Are You Getting an Asian Studies Certificate?

By Anthony Gavazzi, Asian Studies Center Global Ambassador

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You might be, whether you realize it or not.

What do the courses “Anthropology of Food” and “Introduction to Contemporary Art” have in common? To be frank, almost nothing, but both count towards the fulfillment for an Asian Studies Certificate at Pitt. These two courses aren’t the only surprising finds on the Asian Studies Certificate course list – classes across a wide variety of disciplines, from economics to music, are also accepted. In fact, classes with content related to East Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and the Middle East are all Asian Studies Certificate courses.

Assistant Director of Academic Affairs, Emily Rook-Koepsel, is always open to student suggestions for potential Asian Studies Certificate courses.

“If you take a class and a considerable portion of the content is related to Asia, let me know and we can add that to our list,” she recommends. Plus, students are able to use credits they have already earned for their majors and minors towards their Asian Studies Certificates.

When one thinks of Asian languages, the first that come to mind are typically Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. However, the Asian Studies Center takes a much broader approach to its classification of Asian languages, accepting languages like Hindi, Farsi, and Turkish for the certificate’s language requirement, too. Most of these languages are offered by the Commonly-Less-Taught-Languages Center. The Asian Studies Certificate requires only two years of language study, so students minoring in an Asian language commonly already fulfill the language requirement upon completion of their minor.

If you’re interested in finding out whether or not you’ve been taking Asian Studies courses, or if you’re interested in learning more about the certificate, check out the links below.

Event Recap: Lantern Festival

By Jenn Nguyen, Asian Studies Center Communications & Media Intern

LanternFest

On Thursday, February 6th, the Asian Studies Center and Pitt Global Hub hosted a Lantern Festival to celebrate the conclusion of Lunar New Year celebrations. The Global Hub was decorated with bright red lanterns and a video compilation of Lunar New Year festivities from around the world was displayed on the jumbo screen. Various riddles for visitors to solve dangled from the red lanterns, too.
At the festival, I made mini red lanterns and served tangyuan, a popular Chinese dessert that consists of rice balls in a sticky syrup. A lot of students and faculty passing by tried tangyuan and asked about the significance of the Lantern Festival. So far, I’ve liked a lot of the collaborations between the Asian Studies Center and the Pitt Global Hub and think it’s great that the Pitt community has a new space to gather and celebrate with one another.

Samurai and Western Film with Dr. Charles Exley

By Chris Kraemer, Screenshot: Asia intern

This semester, Dr. Charles Exley is teaching a class at the University of Pittsburgh that examines the close ties between Samurai film (Chanbara) and Westerns. The meeting of two pioneering genres often creates new and exciting films, something that Dr. Exley is covering in class. With close attention being paid to the works of Akira Kurosawa, the class covers a wide variety of films throughout the years. From Yojimbo (1961) to Star Wars: Episode 1–The Phantom Menace (1999), the class explores how the mixing of the genres has changed and how Western ideals are expressed in Japanese cinema and vice versa. Tropes of both genres are analyzed in the class and discussions are had about their overall impact on the “canon” in their given social contexts.

The class is a great way for anyone interested in film, or just interested in the genres, to watch and analyze some serious classics. It also provides some excellent insights into how general culture interprets and interacts with media. Samurai films offer a brilliant look into the film culture of Japan from the 50s up to the present day, granting us some ways of recontextualizing and understanding certain events in Japanese history (and giving us new ways to understand the films that come out of those periods). Westerns are much the same, really laying the American mindset bare for all to see and directly engaging cultural trends and movements. Dr. Exley touches on all of these in the class. I hope the rest of the semester will continue to be as riveting and enthralling as these first four weeks.

Event Recap: Asian Studies Center x Global Hub’s Lunar New Year Celebration

By Weiping Xiao, Asian Studies Center Chinese Social Media Intern

LUNAR NEW YEAR CELEBRATION

On Friday, January 24th, the Asian Studies Center and Global Hub hosted a Lunar New Year Celebration. As a Chinese international student, I couldn’t help but think of home when I was helping setup the event. Lunar New Year is one of the most important holidays in mainland China.

It was a rainy day, but everyone was enthusiastic. We started preparing for the event at 11 AM. I picked up pork and vegetable dumplings from the Chinese restaurant, Szechuan Express. Meanwhile, other staff members laid out candy and snacks, decorated the Global Hub, and cut out paper templates for crafts. The large screens started showing the Lunar New Year video specially prepared for the event.

After the preparations were complete, the Global Hub became a magnet for those walking in Posvar Hall and grabbed the attention of a lot of people. The large screens showed the Lunar New Year video specially prepared for the event. A lot of people were interested in learning about the Chinese zodiac, too.

I think the Lunar New Year Celebration was a success. Attendees seemed to have a lot of fun and really enjoyed the crafts and food. Thanks to the Asian Studies Center and Global Hub, the Pitt community was able to celebrate a very important holiday in the newly renovated space.

Event Recap: Susan Lieu’s “140 LBS: HOW BEAUTY KILLED MY MOTHER”

By Jenn Nguyen, Asian Studies Center Communications & Media Intern

On Friday, January 10th, the Vietnamese Student Association (VSA) at the University of Pittsburgh had the honor of welcoming Susan Lieu, a Vietnamese-American playwright, activist, and actress, to campus. Lieu is currently on a 10-city nationwide tour for her play “140 LBS: HOW BEAUTY KILLED MY MOTHER,” which tells the unfortunate true story of how her mother passed away during her childhood due to plastic surgery malpractice. The play, performed in the Charity Randall Theater, had the most minimalistic setup possible. The bare stage used a white projection screen and one wooden chair. This simplistic setup wasn’t unique to the Pittsburgh show – Lieu uses only these two props to ensure that her trek across the country is as light as possible. Nevertheless, her quick scene changes aided by background music and videos and photos propped on the projection screen keep audiences attentive.

The show talks about more than just the death of Lieu’s mother. It explores Vietnamese folklore and the cultural practice of spirit channeling, the consequences of strict beauty standards, how Lieu’s family attempted to conceal the death from conversations and questions, and Lieu’s own thoughts on motherhood, as she is currently pregnant with her first child. Spirit channeling, an aspect of Vietnamese culture I was unaware about, is the practice of people summoning deceased loved ones to communicate with those still alive. It gives a sense of comfort and reassurance to those missing their loved ones. If I could describe the play in one word, I’d say “vulnerable.” During the show, there was crying and sniffling from both Lieu and audience members. Sometimes, there was genuine laughter at small jokes included in character dialogues. I loved the show for its rawness and authenticity. Lieu did not attempt to portray herself as a tough person who trudged through her mother’s death nor was she afraid to hide how scared she was to soon be a mother herself. I’m glad I was able to attend the show, which made me think about my own experiences as a Vietnamese-American.

Interview with Pitt to You Mentees and Ambassadors

By Qinnuo (Emma) Li, Asian Studies Center International Associate

With the new cohort of Chinese international students arriving to the University of Pittsburgh for the 2019-2020 academic year, the Pitt to You program is currently in its second phase. Pitt to You, which connects student ambassadors who serve as mentors to international Chinese students, fosters cultural exchange and adjustment for those transitioning to college abroad.

In September, ambassadors and their mentees had a reunion at the William Pitt Union (WPU). Since the mentees have been at Pitt, their ambassadors have introduced them to the campus lifestyle, introduced them to friends, and shown them around Pittsburgh. During the reunion, our international associate, Emma, and Pitt to You program coordinator, Bliss, conducted a few brief interviews between ambassadors and their mentees to learn about both sides’ experiences. The following interviews have been edited for clarity.

Kai Lin Lee, a pre-med junior majoring in anthropology and political science and minoring in history, Kevin, a freshmen majoring in urban studies, and Fredrick, a freshman, are part of this year’s Pitt to You cohort. Kai Lin Lee is Kevin and Fredrick’s ambassador.

What did you enjoy the most about your trip to China?

Kai Lin: It was so incredible to meet so many new students that would soon be attending Pitt. Traveling aboard was incredible, too. Getting to visit the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, and other historical sites was amazing.

What was the biggest challenge in China?

Kai Lin: The biggest challenge was definitely not having great connection to cellular data and internet. If we weren’t paying attention to the signs around us, we easily got lost. I also tried to sharpen my Chinese reading skills during the trip, which was challenging yet rewarding.

What did you find most helpful about the Pitt to You program in China?

Fredrick: The Pitt to You program allowed me to preview the campus and school life. I was also able to develop some basic understanding about how college works in the United States, which allowed me to stay ahead during the school year. Guidance and help from upperclassmen, especially as a freshman, was useful, too.

Kevin: For me, being able to meet these mentors and faculty members before we arrived at Pitt helped a lot. It allowed us to familiarize ourselves with the college environment and neighborhood.

What is your biggest challenge at Pitt so far?

Fredrick: There are so many activities that you can participate in on campus! It’s very difficult to make a choice of what clubs to join and how exactly to immerse myself.

Kevin: For me, it’s difficult to find where the elevators are in each building. At Pitt, they’re always hidden behind some huge pillar, so I often unknowingly pass by them.

As part of the Pitt to You program, what are you most looking forward to this semester?

Kevin: I think more activities, especially ones that allow me to hangout with friends and explore the city more.

Fredrick: Yeah, I agree. Our mentor introduced us to a lot in the city and the school, but personally, I don’t have enough free time to explore these areas in-depth. It would be great if we could get together sometime in the future.

Kai Lin: Yeah, following those ideas, I am super excited to take you guys to interesting places, like art museums and a shooting range. Whenever you guys want to know more about the city – even small local attractions – we can check them out!

Eryn McCormick, a senior majoring in industrial engineering and minoring in economics, David Wu, a freshman, and Zhen Wu, a freshman majoring in computer science are part of the current Pitt to You cohort. Eryn McCormick is David and Zhen’s ambassador.

What did you enjoy the most about your trip to China?

Eryn: I really enjoyed immersing myself within a new culture, learning about China’s architecture, and learning about its history. It was great to see the Forbidden City. However, my favorite days were whenever I was able to hang out with my mentees, get to know them, and explore all these sites with them, as well. I also really enjoyed the food – I liked the soup dumplings a lot!

What was the biggest challenge in China?

Eryn: The biggest challenge was trying to adjust to the food and the public transportation system, which was a little tough. Overall, there’s little nuances and trying to figure them out was the toughest situation I went through.

What did you find most helpful about the Pitt to You program in China?

David: The most helpful thing is probably getting to know some freshmen and upperclassmen in advance, befriending them, and staying in contact with them. Through this, they were able to give us suggestions on how to adjust to the school before we arrived and helped us feel more comfortable.

Zhen: Yeah, I had the same idea – getting to know more people and make more friends helped a lot. It allowed me to feel more familiar with the school, the city, and culture here.

What is your biggest challenge at Pitt so far?

David: My biggest challenge is arriving to class on time, especially for those held in different buildings because some are very far from each other. I am not used to it yet – you know, running a mile in 10 minutes in 10 AM in the morning [laughs].

Zhen: What’s difficult part for me is finding the right directions to go to classes every day. I’ll often have to use Google Map.

As part of the Pitt to You program, what are you most looking forward to this semester?

Zhen: I think I’m most looking forward to exploring the school and the city more. By familiarizing myself with the area, especially the campus and its resources, I can find out what I like academically and find the right track for myself.

David: I’m most excited about attending more events with my group and hanging out with them more.

Eryn: I am looking forward to not only continuing getting to know my mentees but everyone else in the program, as well. There are some cool events coming up, such as the annual Light Up Night in downtown. That would be very cool to show them.

I was an RA last year, and I missed having the opportunity to program events for people. I am looking forward to constructing events for me and my mentees to do. I am thinking of hosting a little dinner at my house in a couple of weeks to let them relax and hang out and talk to them about how things are going.

An Interview with Kirsten Strayer: Screenshot: Asia Programming Coordinator

The following interview is between Kirsten Strayer, Asian Studies Center staff member and programming coordinator for Screenshot: Asia, and Communications & Media intern, Jenn Nguyen. Strayer is thrilled about the recent launch and expansion of Screenshot: Asia, the Asian Studies Center and Film & Media Studies partnership to deliver Asian-American and American cinema to Pittsburgh. To learn more about Screenshot: Asia, spread the word, or donate, please visit engage.pitt.edu/screenshotasia.

How did you start working at the Asian Studies Center?

I helped run Silk Screen, an Asian and Asian-American film festival, in 2018. Subsequently, the organization folded. Lynn Kawaratani, one of the staffers at the Asian Studies Center, was an advisory board member for Silk Screen, and a few people at Pitt, including herself, were really invested in the idea of preserving Asian and Asian-American film in Pittsburgh. We were in conversation off and on with the Film and Media Studies Program until, finally, the Asian Studies Center was able to gather the materials to put on our own Asian and Asian-American film series at Pitt with them.

What do you specialize in at Pitt and at the Asian Studies Center?

At the Asian Studies Center, I specialize in programming all of the media, film, and film associated and media associated partnerships. It’s a bunch of everything – I write grants to help with the launch of the Screenshot: Asia festival, manage all of the films that come in during the year and work with Lynn and other faculty members to choose some films, and oversee all of the nuts and bolts stuff for the festival.

My technical specialty is global cinema. I have a PhD in film, and I’ve published on a bunch of different global moments in different places to invoke answers to questions about circulation. For example, I researched and wrote about how film circulated in the 70’s throughout Latin America, global Bollywood, and the contemporary film movement in the post-20th and 21st centuries.

What region do you think produces the best films?

I mean, I think they’re all so different. I’m very attached to Latin America and Mexico, obviously, because I wrote my dissertation on that region. I think film scholars are coming to terms with the idea of how there have been networks in Latin America, Africa, and Asia since the beginning of film, so if I had to choose, I’d say my favorite region for film is the southern half of the world. If I had to choose one specific region, I’d say Latin America, for sure.

You talked a little bit about Silk Screen. Can you explain exactly what the program was, and how that led you to create Screenshot: Asia?

Silk Screen was an organization dedicated to promoting Asian art and culture in Pittsburgh and was around for about 12 years until its closing. When I was there, I learned a lot about both contemporary Asian film and what was going on in the Asian film industry and the nuts and bolts of running a film festival, which is really hard and a huge time commitment. I really wanted to bring those skills to Pitt in hopes of launching an even bigger project.

For Screenshot: Asia, are you partnering with a professor in the Film and Media Studies Program or moreso with the department as a whole?

We have an executive committee, which consists of Seung-hwan Shin, Kun Qian, Charles Exley, and Neepa Majumdar. They’re basically the people that work most extensively on Asian film, but the director of the Film and Media Studies Program who is currently on sabbatical, Randall Halle, is most engaged with the series. We’ve worked with Halle a lot. He’s most excited about having a constant art and film presence in Pittsburgh and transforming the city into a place that has entertaining movies always being streamed, especially on the weekends.

The question is, “How do we take all of these celebrations – the Polish film festival, projects at Carnegie Mellon University, and the Pittsburgh Shorts film festival – and create a more coherent understanding of the arts?” Halle has a big vision for arts programming in Pittsburgh, and the Asian Studies Center tightly works with him to turn his vision into a tangible product.

What are your current favorite Asian and Asian-American films?

It’s really hard to choose one favorite. For Asian films, I love In the Mood for Love (2000) and 2046 (2004), which are both from Hong Kong. In The Mood for Love is so beautiful. I love the main actor, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, and how gorgeous and immense the film is. In general, I like every genre of film.

I love a lot of Asian classics, too, which includes anything by Japanese film directors Akira Kurosawa and Yasuijro Ozu. I love Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well (1960), in particular, which is based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Kurosawa is the master of black-and-white film. You have to remember, Asia is so big, which means Asian film encompasses such a variety of countries and genres. I’m a fan of Iranian film, too. Some of the best projects are from Iran. It’s as if the whole world is in Asia, in certain ways.

As for Asian-American films, I love H.P. Mendoza’s Bitter Melon (2018), which was aired at Silk Screen last year. It’s a hilarious yet dark comedy about a Filipino family in San Francisco. The movie is one of the smartest takes on the contemporary Asian-American experience that I’ve seen. I’d love to screen it again for the Pitt community.