Students of Asian studies at Centre earn accolades, opportunity abroad

Posted by Centre News in Asian Studies, Internships, Japanese, News 11 Jun 2014

asia2Centre College students are rising to the challenge of life in an increasingly internationalized world, showing a commitment to global citizenship that has won them notable recognition.

This can be seen in the case of two recent graduates and a rising senior whose study of East Asia has resulted in remarkable opportunities for further experience in the region. Audrey Jenkins ’14 has recently been awarded a Princeton in Asia (PiA) fellowship, while fellow 2014 grad Wood Smith has been accepted into the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme. Rising senior Lane Walker, who won a Japanese language award in February, has received a summer internship at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center in Washington, D.C.

Audrey JenkinsJenkins (top, right), a double major in English and religion from Floyd, Iowa, will spend her tenure as a PiA fellow teaching English in Vietnam for the 2014-15 academic year.

PiA is the oldest and largest organization dedicated to building bridges between the United States and Asia. The fellowship program places awardees into service-oriented positions across Asia. Serving in Vietnam was particularly appealing to Jenkins, who observes that many Americans only think of the country in the context of the Vietnam War.

“While this is an incredibly important context,” she says, “Vietnam is so much richer than that.”

Though she was adopted from South Korea, Jenkins says she was largely unacquainted with Asian cultures before traveling to Vietnam and Cambodia the summer before her freshman year at Centre. As a rising sophomore, she returned to Asia to participate in a summer program in Thailand.

“I was only in these countries for a short period of time, but I fell in love with the people and culture,” she says.

Jenkins does not expect her teaching position at a community college in Soc Trang, Vietnam, to be easy. “I anticipate every day will present its own unique set of challenges, from classroom management, to driving my motor scooter, to surmounting the language barrier,” she says.

Nonetheless, she welcomes the chance to be pushed outside her comfort zone. “I hope that I will be an excellent teacher and mentor to my students,” she says, “and that the relationships I form in Vietnam will be true and lasting.”

Wood Smith INSETSmith (middle, right), a religion major from Frankfort, Ky., will begin teaching in Tanabe City in Japan’s Wakayama Prefecture this fall through the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme, a Japanese government initiative designed to strengthen grassroots relationships between Japan and other nations.

In addition to teaching English, says Smith, “I hope to enrich my students’ cultural understanding while, at the same time, gaining knowledge of a culture that I take great interest in.”

This will be Smith’s second time to live in Japan. He first traveled as a study abroad student during his junior year at Centre. “Living in Japan bolstered my identity as a quarter-Japanese minority and helped me realize my love for my grandmother and the trials she went through surviving the atomic bomb in Hiroshima,” says Smith.

Miyabi Yamamoto, visiting assistant professor of Japanese, directed Smith’s independent study of Japanese at Centre. “The JET program is very competitive and also a fantastic opportunity for anyone serious about learning Japanese,” says Yamamoto. “I expect this to really help Wood advance in his Japanese, and I also look forward to where he will go after the JET experience.”

Lane Walker INSETYamamoto has also taught Walker (bottom, right), a history major and Asian Studies minor from Topeka, Kan. Like Smith, Walker spent time in Japan as part of a Centre study abroad program.

In February of this year, the rising senior received the Consul-General award at the Kentucky Japanese Speech Contest. The competition is sponsored by the Japan/America Society of Kentucky, and the Consul-General award is presented to the contestant whose speech displays not only technical ability but also cultural awareness and significance.

Walker’s acceptance into the internship program at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center is a remarkable achievement, says Christian Haskett, assistant professor of religion. “Competition for the internship is national and very intense.”

While in Washington, D.C., Walker will research Japanese-American immigration policy in the late 19th to mid-20th century.

“I hope to be able to take advantage of the enormous amount of resources located in D.C. to develop a high quality research project,” says Walker. He will also be working at the National Museum of American History under the supervision of Curatorial Assistant Noriko Sanefuji, an expert in Japanese-American history.

The three students’ achievements are a sign that Centre’s Asian Studies program “is preparing students to carry out research and to engage in scholarship at the highest levels possible,” says Haskett. “We nurture abiding interest in Asian cultures, tempered with a deep desire to live usefully.”

by Laurie Pierce