Dr. Alter, ASC Director, named Editor for the Journal of Asian Studies

By Bill Kramer, Global Asia Intern

For many academics, especially those affiliated with a top-ranked research institution such as the University of Pittsburgh, being involved in the publication of an academic journal is a major accomplishment. So, in July of this year, when he was named the Editor for the Journal of Asian Studies, it was a high personal honor for Dr. Joseph Alter, the Director of the Pitt Asian Studies Center. I had a conversation with Dr. Alter where he graciously told me more about the journal and answered a few other questions. 

The Journal of Asian Studies, or JAS, is the premier peer-reviewed academic journal for the field of Asian studies and is the primary organ for the Association for Asian Studies. The journal was founded in 1941 as the Far Eastern Quarterly, but the scope and focus of the journal has shifted over time along with the changing nature of Asian studies and especially recently as Asia continues to play a bigger and bigger role in global affairs, a term Dr. Alter calls “Global Asia.” Indeed this “Global Asia”, or the growing impact that Asia, in particular the developing countries of China and India and the cultural exporters of Japan and South Korea, is what Dr. Alter would like his 5-year term as editor to focus on. Dr. Alter said that he is seeking to publish papers and academics that tackle this topic regarding the new and profound ways that Asia interacts with the rest of the world, and vice versa. 

During my talk with Dr. Alter, one thing that he stressed to me is that while being named Editor for the JAS is a personal honor, it is also a big responsibility that he takes extremely seriously. Due in large part to his editorial predecessors, the JAS is a well-known and well-run academic journal that has a reputation for being the foremost journal regarding Asian studies. Dr. Alter also talked in-depth about the challenges that he will face as an editor for a membership-based publication. As more and more journals become open-access rather than subscription-based, journal editors must adapt to the changing technologies and continuously improve their publications to keep their readership willing to pay, a process that hinges on making sure that the journal is as good of a publication as possible and worth reading. Dr. Alter also readily shared that this is also an honor for the ASC and the University of Pittsburgh as a whole. As both the Director of ASC and the Editor of the JAS, he hopes this prestigious position will help to elevate the Center and the University, bringing in new resources and new academic collaborators. 

As editor, Dr. Alter said that he would continue to advocate for policies and highlight papers and books that meet and surpass the high bar for quality that has come to be expected from the JAS. There are two policy priorities that Dr. Alter seeks to put forth during his tenure. The first is that he wants to have more papers submitted and published by authors from Asia, especially the often-overlooked countries. Relevant to this point, his second policy regards publishing topics that deal with these lesser-known countries and topics that are often excluded from other journals. 

I welcome everyone to congratulate Dr. Alter on this wonderful accomplishment and to wish him all the best during his tenure as Editor for the Journal of Asian Studies. 

The Pitt to You Program Fosters Support and Community for Incoming International Students

By Yue He, Chinese Language Communications Intern

The Pitt to You program was established in 2017 to help international students overcome the cultural and academic challenges of studying at an American university. Organized by the Asian Studies Center, Residence Life, Office of International Services, Office of Admissions and Financial Aid, and the Cross Cultural and Leadership Development, Pitt to You brings together a team of dedicated students and professionals. The program includes both a Welcome to Pitt summer workshop as well as participation in a cross-cultural Fall class designed to assist recent high school graduates from East Asia to integrate into collegiate life. Since its creation, Pitt to You has helped hundreds of incoming students navigate the rigors, pressures, and joys of being at one of the best universities in the US. Hail to Pitt! 


Jessica Batoussi Health Services, Minor in Africana Studies 

Christopher Chow Economics & Psychology, Minor in Political Science

Interview Q&A: 

  1. Introduce yourself 

Jessica: Hello! I am Jessica Batoussi and am a sophomore majoring in Health Services with a minor in Africana Studies. I am interested in the intersection of healthcare, multiculturalism, and social issues. I am determined to improve health equity for minority groups around the world, and have conducted research in neglected tropical diseases through Pitt’s History Department. Additionally on campus, I am a peer facilitator for the Panther Leadership Academy, a mentor with the American Medical Student Association, and the co-founder of a public health club. In my spare time, I enjoy dancing, cooking, and exploring the city. I was honored to be an ambassador for Pitt to You and am excited to welcome incoming students to the University of Pittsburgh! 

Christopher: Hello! My name is Chris Chow and I am currently a junior studying economics and psychology with a minor in political science, on the pre-law track. I’m originally from Boston, Massachusetts, and enjoy watching Boston-area sports games, listening to pop music, watching TikTok, and exploring new places! On campus, I’m the president and co-founder of the Cantonese Student Association at Pitt and am active in AQUARIUS and Phi Alpha Delta, a pre-law fraternity. I’m passionate about politics, social justice, and law and even got the chance to intern with a member of Congress. Overall, I really looked forward to the Pitt to You Program and the chance to meet everyone! 

  1. Why did you choose to be a Pitt to You ambassador? 

Jessica: I am really interested in cultures other than my own. I grew up in an immigrant family, so I relate to the experiences of meeting people different than yourself. Particularly, I wanted to learn more about East Asia as I do not have much experience with it. I saw the program as a great way to learn about the culture and to also teach international students things about our home in Pittsburgh. I believed this would be a profound social and learning opportunity.  

Christopher: I aspired to be an Ambassador because I wanted to be able to engage more with the international community and to also strengthen my connection with Asian culture as my own heritage is Chinese and Cantonese American.   

  1. In what ways did the pandemic influence this year’s Pitt to You program? 

Jessica: Unfortunately, we were unable to travel to South Korea this year due to the pandemic. All of our in-person activities were also move online via Zoom, Teams, and other various platforms. While we weren’t able to physically meet the international students, we were still able to get to know them, teach them about Pitt and also learn from them! There may not have been actual physical contact, but we were still able to get the program done efficiently. 

Christopher: I definitely think the pandemic impacted Pitt to You a lot. I was also a part of program last year where we had originally planned to meet students in Beijing and Shanghai. Similar to this year with our initial intention to visit South Korea, the pandemic limited our abilities to travel overseas. I this this change to the Program’s main form of communication to online didn’t allow for as much of a physical connection. I felt we needed to make more strides, and give more of an effort to connect. The separation admittedly was hard. However, despite the setbacks, we’ve still been trying hard to get to know the international students more. I feel that now since we are back on campus, with many activities returning to in-person the connections are strengthening and I am glad for this.

  1. Please describe your experience with Pitt to You and the international students involved.  

Jessica: Pitt to you in its entirety has been amazing and I am very honored to be able to talk to so many new students coming to Pitt! They’re intelligent, funny, and all-around cool people to be around. The program has opened my eyes more to their culture. I’ve learned a great deal, and don’t think I would know as much as I do now if it weren’t for Pitt to You.  

Christopher: I definitely agree that the program is eye-opening as we get to hear what their experiences were like firsthand back in Asia. Learning of their culture right from the students is an can’t be replicated in a informative post. All the student’s stories were different – I found some went to high school in the US, and others in Asia. I feel that I don’t hear of international students who had attended high school in the U.S. as often so it was really interesting to hear what they had to say and learn more about their past. The international students’ perspective was nice especially now with the pandemic as we are restricted to our homes and cannot freely explore other countries and their cultures outside of the U.S.  

  1. What do you think are the biggest hurdles or difficulties faced by international students when they come to the U.S.? 

Jessica: From talking to the students, it seems as though the structure of school is different in the U.S. compared to Asia. They say the way you learn is different from their country’s high schools and colleges. They mentioned the pace at Pitt being a bit faster and incorporates more projects. However, while the teaching style between the two countries may. Be different they have all adapted really well and are doing well in their classes from what we have heard!  

Christopher: I think one of the biggest challenges for them is the definitely the English barrier. The Chinese language very different from English and transitioning can be a big adjustment. They aren’t just using English to communicate in the classrooms but also just on street, or even ordering for. However, that is why the Pitt to You program was created – help better bridge that transition period and make the transition as smooth and comfortable as possible! In this way there is less of a culture shock and the students have a support system to help them with the challenges of college they will face.  

  1. Did working with international students change your view of the world? 

Jessica: I would say yes, working with international students did change my view of the world. Learning about a country from the actual students who lived there is very different from learning about it via a news outlet or the internet. You so many more details and cool aspects of the culture from the people who lived through them and have memories of them. If I didn’t meet these people myself, I think my perception of it would not be as complete as it is now. It opened my eyes to more possibilities about the culture that I didn’t know before. 

Christopher: As I have had previous experiences working with international students, for instance in high school with exchange programs, it was not totally transformative of my view, but rather added more to it! I am also Chinese, so I do have a preemptive understanding about what life is like in Asia. Furthermore, it hasn’t completely changed my view but exposed me to more of the culture.  

  1. Do you have any advice for future ambassadors? 

Jessica: I would advise all future ambassadors to come into the program with an open mind. Be aware that people are different than you and that’s okay! Be willing to learn as well.  The program is not just you teaching. Others, but a two-way street of you each learning from and teaching one another. Be open to making new friends, be willing to be a sort of navigator and ready to learn new cultures. I’m very happy I took part in the program and I’m sure you will like it too!  

Christopher: I agree with Jessica – I would also say come in with an open mind. You have to be able to be flexible as things may not pan out as expected, like this year as we could not travel to Asia. It’s also important to be patient and understand that some people might not be able to understand your point due to cultural differences.  

The Asian Studies Center Welcomes Samantha Sodetz

By Madeline DeLosa, English Language Communications Intern

Among its many endeavors, the Asian Studies Center focuses on outreach, education, and community engagement with different facets of Asian culture. Toward this end, the Center recently welcomed Samantha Sodetz as the Japanese Studies Program Assistant. Samantha attended the University of Central Florida for her Bachelors in Linguistics and Foreign Language Education. Samantha initially became interested in Japanese studies after taking Japanese classes for her school’s general education language requirement. She then realized that she’d like to pursue a career that incorporated both language and education. During her time as an undergraduate student, she was heavily involved in East-Asian cultural studies as she taught English part-time to non-native speakers and traveled to Japan on study abroad. She also took part in research regarding Parental Leave Policy in Japan after graduating and worked a great deal in the country after.   While in Japan, Samantha also did translation work and ran a student exchange program between schools in Japan and schools in her home state of Florida. Both further solidified her desire to dedicate herself to the world language and educational fields. 

In sharing passions and memories from her time outside the U.S., Samantha stated her first-time visiting Japan, or any foreign country, was during a homestay back in 2015. At the time, she had little knowledge on the culture and language, yet found unique ways to communicate and navigate around a new place. After the 2-week cultural immersion, she described feeling culture shock, yet also having had this amazingly memorable opportunity to experience something unique and different from her home.  

Here at the Asian Studies Center, Samantha was heavily involved in the processes of assisting with the Asian Studies Center’s first SCREENSHOT: Asia film festival. She has also been an integral part of assisting with the planning and event logistics of Asian Studies Center programs and events including the Asia Now Fall Lecture Series. As a part of the Center, she aspires to assist in developing quality events, grow in her marketing and outreach capabilities and get more people interested in Asian culture. Samantha states her position has been similar in many ways to her previous job in Japan, allowing her to incorporate aspects of outreach and planning from Japan into Pitt.  

The Asian Studies Center is delighted to have Samantha join and is looking forward to the ways she will implement her own skills and further strengthen the center’s existing projects.  

The Asia Now Series on Globalization of Asia

By Bill Kramer, Graduate Global Asia Intern

I was lucky enough to be able to sit down with Dr. Alter to discuss a project that he started organizing over a year and a half ago. The lecture series brings in professors from different universities to present on topics in which they focus their research and specialization. The lecture series is connected to a class that meets twice a week. During the first class of the week, students attend the lecture, and in the second, students meet in small groups to discuss the presentation. The Asia Now Lecture Series, now with several lectures under its belt, was formulated at the start of the coronavirus’s spread. The lecture series is a consequence of the pandemic in two ways. First, Asia is critical to understanding how the world is changing as a single entity now, and Dr. Alter saw this lecture series as an important measure to fill a gap in the curriculum. Second, the Asia Now Lecture Series was a realization that online and hybrid learning technologies can be a great boon both to how students learn, and professors teach. For many students, online Zoom classes have been a struggle; however, the Asia Now Lecture Series can serve as a template to show the correct way to use technology for learning. 

I attended a lecture on September 28th by Dr. Maria Repnikova of Georgia State University, introduced by Pitt’s Dr. Iza Ding, on “The Fragmented Spectacle of Chinese Soft Power in Africa.” I was struck by two things when I attended the lecture which is open to all Pitt students, faculty, and staff free-of-charge. First, the technology on display is incredible: massive HD TVs, automatically panning cameras, and microphones suspended from the ceiling. I can personally confirm that technology can be a great aid in teaching when used correctly; I was fully engrossed. The second major thing I was surprised by was both the quantity and quality of the questions being asked by students, several of whom were not experienced in Asian politics, culture, or history. There were a dozen questions, all of which were thoughtful and critically interacted with the material that was presented.  

When I asked Dr. Alter what he would like to get out of this lecture series and how he would measure the series to be a success, he expressed a desire for the Asia Now Lecture Series and the course to become a constant and critical part of the Pitt curriculum, as well as helping students of varying disciplines to become interested and interact with all Asia related courses. Dr. Alter also seeks to more closely join the Asian Studies Center to the various Pitt schools and departments for closer collaboration of class offerings and events. 

I strongly recommend that readers go attend any upcoming lectures that pique your interests. 

SCREENSHOT: Asia’s First Annual Film Festival

By Madison Pleins, SCREENSHOT: Asia Intern

After almost two years of planning and preparation, the combined efforts of the Asian Studies Center and the Film and Media Studies program are bringing to life the SCREENSHOT: Asia Film Festival. The five-day festival will be filled with 12 screenings of both feature and short films from Asian and Asian American filmmakers including films from Iran, South Korea, Japan, and Nepal. It will take place on October 6th-10th at various locations indoors and outdoors, both on and off the University of Pittsburgh campus for the Pitt community and the public alike. There will also be guest appearances by some of the filmmakers. The festival celebrates diversity, art, and culture through the powerful visual medium of film. 

There are many moving parts that must fit together for a film festival to occur. For example, venues need to be chosen, filmmakers have to be contacted, and technology must be running smoothly. Bringing these components together would be impossible without the leadership team at the Asian Studies Center who have been working to finalize each and every detail.  

After spending a year virtually, the Asian Studies Center is excited to hold more in-person programming like the SCREENSHOT: Asia Film Festival. Of course, safety precautions are still in place, including social distancing and masking while attending the screenings, but these precautions make it possible for us to once again, come together and celebrate culture in a public space. We are looking forward to the festival and cannot wait to share all of the hard work and artistry that has gone into it. 

Meet the 2021 ASC Interns

The Asian Studies Center interns are delighted to be back in-person this semester as the Center commences with another busy fall of programming and events. Let’s take a moment to introduce and warmly welcome the new interns! 

Meet Bill Kramer, the Graduate Global Asia Intern. 

Hi, I am Bill Kramer, the Graduate Global Asia intern. I am a first-year student at GSPIA with a major in Human Security. I wanted to become an intern with the Asian Studies Center due to my love of East Asian history, culture, and politics. This interest in East Asia was borne out of a few close friendships I made with Korean foreign exchange students in high school and continued into my undergraduate studies. I did my undergrad here at Pitt, graduating in 2017 with a Bachelor’s in Political Science and History and a minor in Korean. Coupled with my 3 years of Korean language learning, I took many classes on the history and politics of East Asia and completed the Certificate of Asian Studies. I am obsessed with the Korean film scene and have a special fondness for anything Bong Joon-ho directs or Song Kang-ho stars in. I also follow the Korean popular and indie music scene, and if you like indie electronic music, I strongly recommend the artist Neon Bunny (give “It’s You” a listen). Outside of my studies, I am an avid marathoner, and I will be doing my 4th marathon next month. My favorite restaurant in all of Pittsburgh is Spak Brothers in Garfield because as a vegan, they have a ton of great options.  

Meet Madison Pleins, the Screenshot: Asia Intern.  

Hello! My name is Madison Pleins and I am the Screenshot Asia Film Festival Intern for this year! I am a sophomore Film and Media Studies major pursuing a minor in Political Science and a certificate in Broadcast. I am so excited and honored to hold the Screenshot Asia Film Festival Intern position because I am very passionate about film and visual arts. I am looking forward to gaining experience on the management side of film through a cultural lens and cannot wait to see the Screenshot Film Festival come to life!

Outside of this internship, I am a piccolo player in the Pitt Varsity Marching Band, a member of the Varsity Marching Band Council, and the History and Alumni Liaison for the band service organization Tau Beta Sigma. I am also a member of the video club and student run television station, UPTV.

Meet Madeline DeLosa, the English Language Communications Intern.  

Hi, my name’s Maddy and I’m the English Language Communications Intern. My main roles include creating social media posts to promote upcoming events and to also photograph various activities. I’m a junior undergraduate majoring in Molecular Biology on the Pre-Physician’s Assistant track. I’m also minoring in Korean, Chinese, Chemistry and working towards an Asian Studies Certificate here at Pitt. I enjoy spending my free time outdoors – whether it be getting lost in a new running trail, exploring the city or simply soaking in nature. In 2018, I was introduced to the phenomenon of K-pop through the famous group, BTS. Ever since then, I have not only fallen in love with the music but also learned a great deal about Asian culture and the similarities and differences to Western countries like the U.S. Such drove me to enroll in my first Korean language class freshman year and I have been going strong ever since. Currently, I’m in my 5th semester and can proudly say I know more than, “안녕하세요. 저는 매들린이에요.” I aspired to intern with the Asian Studies Center in hopes of further increasing my knowledge and passion for Asia. Some life-long goals of mine include traveling around Asia and ordering my first meal in Korea in hopefully somewhat-fluent Korean.

Meet Yue He, the Chinese Language Communications Intern.  

Hi, I’m Yue! I’m a second-year graduate MPA student majoring in Governance and International Public Management. I am also this year’s Chinese Social Media Intern for the Asian Studies Center. I earned my undergraduate degree in Chinese Language and Literature in 2017 in China where I am from. I am always enthusiastic towards Chinese literature and calligraphy and love to talk about these topics with people who are interested in the culture. I look forward to developing my skills during my internship and hope to have a memorable experience. Outside of Pitt’s campus, I love to explore the beautiful city. 

Meet Winnie Chen, the Event Coordination Intern.    

Hello, my name is Winnie and I’m a junior this year majoring in Psychology and Chinese, minoring in Chemistry (on the pre-dental track). Right as I entered college, I knew that Asian Studies was an area that I wanted to focus on, so I immediately enrolled myself in various Asian related courses. Through exploring the different topics, I decided to focus on Chinese as my particular language of interest while also expanding my knowledge on all parts of Asia through the various culture classes. Additionally, I was able to attend a few of the events that the Asian Studies Center held my freshman year, and through each lecturer and workshop, I learned a little more each time about my Asian culture. Therefore, when the position of events intern came up, I knew that this was my opportunity to become more involved in the program. I hope that I can be a member of this wonderful team to create more interesting and engaging events for not only our Pitt community, but the broader Pittsburgh community itself. I am always open to new ideas so I will take in the ideas and opinions from everyone and try my best to continuously improve our events so that we can become a truly welcoming and diverse community! 

Meet Paris Yamamoto, the Global Ambassador Intern.  

Hello! My name is Paris Yamamoto. I am a senior Chinese and Linguistics major, Japanese minor, Asian Studies Certificate student, and this year’s Asian Studies Center (ASC) Global Ambassador. In addition to my involvement with ASC, I am also involved in various Asian interest student organizations including, but not limited to, the Japanese Student Association (JSA), the Chinese American Student Association (CASA), and the Asian Student Alliance (ASA). The ASC has been part of my college experience from the beginning. As a freshman, I was enrolled in the International Studies: Asia academic community where everyone was encouraged to pursue a certificate in Asian Studies. Like most first years, I had no idea what I was doing when I came to college. I was unsure of my major, I had no idea what any of my career options were, and I was extremely anxious about my future. Then I met the ASC certificate advisor: Emily Rook-Koepsel. She clarified much of my initial confusion about the certificate program and helped orient my academic trajectory. Through her, I found the resources to find the study abroad program that was right for me and made connections that have been invaluable throughout my time here at Pitt. After this crazy year and a half of being online, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to work so closely with the ASC and am excited to see what this year of in-person events has in store.

Event Recap: Director Talk with Taiwanese Director Wei Te-Sheng

By Erica Kuo, Global Ambassador

On February 23rd, the Taiwanese Student Association (TSA) in collaboration with the Asian Studies Center and Screenshot: Asia successfully hosted Taiwanese Director Wei Te-Sheng virtually over Zoom for a Q&A session with TSA. Prior to the event, we screened Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale in preparation for the Q&A.

Brief background: Director Wei Te-Sheng is a highly influential and famous director and screenwriter in Taiwan’s film industry. His films include Cape No. 7Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq BaleKano, and 52 Hertz, I Love You. Notably, Cape No.7 currently still holds the #1 spot as the highest grossing domestic film in Taiwan followed by Seediq Bale Part 1 holding the #2 spot. 

Hosted by TSA, I was able to interview Director Wei on his influence on Taiwan’s film industry, his unconventional path to becoming a director and screenwriter, behind-the-scenes information including his particular choice in casting, and his current project Taiwan Trilogy among many other topics discussed. In the latter half of the event, we also opened up the discussion to audience questions for Director Wei. Overall, it was a pleasure to have such a rare opportunity to interview a highly influential director that continues to pave the way for a new era in Taiwan’s film industry. His responses provided a lot of insight into his films and his approach to filmmaking. He has also impacted a lot of Taiwanese-Americans, including myself, in terms of fostering the curiosity to rediscover our unique Taiwanese culture and history through his films and therefore, this event held an even deeper meaning to some people.  

*For those who missed the event, a recording of the interview will be soon uploaded onto Youtube.

What’s going on in the connection between China-Latin America and the Caribbean?

By Tong Ru, Global Asia Intern

To introduce the present situation on the cooperation between China and Latin America & the Caribbean, the Asian Studies Center, the Center for Latin American Studies (University of Pittsburgh), and the Red Académica de América Latina y el Caribe sobre China held an online conference on the topic of “China-Latin America and the Caribbean: Infrastructure, Connectivity, and Everyday Life” on January 25 to January 26, 2021. Here are the recordings of two-days conference: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwG_ZH0VQJBdKuWrlexZ3qmvJeyJMFDHB.

On the first day, invited speakers mainly presented about infrastructure projects China conducted in Latin America & the Caribbean to give the audience a general understanding of the number of Chinese infrastructure projects, amount, and labor employment. From the presentation by Enrique Dussel Peters (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and Red ALC-China), we learned a growing trend on Chinese infrastructure projects from 2000 to 2020, during the globalization process with Chinese characteristics. From 2005 to 2009, the number of infrastructure projects was 4, and this number increased to 108 in 2020, with the amount from 1,147 million US dollars to 67,906 million US dollars. Except for this direct data, the presenter also mentioned that though there is no analysis about the impacts on people’s everyday life in Latin America & the Caribbean.  We had a preliminary understanding that infrastructure projects have generated almost 40 thousand jobs until 2017.

Next, Diana Castro Salgado (Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar) and Yang Zhimin (Chief Researcher at ILAS-CASS) both discussed the cooperation between China and Ecuador, including its national effects. Since 2007, China has built a connection with Ecuador from the aspect of financing and infrastructure, mostly in the field of energy, mines, oil rigs, roads, power transmission lines, telecommunications systems, hospitals, and schools. To address the complex situation in the national electricity system due to the electricity deficit and difficulties in securing supply in Ecuador, China has participated in eight hydroelectric projects between 2007 and 2017. After the construction of the hydroelectric projects, the national energy matrix has been changed. From 2005 to 2019, the ratio of hydroelectric in the national energy system changed from 56% to 88%. Then, what have the national changes brought to local populations’ daily life? On the positive side, these infrastructure projects created more than 20,000 jobs, including the boost of the economy. On the other side, labor conflicts and declining agricultural activities followed.

Then, Niu Haibin (Shanghai Institutes for International Studies) introduced the case of cooperation between China and Brazil. Based on China’s experience of developing infrastructure, the dominance from the central government to localization, capacity building -technology, social and ecological concerns, and aid in construction might be the feasible approach. Combining with the local situation in Brazil, China mainly designed five approaches in building Brazil’s infrastructure. More specifically, there are mainly five approaches China utilized in Brazil: 1) buying/acquisition, 2) loans, 3) greenfield investment, 4) service, 5) multilateral, federal, and state-level policy dialogues. Finally, the presenter also talked about the impacts of China’s infrastructure projects from the following aspects: environmental and social impacts, impact on Brazilian views of China, counter-economic crisis effects, a balanced domestic economy, and connection with Asia.

So far, we have had a general understanding of cooperation and its effects on peoples’ life between China and Latin America & the Caribbean. Moving forward, with continued cooperation and immigration, there will be more and more relevant research to give us more detailed information on why we need this kind of cooperation between countries, how we maintain the cooperation, what can we learn from past connections, and how to maximize its positive effects.

What’s Going on in Thailand?

By Ben Saint-Onge, Global Asia Intern

The past few months have seen huge pro-democracy protests rock Thailand, an unprecedented occurrence in a nation that until recently had been characterized by strict loyalty to the royal family. Protesters are demanding several measures to weaken the central government, which has been criticized for wielding power in an increasingly authoritarian way. How did these protests begin? What is their aim, and how has the government responded?

            Back in February, the Thai government banned the Future Forward Party, one of several prominent opposition parties critical of prime minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha’s policies. This touched off the first wave of protests. Student activists briefly demonstrated across university campuses before dissipating as shutdown measures came into effect to slow the spread of COVID-19. Demonstrations re-ignited in July and have since swelled to include tens of thousands of people.

            Though loosely organized and lacking overarching leadership, activists are united in three demands. First, they wish to see a revamping of the Thai constitution to make it more democratic. Second, they wish to limit the authority of the Thai monarchy, which was granted new powers in 2017 after King Maha Vajiralongkorn ascended to the throne. Third, they are calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth himself. Such bold demands are unprecedented in a country where criticism of the royal family carries a penalty of 15 years in prison. 

            Before mid-October, the government response had been relatively light. On October 14, however, a group of protestors harassed Queen Suthida’s motorcade as it made its way through Bangkok. Following that, Prayuth swiftly enacted a ban on gatherings larger than five people and ordered a crackdown on protesters. So far this has not deterred activists, who continue to turn out in the tens of thousands across the country. Taken together, the demonstrations constitute the greatest challenge to Thailand’s government since the coup that brough Prayuth to power in 2014.

Pitt to You: Reflection and COVID-19 Response/Modification

By Yixuan Zang, Chinese Social Media

The Pitt to You program helps international students to overcome and adapt to the new University life. In previous years, the program typically organized trips to Beijing and Shanghai in China. However due to COVID-19, the program organized online workshops instead of offline activities. Students would have opportunities to communicate with student ambassadors online. Program information was provided by Dr. James A. Cook (Associate Director, Asian Studies Center) and the Pitt to You website. If interested in more information, please check the Pitt to You website: http://www.pitt2you.pitt.edu/

I was very happy to interview with Anthony Gavazzi and Lynnea Lombardi who were the student ambassadors in previous years. Lynnea shared “Pitt to You is how I first met Kyoungah Lee, who now supervises me in my role as the graduate intern for Global Ties. She has become my greatest professional mentor and my role model as an international student affairs professional. I am thankful for the connections I was able to make with her and with all the incredible Pitt to You staff members during the program. I remember at the end of the trip having a long conversation with Richard Sherman and Jonathan Richards (who have both since moved on to other institutions) about my interest in international higher education and their advice shaped my career path. Pitt to You helped me develop a professional direction and I’m very grateful for that opportunity.”

Here’s the interview with our student ambassadors from previous year. 

  • Why did you choose to be a Pitt to You ambassador?

Lynnea: In college I really enjoyed making friends with international students. Pitt to You sounded like a great opportunity to meet more international students and learn about their lives in their own home country.

            Anthony: I had always dreamed about going to China, and I really enjoyed mentoring          

            students as an RA, so I felt like I had no choice but to apply to Pitt to You.

  • What do you remember most about your trip in China? Was it the sites? Food? People?

Lynnea: Of course, I will always remember my mentees and the relationships we built. As for other highlights, I grew up in a small town and Pittsburgh is not a major world city, so when I saw the Shanghai skyline at night it was surreal. I felt like I was in a movie. I also remember riding over the Great Wall of China on a chairlift with one of my mentees and feeling captivated by the view of the mountains.

Anthony: I think the most breathtaking moment was looking at the Shanghai skyline from the Bund, but hiking the Great Wall of China is another memory I will never forget! My mentees were super friendly and welcoming, and I’m still in touch with them today. I tried a lot of interesting foods, including pig intestine, and it was all delicious! 

  • What was the challenge that you had in your trip in China? 

Lynnea: ​It was challenging for me to start our work almost immediately after landing in China. My body doesn’t adjust to time differences very well and I felt a little sick the first day or two. But the team was very supportive, and we were having so much fun and learning so much that it didn’t even matter!

Anthony: I did not really experience any challenges in China. Before my trip, people told me I may have a bad reaction to all the new foods, but I somehow managed going the entire trip without a stomach ache! Unfortunately, not all of the other mentors could say the same. 

  • What was the best part about working with the international students from China? And what was the hardest part? 

Lynnea: Connecting with people from other cultures is truly one of my greatest joys in life. I liked being in China because it made me vulnerable. I didn’t know anything so I relied on my mentees for help ordering food and getting around. When my mentees came to Pittsburgh, I was able to reciprocate by helping them with food suggestions and getting around the city. That reciprocal piece is so important; it’s a mutual relationship rather than a didactic one.  

I remember when one of my mentees first arrived on campus in the fall. She was beaming with excitement and telling me about all the things she was going to do at Pitt. I was so happy for her that she was excited about her new journey. That was a really rewarding moment for me. That’s what is so amazing about Pitt to You program: its not just the 2-week trip to China, but supporting the students’ growth over time from June to the fall semester.

The hardest part is that sometimes everyone feels shy meeting each other and it can be challenging to push through that at first. Once you work through that, you can have a highly rewarding relationship.

Anthony: The best part about working with the Chinese students was sharing laughs with them while singing karaoke or telling jokes around the hot pot table. I really found that we are all more similar than we are different, regardless of where we come from. The hardest part was probably getting to know the more introverted students at first, but we were all close friends by the end of the trip. 

  • Did working with Chinese students change your view of the world?

Lynnea: Yes! It was very important for me to see things from their perspective, quite literally by being in their home country. I was so intrigued by what I learned that I decided to pursue a career in international higher education. I work with many Chinese students in my internship now and having that Pitt to You experience has helped me understand their perspective.

Anthony: Yes. As Americans, I think we easily misunderstand China as a country that is very much isolated from the rest of the world. This is certainly not the case. After meeting these students, I have found that they share a lot of the same pop culture interests as American students and are very knowledgeable about world affairs and current events. I think there is also a stereotype that because the education system in China is so rigorous, Chinese students tend to have a more serious attitude, but we met some of the most funny, laidback people I’ve ever met on this trip. Like I said in my previous response, we are all more alike than we are different.  

  • Since Pitt to You program goes totally online this semester, do you have any recommendations for current ambassadors that could help to overcome difficulties? 

Lynnea: I love this question because I am actually beginning a project right now to understand how to maximize the experience of virtual peer mentorship. ​I think you have to eliminate the word “awkward” from your vocabulary and embrace the experience. Keep in mind your “why” (make connections between domestic and international students, create a more global Pitt community, help new Pitt students have a great experience) and let that guide you. I admire the 2020 Pitt to You team for making the best of a tough situation.

Anthony: I would recommend virtual, “face-to-face” contact whenever possible. If you’re finding it is hard to get a conversation started between your mentees, play some kind of virtual game-it will be fun and get people talking to each other. 

Club Profile: Pitt Taiwanese Student Association

By Erica Kuo, Global Ambassador

Pitt Taiwanese Student Association, also known as TSA, is a new organization that was created last year. TSA was founded to “promote Taiwanese culture, provide a platform for those interested in learning the social, economic, educational, cultural, and political developments in Taiwan and promote unity within the Asian and Asian American community.” The past year included food workshops and movie nights. This year we are planning to continue with these events but have also added some new initiatives.

1) Pen Pal Program

Several years ago, I had the chance to work with rural Taiwanese elementary students in Taiwan as a volunteer English teacher and found the experience enriching and worthwhile. From the conversations I had with these students, one reoccurring concern was that they did not like learning English because they did not find the relevance of learning a foreign language that was so detached from their everyday lives. After joining TSA, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to reconnect with this population by building a partnership with them through this Pen Pal Program. Therefore, this program was established to connect students here with the local Taiwanese population in more rural/disadvantages areas of Taiwan through monthly letters written in English as a form of cultural exchange and also an opportunity for the Taiwanese students to utilize English outside of the classroom in hopes of making this language more applicable to their lives.

The pen pal program successfully started this fall semester. After managing to find a group of dedicated Taiwanese elementary English teachers primarily located in Chiayi County, Taiwan, we are now in our second round of letters with participation from 5 schools, 40 US students (from both CMU and Pitt), and 60 Taiwanese students.

2) Educational Workshops

The relevance of Taiwan has been brought to the forefront in recent months because of COVID-19. From a country that has and still is mixed up with Thailand, TSA is hoping to be able to allow those interested in Taiwanese culture to learn more about this beautiful island nation (aside from just bubble tea and night markets). Our first workshop will be held on October 28th on the History of Taiwan from the 1600s to 2000 including an emphasis on Dutch colonization in the 1600s, Japanese occupation from 1895-1945, and post WWII Taiwan under the KMT. Following this event, our next workshop will be a Taiwanese language workshop early in the upcoming spring semester and we will be collaborating with some native Taiwanese speakers who will be teaching some frequently used Taiwanese phrases in society.

Tips and Tricks for Being a Responsible and Respectful Tourist in Southeast Asia

By Ben Saint-Onge, Global Asia Intern

Let’s face it: we’ve all been itching to get out of the house (or apartment) and post up on a beach somewhere. We’re still a ways off from our return to crowded airport terminals and worry-free travel, but there’s no better time to begin thinking about ways to lessen your footprint when you do finally get the chance to take that getaway you’ve been craving.

Southeast Asia has long been a prime destination for tourists looking to experience the region’s famously relaxed lifestyle. In 2019, 113 million vacationers visited Southeast Asian countries. By 2022, that number is expected to climb to 129 million (though it’s unclear how this forecast will be affected by COVID-19). There’s a lot to do, more to see, and plenty of delicious food to sample—all at a fraction of what you’d pay back home. Yet the freedoms available to Western tourists in Southeast Asia lead some to behave irresponsibly, treating their culturally vibrant host countries like giant amusement parks. If you’re planning a Southeast Asian vacation of your own, it’s a good idea to read up on some of the most effective ways to make sure your trip doesn’t cause unnecessary harm.

The volunteering website Grassroots Volunteering has an excellent blog post about things to keep in mind when you’re visiting Southeast Asia—from animal tourism to responsible spending. For those interested in what sustainable tourism looks like from the point of view of Southeast Asian countries, Reporting ASEAN also has a great article on the subject.

Southeast Asia has many amazing experiences to offer—just remember to keep your hosts in mind when you visit!