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There and Back Again: The Resurgence of Vietnamese at Carolina in DAMES

June 14, 2021

Exciting news, everyone! Vietnamese is back!

Vietnamese at Carolina: A Look Back

The last year DAMES offered Vietnamese classes prior to the upcoming fall semester was the 2005-2006 academic year. Once taught by Professor Emeritus Eric Henry, Vietnamese was eventually phased out of the curriculum as interest in the Chinese language program boomed and funds were rerouted to support that growing interest. Dr. Henry, who also taught Chinese, was compelled to devote his time to teaching Chinese language and content courses. His other courses about Vietnamese culture, like “The Social History of Popular Music in East Asia” and “Introduction to Vietnamese Culture through Music and Narrative,” became fond memories for alums of the program.

Dr. Henry retired in 2012. He still visits campus often, however, and maintains a steady presence at local cafes and coffee shops. He’d doubtless be delighted to know that Vietnamese is rekindling within the department, soon to enthrall a new generation of college students.

What’s next for Vietnamese?

Starting this fall, DAMES will be offering VIET 101 and, in the spring, VIET 102, both semesters of Elementary Vietnamese. Next fall we’ll also be offering VIET 203 (Intermediate Vietnamese) in tandem with Elementary Vietnamese, which means that anyone who starts taking Vietnamese in Fall 2021 will be able to take the courses necessary to fulfill their foreign language requirement.

After that, only the horizon awaits. As always, student enrollment, interest, and funding will determine the path forward for Vietnamese, and with luck, Dr. Henry will pay the new classes an occasional visit to provide invaluable wisdom for the program’s future success.

News of DAMES Alums!

June 11, 2021

Have you ever wondered what DAMES alums are up to? Now you can know! Here are updates from DAMES alums Erin Posas and Matt Coss, both 2016 grads!

Fun fact: This picture of Matt and Erin was taken at another class of 2016 DAMES alumnus’s (James Williams) wedding!

After nearly five years as a consultant working first with the public sector and then, for the last six months, working in the firm’s global office to improve her company’s internal sustainability efforts, Erin will be starting a Master of Science in Environment and Sustainability with a concentration in Environmental Justice at the University of Michigan.

Erin said of her plans: “I want to spend my career driving racial and socioeconomic equity in environmental policy and planning across the private and public sectors, both locally and internationally. At my time at UNC, the Asian Studies department afforded me irreplaceable opportunities, from language study to study abroad, which helped me become a world citizen. The Asian Studies department aided me again recently with a recommendation for my graduate studies applications (thank you so much, Dr. Visser!). I continue my journey now toward becoming a citizen of the planet, able to pair science with multilingual and intercultural abilities in pursuit of a greener, more just world.”

Matt completed a master’s degree in Second Language Acquisition at the University of Maryland and worked for four years at the National Foreign Language Center developing materials for learners and teachers of critical languages (including Chinese, Arabic, Hindi, Farsi, etc.). During and after his MA, Matt taught Chinese at both Georgetown and (currently) George Washington University, where he has also successfully proposed and taught three new courses and is actively involved in both undergraduate and MA programs. Matt will be starting his PhD in Second Language Studies at Michigan State University, focusing on instructed (classroom-based) second language acquisition—learning, teaching, and assessment of second languages! After graduation, Matt hopes to take an academic job where he can combine his passions for language teaching (Chinese and Spanish!) and Applied Linguistics/Second Language Acquisition research.

“I continue to be so grateful to the Asian Studies department at UNC for helping build the foundation on which I’ve built my academic and professional career,” Matt said. “I am still frequently in touch with Professor Zhou (we have even collaborated on curriculum design and professional development events these past two years!), and frequently see other members of the Chinese faculty at conferences and other events, which is always so nice. I look forward to continued conversations and collaborations with Asian Studies and the Carolina Asia Center as I work through my PhD!”

Wrapping up 2021 with DAMES!

May 20, 2021

Though the 2020-2021 academic year brought challenges of the most unprecedented sort to our campus, classrooms (virtual!), and community, DAMES accomplished great things! Our students worked unbelievably hard. Our faculty rose to the occasion. We came together to work through hardship, and below are some highlights of our endeavors.

  • DAMES devoted most of its human resources to the significant challenge of remote teaching and learning in the fall and spring semesters, with great results. Claudia Yaghoobi, for example, connected one of her Persian studies classes to a classroom in Iran through the university’s new Connecting Carolina Classrooms with the World (CCCW) initiative.
  • We also worked hard in the fall semester to promote the launch of our new graduate program, and this spring we successfully recruited our first class of MA students.
  • DAMES received international attention for hosting an innovative and timely “Blackness in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies” speaker series; several of the events are available for streaming online.

Many of our faculty won awards!

  • Doria El Kerdany, Teaching Associate Professor of Arabic, won a Sitterson Teaching Award
  • Yuki Aratake, Teaching Professor of Japanese, won a Tanner Teaching Award
  • Professor Nadia Yaqub won a Senior Humanities Research Fellow at NYU-Abu Dhabi
  • Associate Professor Yaron Shemer won an Institute for the Arts and Humanities Faculty Fellowship
  • Assistant Professor Jonathan Kief won an Academy of Korean Studies Fellowship

Three of our students presented their honors theses at our yearly colloquium!

  • Faith Virago, “Gender in the Lives of Chinese Women: The Impact of Cross-Cultural Transitions to the US”
    Advisor: Li-ling Hsiao
  • Junqi Zhang, “The Reception of Thai Boys Love Series in China: Consumption, Imagination, and Friction”
    Advisor: Mark Driscoll
  • Thomas Curtis, “Minamoto no Yoshitsune: From History to Cultural Nationalism”
    Advisor: Morgan Pitelka

And last but certainly not least, we finished our Celebrating 40 Years: 40 for 40 campaign in December 2020, showcasing the achievements and adventures of our faculty, staff, students, and our alums.

2021 isn’t over. Fall is coming and we’re gearing up, as always, for new opportunities.

See you soon!

Virtual Event: On the Politics of Presence: Afro-Asia in the Age of Black Lives Matter

March 29, 2021

On the Politics of Presence: Afro-Asia in the Age of Black Lives Matter

with Dr. Marvin Sterling

Diandra Dwyer, UNC DAMES alumna and Tokyo-based filmmaker, Moderator

April 8th, 4pm

Marvin D. Sterling’s research centers on a range of Jamaican cultural expressions in Japan, including roots reggae, dancehall reggae, and Rastafari. He adopts several theoretical perspectives in this research. He uses performance studies, for instance, to ethnographically explore the dimensions of social power—such as gender, class and ethnic difference—that inform Japanese engagement with these cultural expressions. Japanese practitioners of these significantly Afrocentric cultural expressions afford analysis of how ideas of race and particularly blackness have been constructed and re-imagined in Japan and around the globe. In a more recent line of research, Sterling ethnographically explores the experiences of mixed-race peoples of Japanese and African descent as insight into the imagination of Japaneseness and blackness in Japan today. He is author of Babylon East: Performing Dancehall, Roots Reggae and Rastafari in Japan (Duke University Press, 2010).


Sponsored by the Department of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies, and co-sponsored by the Carolina Asia Center.

Maiko Masquerade: New Book by Professor Emerita Jan Bardsley!

March 10, 2021

Jan Bardsley’s new book Maiko Masquerade: Crafting Geisha Girlhood in Japan debuts this month from University of California Press.

What’s Maiko Masquerade about?

Maiko Masquerade explores Japanese representations of the maiko, or apprentice geisha, in films, manga, and other popular media as an icon of exemplary girlhood. Jan Bardsley traces how the maiko, long stigmatized as a victim of sexual exploitation, emerges in the 2000s as the chaste keeper of Kyoto’s classical artistic traditions. Insider accounts by maiko and geisha, their leaders and fans, show pride in the training, challenges, and rewards maiko face. No longer viewed as a toy for men’s amusement, she serves as catalyst for women’s consumer fun. This change inspires stories of ordinary girls—and even one boy—striving to embody the maiko ideal, engaging in masquerades that highlight questions of personal choice, gender performance, and national identity.

What inspired the book?

Maiko Masquerade draws on Jan Bardsley’s many years of teaching “Geisha in History, Fiction, and Fantasy,” which focused on the dynamics of cultural representation in Japan and abroad. She dedicates the book to her Carolina students.

Jan Bardsley

Jan remembers students asking at the end of the course, “What kinds of geisha stories exist these days in Japan?” This question inspired Jan to take up research in Kyoto. “Research quickly made me realize that maiko (apprentice geisha) were the focus of popular attention, not geisha.”

In Kyoto, even Pikachu enjoys maiko cosplay. Photo by Jennifer Prough, 2019.

As Kyoto’s mascot and character brand, maiko morph into kawaii objects of all kinds–candy, street signs, post-it notes. Japanese and international tourists cosplay as maiko. Actual maiko perform in Kyoto events and public dances.

Leading a UNC study abroad program in Osaka in 2011, Jan taught “Japanese Theater” and joined students on field trips to nearby Kyoto. “That semester gave me the chance to learn about contemporary geisha culture. I talked with artists, authors, and shop owners in the neighborhoods (hanamachi) where geisha live and work. I attended public dances and met geisha, maiko, and their supporters.”

Why study maiko?

Photographed in Kyoto, 2009, by Claudia Bignion. Wikimedia Commons.

“Maiko Masquerade is not an ethnography of actual young women working as maiko. Rather I analyze the messages about girlhood in Japan evident in popular media.” This is the first academic work on maiko and makes Japanese representations available to an English-speaking audience.

“I hope my students enjoy getting the answer to their questions about geisha and maiko stories in contemporary Japan, even though it took me almost fifteen years to get back to them,” says Jan.

Blogging about maiko and geisha culture

Retired after 25 years at UNC, Jan is trying her hand at writing a blog to tell the many stories that she could not fit into the book. “I take up maiko costuming, food culture, books and movies on the hanamachi—further analyzing the dynamics of representation and enjoying the diverse stories.” Jan welcomes visitors to her new blog!

Virtual Event: Dissecting Blackness in Early-Twentieth-Century Egypt

February 23, 2021

Down to the Bone: Dissecting Blackness in Early-Twentieth-Century Egypt

With Dr. Taylor Moore

Shreya Parikh, Ph.D Candidate in UNC Sociology, Moderator

March 18th, 4PM

Taylor M. Moore is a University of California Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow in the History Department at UC Santa Barbara. Her research lies at the intersections of critical race studies, decolonial/postcolonial histories of science, and decolonial materiality studies. Her manuscript-inpreparation, Superstitious Women: Race, Magic, and Medicine in Egypt, uses modern Egyptian amulets as an archive to reconstruct the magical and vernacular medical life-worlds of peasant women healers, and their critical role developing medico-anthropological expertise in Egypt from 1880-1950. Taylor’s work is invested in illuminating the occult(ed) networks, economies, and actors whose bodies and labor are generally rendered invisible in Eurocentric histories of global science.

Register here.

Sponsored by the Department of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies, and co-sponsored by the Carolina Asia Center and the UNC Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies.

Internationalizing DAMES Courses: Dr. Yaghoobi Builds Bridges between UNC and Iran

December 5, 2020

As part of UNC’s Connecting Carolina Classrooms with the World (CCCW) initiative, Dr. Claudia Yaghoobi of DAMES internationalized two of her courses in the Fall 2020 semester. What does that mean, you ask? It means global collaboration and incredible experiences: students in Dr. Yaghoobi’s UNC classes collaborated with students taking similar classes at Shiraz University and Shahid Beheshti University in Iran, joining forces on group projects, discussions, and more.

I interviewed Dr. Yaghoobi about her experiences this semester. Her responses are recorded below.

1) How did you go about connecting your UNC students with students in Iran?

I am teaching two classes this semester and both are collaborating with faculty in Iran: ASIA/CMPL258: Iranian Prison Literature and ASIA/CMPL256: Love in Classical Persian Poetry. In addition to class meetings and discussions, students also use Padlet for asynchronous discussions. We have put students in groups in which we have a few Iranian and a few American students. Each group has created their own means of communication outside of the classroom such as google hangouts or WhatsApp. They are also working on several projects collaboratively. Iranian Prison Literature students from the U.S. and Iran work in groups to prepare 15-minute presentations for which they collaborate to gather information, conduct research, and present their finding via a video recording. Their presentations are required to embody a comparative view of social or political injustices in the two countries. Iranian students focus on a specific case in the U.S., such as the injustices in the case of Breonna Taylor, and the American students explore a similar case of injustice in Iran. My Classical Persian Poetry students are assigned a poetry reading and a calligraphy assignment for which they collaborate with their Iranian counterparts. American students are to pick a line of poem from the books we have read in class and practice with Iranian students to learn how to recite them correctly. They will practice their lines and present via a video recording at the end of the semester. For Calligraphy assignment again, American students work with Iranian counterparts to practice writing a line of poetry in Persian.

(Click here to download a video of Dr. Yaghoobi’s students practicing calligraphy!)

(You can also download this video of her students reciting poetry!)

2) What goals were you hoping to accomplish/what experiences were you hoping to give your students through the program?

The collaborative nature of this grant has enriched my capacity to teach comparatively and incorporate perspectives from both Iran and the U.S. For instance, in my Iranian Prison Literature class, which focuses on Iranian literature written in prisons or about prisoners, particularly under the Islamic Republic, we read novels and watch films around the topics of social justice, human rights, and judiciary system of Iran. The collaboration with Iranian faculty and students has allowed us to explore judicial system and social justice, particularly the current protests regarding racism in the U.S. to provide students with a rare comparative perspective. During class meetings, we analyze the ways that literature, film, and related textual practices have the ability to reframe the debates on social justice, prison torture, law enforcement and race, incarcerations, and violation of human rights. Our goal is to offer students from Iran to learn about Black Lives Matter and anti-racist protests in the U.S. and simultaneously to provide American students with a learning experience about the judicial injustices and prison conditions in Iran. Ultimately, we ask students from both countries to come up with tools and means that can help them to address the injustices of their respective countries by examining the same or similar violations of human rights in the other country.

3) What were your students’ reactions to the program? How about the students in Iran? What did they think of it?

Students on both sides have expressed extreme appreciation for being able to hear various authentic voices on the topics of discussion in each class. The best outcome of this collaborative teaching is that it allows students to see the nuances and multilayered factors that intersect for social injustices to occur in each respective country. Students comment on each other’s statements and respond to one another while we, the two faculty, facilitate the conversation and try to guide them in the right direction. The space given to students to lead the conversation (while moderated) is the most important aspect of this collaborative experience.

One student said, “I truly enjoyed having the opportunity to interact with the students in Iran this semester. It was such a privilege to be able to learn from them, and I’m so grateful that you set up this opportunity for our class this semester.”

4) Do you think the program was influenced at all, positively or negatively, by COVID-19?

Generally speaking, for students not to be on ground in the country of their focus, they obviously miss out on many cultural and social aspects of that country. However, in the case of Iran and my classes, since we do not have a study abroad program in Iran, I strongly believe that this was a rare and unique experience for my students. I have already been asked if I will continue such collaborations post- COVID-19. This collaborative teaching allowed me to provide my students with the “humanity” of Iran rather than what they see on news or social media. They have made friends with Iranian youth and are excited to maintain their friendships. Since they are all passionate about the same topics, they are also thinking of ways to collaborate post-fall semester.

Making Language Learning Meaningful: Project-Based Language Learning (PBLL) for Chinese Language Classes with Professor Zhou

December 4, 2020

The idea of doing something meaningful with my students this semester originated partially from a request email from Christy Parrish, the program manager of the Kidzu Children’s Museum in Chapel Hill. Before fall semester started, she asked for student translators to serve the large and active local Chinese/Mandarin-speaking community, with the possible collaboration of forming lasting partnerships that would create strong experiential opportunities for UNC students.

Kidzu’s need for translating a series of children’s books (mostly from Oxford Owl) fits well with the standards of project-based language learning (PBLL), an approach intended to engage language learners with real-world issues, meaningful target language use, and encourage cooperative learning.

This translation work is at the right level for my Chinese students as well, because the language in these children’s books is in simple or connected sentences that students could practice for the whole semester. With this in mind, I decided to have this translating opportunity as the final project for my Chinese 305 students.

The students seemed excited about the project, not to mention motivated, as it was focused on hands-on learning experiences or processes involving challenging and complex work. Students started information-gathering about writers, refreshing grammar/vocabulary. Then they had meet-ups with a Chinese speaker for scaffolding, instructor feedback for revisions, and finally told stories of the translated books to classmates and audiences from the Chinese community. Moving away from rote learning and memorization, incorporating students actively using language skills, and reaching out to a wider audience beyond the instructional setting is essential to learning a foreign language.

I was very impressed by the projects done by my students and I’m so proud of their achievements!

DAMES Greatness: Arabic Alum to Rhodes Scholar

December 4, 2020

A Morehead-Cain Scholar, Carolina Honors laureate and member of Phi Beta Kappa, Sarah Mackenzie graduated from Carolina in 2020 with degrees in public policy and global studies and a minor in Arabic from the College of Arts & Sciences. She was an active member of Campus Y’s Criminal Justice Awareness Action Group and the Community Empowerment Fund. Mackenzie also served as an honor court member and teaching assistant in the global studies department. She was one of 11 Canadians selected for the honor on Nov. 23.

Carolina was the only university in the United States that Mackenzie applied to.

“I got to go visit Carolina as a Morehead-Cain finalist, and it was such a warm, beautiful, exciting space to be in,” said Mackenzie, who grew up in Calgary, Alberta. “When I was lucky enough to be offered the scholarship, I knew it would be an opportunity that I wouldn’t have at any other point in my life — to move to the South, go to a really amazing flagship public school and try something different with a unique program like Morehead-Cain.”

As a Tar Heel, Mackenzie pursued academic disciplines that allowed her to examine and work on issues relating to social justice, poverty alleviation and human rights — advocacy passions developed as a student at the United World College of the Adriatic in Italy.

After taking courses in economics and peace, war and defense at Carolina, Mackenzie landed on public policy as the major to prepare her to take on many of the world’s challenges.

“That felt like I was getting a lot of really important concrete research and analytical skills. At the same time, the work was grounded in real-world policy problems, and those were the things I cared about,” she said. “It just clicked that public policy felt like the happy medium between all the different things I cared about, and I just threw myself into public policy my junior spring and took exclusively public policy classes.”

When she wasn’t learning formally in the classroom, she was experiencing the real-world implications of public policy as a volunteer in the community. For all four years at Carolina, Mackenzie volunteered with the Community Empowerment Fund, a nonprofit in Chapel Hill working to end the racial wealth gap by helping community members transition out of homelessness and poverty. Mackenzie worked directly with community members to provide support and assisted in case management for fellow student advocates.

That experience, paired with internships in South Africa, New York and Washington, D.C., fueled her public policy interest.

“I felt personally invested in and put faces to the problems that I was reading about or studying. Too often in public policy, there’s a lack of awareness and concern for those most affected,” Mackenzie said. “Having the conversations and the work experience with people who were affected by the policies that I was interested in and studying felt important and very formative.”

Since graduating in May, Mackenzie has worked as a Thomas W. Ross North Carolina Leadership Fellow in Carolina’s public policy department and is currently a client advocate for the Center for Appellate Litigation in New York City. She has long-term plans of becoming a public defender.

Her stop at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, she said, will prepare her to be a better lawyer.

“Going to law school is obtaining a tool to be able to enact change if you want to do that, but you can’t use that tool without understanding the interaction between law and society — in particular law and marginalized people,” she said. “In order to use law effectively, you need to be able to evaluate and understand that.”

As a Rhodes Scholar, she plans to study social policy and interventions but is most looking forward to the community of scholars that she would be joining.

“The reason I’m so drawn to the Rhodes is because it’s a community of people who are dedicated to the same types of questions I’m asking myself and that I’ve encountered over my time at Carolina, but approached from different disciplines and different life experiences,” she said. “I think the opportunity to see beyond my own discipline in public policy and have really rich intellectual collaborations with other scholars is really exciting.”

Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz said of Sarah’s excellence, “This incredible achievement is a testament to… Sarah’s hard work and dedication at Carolina. The Rhodes Scholarship is one of the highest honors bestowed upon our students, and I congratulate [her] on this opportunity to pursue [her] dreams at Oxford.”

One Street Away: Alumna Sarah Smith

November 25, 2020

You don’t have to go far from New West to find DAMES greatness. I recently interviewed Sarah Smith, DAMES alum from the class of 2010, who does mighty deeds just across the street in the famed Campus Y. Read on to find out what Sarah is up to these days!

1) Tell me about you! 

My name is Sarah Smith and I currently serve as the Director of the Global Gap Year Fellowship housed in the Campus Y. I’m a North Carolina native having lived in many parts of the state but most recently calling the Triangle home.

2) What was undergrad like for you here in DAMES? Did you have any favorite classes, moments, experiences, etc.?

I never knew I had a passion for Asian Studies until I came to UNC. I am from a rural town in Eastern NC and had done very little traveling. I was selected to join the Southeast Asian Summer Program (SEAS) between my first and second years at UNC. When I found myself on this incredible trip, my eyes were opened to beautiful and complex cultures that felt so different from my own. We spent time in Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia and I felt like I had only skimmed the surface of all there was to learn about the enormous continent of Asia.

I came back to UNC with a passion for Asian cultures and wanted to continue to learn more. A dear friend of mine talked me in to joining her for Hindi-Urdu classes during my second year at UNC (with Professor Afroz Taj). I had finished my language credit for UNC with Spanish, but really wanted to diversify my language skills. I enjoyed those courses so much that I applied and was selected to be a Phillips Ambassador and to spend a summer in India. As a result, I joined Professor Taj and Professor John Caldwell for the Summer in India Study Abroad program in 2008. I learned so much during that summer and have fond memories of exploring Delhi, Agra, Aligarh, and Rishikesh with them! John and Afroz made learning so much fun and I’ve made friends from that trip that I keep up with today.

(Sarah on her Summer in India adventure in 2008!)

(Another photograph from Sarah’s adventure, featuring Dr. Afroz Taj [center] and former DAMES professor Dr. Rachana Umashankar [left].)

3) What inspired you to pursue a minor with us? 

Once I returned to UNC after my summer in India, I realized that I was well on my way to a minor in Asian Studies. So, I officially declared my minor and continued to take class in DAMES for my remaining 2 years. I graduated in May of 2010 with a Major in Anthropology and minors in Asian Studies and Social & Economic Justice.

4) What did you do after you graduated? Was it what you expected/wanted?

Immediately after graduation I began a role with the Carolina Center for Public Service as a Student Services Specialist. In this role, I worked closely with students who were volunteering in communities locally and abroad. It was during this time that I began to develop a real passion for empowering students to make positive change in their communities. I knew from my time at UNC and with DAMES that I was also interested in culture and learning more about becoming a global citizen. So, once I finished my time at CCPS, I pursued a master’s degree in International Peace Studies at Trinity College Dublin in Dublin, Ireland. I was fortunate enough to be selected as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar which helped me cover the cost of tuition and embed myself into the local community in Dublin. I ended up staying in Dublin for 2 years and took on a welfare support role in my second year for graduate students. One of my favorite parts of that job was supporting fellow international students including many from Asia. My background and knowledge of Asian languages and cultures served me well that in role.

5) Do you feel as though your experience in DAMES helps you now, in your current career?

My experience in DAMES allowed me to expand my knowledge and understanding of Asian cultures which helps me immensely in my current role. As the Director of the Global Gap Year Fellowship I work closely with students to design a gap year experience that helps them fit their own goals both personally and professionally. Every year, students chose to explore Asia and I’m able to advise them and coach them based on my very personal, firsthand knowledge of the region. Over my time in this role, I have worked with several students who, like me, come from a rural background and limited travel experience. I feel that in some (small) ways, I’m able to pay forward the opportunities that were given to me through DAMES and UNC Global. Some of these students have gone on to major in Chinese and Korean or minor in Asian Studies or another Asian language. Many of them study abroad in Asia later in their UNC career and several have earned FLAS or Phillips Ambassadorial Scholarships.

6) Do you have any advice you’d like to give future students interested in minoring in DAMES?

I would encourage students interested in DAMES to go for it! Even if others may be discouraging you because they don’t see a linear connection between that and your career goals. If you have an interest in Asian or Middle Eastern culture and language, UNC is an incredible place to explore that curiosity. We have an extremely knowledgeable faculty who are ready and excited to impart their own research and expertise to their students. Also, the staff support at DAMES is second to none. You will feel supported and like you are a part of a community bigger than yourself.