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.
The Pitt to You project matches new students from China with student ambassadors on campus to help them adapt to the university life. Since 2016, hundreds of students have participated in the Pitt to You project. In previous years, we will organize student ambassadors to China to meet with freshmen in mid-June. We organized three-day events in Shanghai and Beijing respectively. On the first day, we organized a meeting for freshmen and parents, and there was also an alumni reception to provide offline Q&A opportunities. On the second and third days, the freshmen will lead the student ambassadors to learn about China’s historical sites, such as the Great Wall and the Summer Palace. At the same time, new students and student ambassadors will be organized in a coffee shop or teahouse to enter into a deeper exchange.
Due to the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic, for the health and safety of students and participants, we use online meetings instead of the in-person meeting. In June of this year, student ambassadors welcome the new students through an online orientation meeting. After the orientation meeting, students have the opportunity to communicate with a student ambassador to help them adapt to university life. (Information from P2U website)
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.
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.
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!
By Paris Yamamoto, Communications and Media Intern
During my pre-departure orientation, I was told many things, but there are some things that only study abroad students can experience. So here are my 5 things:
Keep your head on a swivel when you walk on the sidewalks. As comfortable and as safe as it is to walk around Shanghai, I never walked around with headphones because my first and most vivid memory of my study abroad experience in Shanghai is stepping off of the elevated walkway and almost getting run over by a moped. When I got there, the program directors told us that the most dangerous thing we should do while you are there is cross the street, and they were correct.
Talk to the program directors. The program directors spend a lot of time in Shanghai and they know a lot about the city. They have favorite malls, favorite coffee/tea shops, favorite parks, and insights into the city from the perspective of someone who was also once foreign to the area. The program directors are also there to help you make the most of your time abroad and they understand that it is sometimes difficult to adapt to the new environment.
Network with the people who are not from Pitt. Pitt in Shanghai is the Pitt specific program, but the program is combined with other schools through the private study abroad organization CET Academic Programs. There were students from the University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina, Johns Hopkins University, James Madison University, and many more. It is very easy to get stuck in the Pitt bubble, but I can say with 100% certainty that meeting people from all of the other universities was a huge part of my study abroad experience.
WeChat is your best friend. Program directors told us that we would need WeChat for the program, but I did not realize that WeChat would be the only way I would be communicating with anyone for the next two months. Unfortunately, that also meant I did not talk to my family for essentially the entire summer. If you want to have steady communication with anyone in the US during your time in China, get them to download WeChat. WeChat is also Instagram, Facebook, Venmo, and Uber all in one convenient little app.
Credit/debit cards are essentially useless in China. Unless the store is an international chain, you will generally not be able to use your American credit/debit card. In China, everyone connects their Chinese bank account to either their WeChat or their Alipay. You probably will not make a Chinese bank account just to study abroad, so the best course of action would probably be to get an international credit/debit card so you can withdraw money from official ATMs without a ridiculous withdraw fee. Note: only withdraw money from the official bank ATMs because it is not uncommon for unofficial ATMs to have unofficial/unusable bills.
While COVID-19 has made studying abroad impossible for this semester, exploring different study abroad opportunities early on is a great way to find the most suitable study abroad program to fit your needs. What better time to do it than now! You might just have begun the Asian Studies Certificate or have almost completed the requirements but regardless, it is never too early to start planning.
Studying abroad in another country might seem daunting but from a fellow study abroad alumni myself, the experience is 100% worth it. Because of Pitt’s unique end date for the spring semester, if studying abroad for a semester cannot fit in your schedule consider a Maymester. There are tons of programs offered at Pitt but to name a few offered in Asia there is Pitt in the Himalayas, Pitt in the Pacific, and Pitt’s Healthcare Delivery in Beijing.
Ever since COVID-19 hit the US in early March, I reminisced on my past study abroad program: Pitt’s Healthcare Delivery in Beijing, and realized how impactful it has been from then till now. It has shaped my perspective of Chinese society, allowed me to understand the structural framework of China’s healthcare system, and has provided me the opportunity to interact with multiple professionals while immersed in an unfamiliar environment. I experienced the unimaginable. I walked alongside the wild parts of the Great Wall of China while learning about local medicinal herbs found in the natural environment, interacted with doctors practicing Traditional Chinese Medicine in public hospital settings but also specialized clinics, conversed with local Taxi drivers from topics such as air pollution to even English proficiency within society that fluctuate based on the initiatives set forth by the government (such as the Beijing Olympics), and even engaged with the local student population on campus and learned about their difficulties in college and their program of study. I came into the program without knowing what to expect except for the basics but after the month-long stay, I realized how fulfilling of an experience studying abroad truly is. If any of these experiences sound fascinating or something you would want to have as a part of your college experience, then study abroad is for you!
For those interested in study abroad but want to know more than what is provided by the program description found at Pitt’s Study Abroad website, I made a short 9 minute video a couple months ago when COVID-19 hit on my personal experience studying abroad in Beijing, China that includes the historical sites visited, classroom content, free time outside of the classroom, and visits to different hospitals (NOTE: first time making a video with no intention of making one to begin with so I had to work with what I managed to scrap up from 2 years ago, hence the quality of some of the media): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5C5Jg_9bQu0
According to Pittwire News, due to the Covid 19 epidemic, the University of Pittsburgh’s fall 2020 term has undergone many adjustments to help keep the entire Pitt community safe and healthy. The Flex@Pitt concept allows for in-person, remote, synchronous and asynchronous approaches to courses that will build on the innovative ways that instructors have already adapted to the ever-changing learning environment this year. Meanwhile, instructors post the latest news related to the subject via Canvas. Students can also use Canvas to complete discussions and interact with other students or instructors. These changes and innovations in teaching methods provide a better interactive platform for students and instructors.
First of all, we got some thoughts on teaching online from Pitt faculty:
Bliss Hou (Chinese Language Instructor): Compared with traditional face-to-face instruction, remote language courses limit the interaction between teachers and students, and the overall difficulty for beginners has increased. In addition, the uncontrollable factors of the Internet and technology occasionally cause interruptions or delays during the class. However, it is worthwhile to be happy that my lovely students and I are reaching a tacit understanding, and we will have more patience for each other.
James (History Professor): I much prefer face-to-face classes because it builds a true humane spirit between students and professor. For professors, converting a class to online instruction is very challenging. Also, we cannot have large group discussions. Nonetheless I think the University has done a good job in the design and function of the Flex@Pitt platform. It protects the entire Pitt community.
Then, let’s take a look at some Chinese international students’ feelings and thoughts on the fall online courses this semester:
Liang (undergraduate student): I am in the U.S. right now. The online courses make me feel very fulfilled. I spend more time asking questions and making conversations in professor’s office hours. However, I need more time to study after classes. In this situation, I feel more stressful to study than before. Besides, the study time becomes tenser, causing me to lose part of my entertainment time.
Ge (undergraduate student): Although the efficiency of class discussion, the choice of class activities, and the form of homework have been affected, online courses are currently the most stable and reliable way to ensure the health and education of our students. This new teaching method is absolutely necessary to continue under the current epidemic situation.
Zang (graduate student): Compared with the online courses, I prefer the in-person class more. I feel we have less communication and talk with each other less than before. Besides, the internet problem also affects the learning quality. However, in order to fix this problem, we add more group meeting via zoom to improve the learning after class.
Li (graduate student): I feel the online course are a better fit for me. First of all, I feel safer and more comfortable to study at my home. Secondly, I can watch the recorded video of classes whenever I have any questions about the courses. I feel there’s no difference between the in-person and online courses because of the function of “sharing screen” and “group discussion separation”. Besides, the discussion board could provide more opportunities for me to communicate and share ideas with other students.
By Anthony Gavazzi, Asian Studies Center Global Ambassador
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.
By Jenn Nguyen, Asian Studies Center Communications & Media Intern
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.
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.
By Weiping Xiao, Asian Studies Center Chinese Social Media Intern
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.
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.