extremely beneficial, particularly in her ability to communicate with native speakers at a more natural pace.
Though the program is highly structured it does leave students with time to explore on their own. Ellen and her fellow students typically spend their weekends traveling to nearby towns and cities. In addition, the week after their trip to Sichuan the program has a spring break which offers the students the opportunity to travel further and experience more. Ellen and a few other students travelled to Taiwan to visit Taipei, Kenting, and Jiufen.
Ellen believes that one of the biggest advantages of programs such as CIEE is simply being immersed in a place where almost everyone is using the language. But at times it can be a little strange being the foreigner. She says that sometimes people from smaller cities who are not accustomed to seeing foreigners will sometimes stare or even take pictures or videos of them.
However, little things like that do not take away from the program and Ellen would highly recommend anyone to study abroad if they have the opportunity. She believes that the best idea is to ignore your first thought to take it slow in a new place. She says it served her well to quickly fall into a routine, keep busy, remain open-minded to new experiences, and to try to meet new people. She said it felt like a wave of culture shock but that it made the overall experience and transition worth it, and even better.
Hutton Student Awarded Culture Exchange Trip to Japan
This spring Eric Langowski, a sophomore in the Hutton Honors College, participated in the Kakehashi Project, a youth exchange program between Japan and the United States. The Kakehashi Project began in 2013 and enables students to travel around the globe to learn about Japanese culture.
The Kakehashi Project aims to enhance international understanding of Japan's strengths and promote deeper cultural understanding between Japanese and Americans. It is promoted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in hope to "help young people develop wider perspectives to encourage active roles at the global level in the future."
Langowski is a Japanese-American student studying math and physics and is also a Liberal Arts and Management (LAMP) scholar. He heard about The Kakehashi Project through his membership in the Japanese American Citizens League and social media.
Langowski went for the ten-day trip to Japan in March. His itinerary included academic, economic, cultural and sightseeing points of interest. He was excited to learn about Japanese culture and ideas first-hand. During the trip he also had the opportunity to visit Kanazawa University and meet Japanese students.
For more information about Eric’s trip or the Kakehashi Project please visit the Hutton Honors College’s website.