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Lini Polin’s CHIN 441 Class Celebrates the Lunar New Year

February 16, 2023
Ms. Bonnie Wang from Durham Academy, Lini Polin’s students from CHIN 441, and Durham Academy students pose with a dragon during the Lunar New Year celebration at the Kidzu Children’s Museum. Photo credit to Ms. Bonnie Wang.

Happy Lunar New Year, everyone! Speaking of the Lunar New Year, I recently interviewed Teaching Professor Lini Polin, whose CHIN 441 class participated in a local celebratory event for the new year at the Kidzu Children’s Museum. Please enjoy the Q&A below!

Can you tell me more about your class’s role in the event, and the event itself?

The event at the Kidzu Children’s Museum was mainly organized by Ms. Bonnie Wang, Upper School Chinese teacher from Durham Academy, but three students from my CHIN 441 class went to help with interpreting during the Mandarin storytime about the Lunar New Year, and held the dragon with Ms. Wang’s students during a dragon dance demonstration.

What were you hoping your class would learn by participating in this event?

Supported by the UNC APPLES Service-learning Course Development Grant, this course provides students with a community-based learning experience that extends beyond the classroom. Using the bilingual skills and the translation/interpretation techniques learned in this course, each student will serve a minimum of 30 hours with a community partner during the semester.

I hope that the students would integrate academic content with the service experience and demonstrate the application of new knowledge/skills through their service in the community.

Had your students previously learned skills in your 441 class that they were able to apply during the event?

Since the spring semester only started a few weeks ago, students in the CHIN 441 class are currently learning fundamental concepts of translation and being engaged in class discussions regarding sentence-level translation. As the semester moves along, they will learn and practice more advanced translation and interpreting skills.

Who were your event collaborators?

For the service-learning component of the course, we are collaborating with Kidzu and the Seymour Center in Chapel Hill. Those students who do service-learning at Kidzu will also collaborate with Ms. Wang and her students from Durham Academy.

DAMES Welcomes New Staff Member, Trang Le!

February 8, 2023
Trang conquers all challenges, especially rock climbing!

Recently I interviewed Trang Le, the newest staff member here at DAMES! Trang arrives on the scene to fill an administrative support role upon which the department heavily relies, not to mention deeply appreciates, and we couldn’t be happier to see her!

Trang, please tell us about yourself! I know you’re a UNC alum. What was your major?

Hi! I graduated in May 2022 with a History (with an Asia focus!) and Human Development and Family Studies double major, and a Data Sciences minor. I’m not a stranger to DAMES! I took courses with Dr. Pitelka and Dr. Shields when I was a student.

Got any cool hobbies?

Rock climbing! I’m not good at most sports, but I tried this one and I wasn’t bad at it! I was a member of the UNC Rock Climbing Team during undergrad.

For those who want an insider’s opinion, what’s your favorite place on campus to hang out, and why? How about your favorite place to snack or study?

I like the Beach Café for the food options, and the second floor of the UL (interviewer’s note: Undergraduate Library) for the comfy chairs and the quiet.

Is there any particular attribute of the department that interested you about this job and made you apply for it? 

The nature of the job: it’s about Asia! I studied Asian history in college, and as someone who is Vietnamese, I’ve always been interested in studying Asia in the academic sense. The idea of being able to help this department grow and flourish really spoke to me.

You’ve worked here for a few months now. As a previous student and now a professional here in DAMES, has your perspective about the department changed?

My understanding of how a university department functions has definitely grown. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff I didn’t know about before. I’m only just now starting to figure out how it all works. I have more appreciation for all the moving parts!

Finally, what experiences are you hoping to have here at DAMES?

I’m excited to speak with the professors here about their research! I’m also excited to be able to take classes (here in the department) as an employee. Since a lot of my academic life as a student happened during COVID, I see my time here in DAMES as a second chance to experience UNC the way it deserves to be experienced: in person.

Trang Le, our newest staff member!

Israeli Poet Ronny Someck Visits Campus: “bridges between east and west”

January 25, 2023
Israeli poet Ronny Someck

Best-known living Israeli poet Ronny Someck (translated into 44 Languages!) read and discussed his poetry in a public event at UNC this past October, and visited Professor Shemer’s classes the following day. Our own John Caldwell read the poems in English following the Hebrew reading by the poet.

A recording of the main event is available on the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies’ YouTube channel.

Ronny Someck was born in Baghdad in 1951 and came to Israel as a young child. He has published 13 volumes of poetry (The last called “so much god “) and two books for children with Shirly Someck. He has been translated into 44 languages, including Arabic, French, Catalan, Albanian, Italian, Macedonian, Yiddish, Croatian, Nepali, Dutch, Danish, Portuguese, Spanish, German, Turkish, Russian, and English.

A Feminist Revolution in Iran: A Podcast with Dr. Yaghoobi, and more!

January 20, 2023
Dr. Yaghoobi recently shaved her head to show her solidarity with Iranian women.

Why have Iranian women been burning hijabs and leading protests ever since a 22-year-old Kurdish woman named Jîna Mahsa Amini died while in custody of Tehran morality police? Dr. Claudia Yaghoobi contextualizes their rage within 170 years of compulsory veiling—and unveiling—laws. Then, graphic designer Ghazal Foroutan shares how the revolution has turned art into activism and why Gen Z women are fearlessly fronting this fight.

Listen to the podcast here! 

Do you have questions about what’s happening in Iran right now? Dr. Yaghoobi spoke with The Well recently about the historic protests happening across the country, the incident that sparked them in the first place, and how they resonate with women around the world.

Check out The Well’s article here: Iran’s feminist social revolution rages on

Celebrating Rosh Hashanah with Professor Sprintzik!

September 28, 2022

Happy Second Day of Rosh Hashanah here in 2022, from Professor Hanna Sprintzik of our Hebrew program!

Professor Sprintzik says, “This Hebrew song is dedicated to all my students in all levels and ages, especially the children! It is about the Hebrew calendar being today the first day of the year, Alef in Tishrei of the 5783.”

Here are the 12 months on the Hebrew calendar:

Tishrei: תשרי
Chesvan: חשוון
Kislev: כסלו
Tevet: טבת
Shvat: שבט
Adar: אדר
Nisan: ניסן
Eyar: אייר
Sivan: סיוון
Tamuz: תמוז
Av: אב
Elul: אלול

Striding Forward at CMEIS: Dr. Yaghoobi

September 23, 2022

We are delighted to share the article below featuring our own Dr. Claudia Yaghoobi, who was recently appointed the new director of UNC-Chapel Hill Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies (CMEIS). A guiding light in our department for our faculty and students alike, Dr. Yaghoobi shows endless dedication here at UNC. We’re so proud of you!

Claudia Yaghoobi Expands Global Connections for Carolina Students

As the new director of the UNC-Chapel Hill Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies (CMEIS), Claudia Yaghoobi is eager to expand upon existing opportunities for students studying Middle Eastern and Persian studies, and to expand global partnerships with universities abroad.

Yaghoobi, a Roshan Institute Associate Professor, was appointed to her new role in April 2022 upon the retirement of Carl Ernst, CMEIS co-founder and co-director and professor of religious studies.

“Dr. Yaghoobi is a rising star in the field of Middle East cultural studies, and her fresh ideas and enthusiasm are reinvigorating the Center’s activities,” said Charles Kurzman, director of the North Carolina Consortium for Middle East Studies. CMEIS is a part of the Consortium, a collaboration between Duke University and the UNC-Chapel Hill.

CMEIS is more than an academic center for Yaghoobi. She wants students to know there is a community that is “both professionally and personally supporting them as a safe space that they can come to and socialize and also where they can share their research and receive feedback.”

This academic year, Yaghoobi launched the first CMEIS Annual Lecture Series, in which the Center invites proposals from faculty across campus to bring visitors, scholars, artist, experts and others to speak at Carolina. CMEIS will provide funding to support one proposal for a thematic lecture series with a minimum of four lectures for the 2022-23 academic year organized by one faculty member or a group faculty. These funds can be used to cover an honorarium, travel and lodging and meals for the speakers as well as other costs.

The Center will also host a monthly CMEIS social café in which Carolina students and faculty will share their work with Middle Eastern communities in the area. Yaghoobi views this meeting time as a “glocal” experience, both global and local.

Yaghoobi’s global research background informs the expertise she brings to her new role as CMEIS director. An Iranian-Armenian American, Yaghoobi’s research concerns the literature of the Middle East, specifically Persian and Armenian literature, and focuses on marginalized groups. Her upcoming book, Transnational Culture, examines the various creative ways that Iranian Armenian authors and artists, as members of religious and cultural minority populations of Iran and later in the diaspora in the U.S., craft and negotiate a unique notion of self, navigating the wish to integrate with mainstream society while maintaining ties with their homeland.

“I have no doubt Claudia Yaghoobi will be an outstanding leader for the Center,” said Rudi Colloredo-Mansfeld, senior associate dean for social sciences and global programs in the College of Arts and Sciences. “She is a well-respected scholar of Persian studies and recognizes the importance of the Center in contributing to our understanding of this complex region. I appreciate the efforts she has already made to build a sense of community among faculty and students at UNC.”

Since fall 2020, Yaghoobi has created connections for UNC-Chapel Hill students with classrooms in the Middle East through Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL). She received two grants from CMEIS and two curriculum development awards from the Office of the Vice Provost for Global Affairs to implement COIL in her courses.

Most recently, Yaghoobi added COIL to ASIA/PWAD 69 (Wars and Veterans: Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan), a first-year seminar taught in collaboration with a professor at Shiraz University in Iran.

Through the COIL course, Carolina students and their peers at Shiraz University gained perspectives about the tolls of war in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, through literature, film and photography. Yaghoobi found that COIL helped her students humanize people on both sides of conflict.

“In all my teaching, my first and foremost goal is to break stereotypes,” said Yaghoobi. “Students come to Middle East classes with all sorts of preconceived and stereotypical notions about the Middle East. These assignments equip students with an understanding that reading literature is more than just reading novels or poetry; it is also about our lived experiences.”

recipient of the 2020 Carlyle Sitterson Award for Teaching First-Year Students, Yaghoobi utilizes a myriad of other tools to enhance global learning in the classroom. Beyond classroom assignments and discussion forums on Sakai, she tasks her students to make posters, podcasts, interviews or artwork to help them further connect with course material.

“Guiding students to connect what they learn inside the classroom to the world is a priority for me,” said Yaghoobi. “I look for ways to connect the text to our current world and show students how the readings can inform us about our present day across time and space.”

Yaghoobi seeks to provide holistic support for her students; not only does she want them to succeed academically, but also spiritually and emotionally. In 2021, The Well highlighted Yaghoobi among professors supporting students during the pandemic.

“Academia has this atmosphere of seeing just the brain and the mind. They forget about the body, the spirit, the soul and the emotions,” explained Yaghoobi. “For me, I bring my spirit and care to my classes so my students can feel safe to discuss their mental well-being with me.”

(Originally published by UNC Global on 9/19/2022.)

New Books by Dr. Pitelka!

September 23, 2022

Morgan Pitelka, recipient of the Bernard L. Herman Distinguished Professorship, has recently published two new books! You can read about them below:

Morgan Pitelka, Reiko Tanimura, and Takashi Masuda. Letters from Japan’s Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries: The Correspondence of Warlords, Tea Masters, Zen Priests, and Aristocrats. Institute for East Asian Studies, UC Berkeley, 2021. In this book, historians Morgan Pitelka and Reiko Tanimura teamed up with one of the premier experts in calligraphy in Japan, Takashi Masuda, to translate, analyze, and explain twenty-three letters from one of the most fascinating periods in Japanese history: the transition from medieval to early modern.

Morgan Pitelka. Reading Medieval Ruins: Urban Life and Destruction in Sixteenth-Century JapanCambridge University Press, 2022. The Japanese provincial city of Ichijōdani was destroyed in the civil wars of the late sixteenth century but never rebuilt. Archaeological excavations have since uncovered the most detailed late medieval urban site in the country. Drawing on analysis of specific excavated objects and decades of archaeological evidence to study daily life in Ichijōdani, Reading Medieval Ruins illuminates the city’s layout, the possessions and houses of its residents, its politics and experience of war, and religious and cultural networks.

Fulbright scholar Aadil Zeffer teaches Hindi-Urdu at UNC

September 23, 2022

It is our pleasure to share the DTH article below on Aadil Zeffer, a visiting FLTA (foreign language teaching assistant) who is furthering our
Hindi-Urdu program by teaching language classes to our students this year!

Over a cup of homemade chai, Aadil Zeffer and UNC associate professor John Caldwell discuss teaching Hindi-Urdu. As a Fulbright scholar, Zeffer brings his educational and professional experiences, as well as his culture, to the University — such as making his colleagues Indian chai.

Originally from northern India, Zeffer will spend the year as a lecturer in the UNC Department of Asian and Middle Eastern studies, teaching Hindi-Urdu. His international educational background includes studying in seven different countries, along with teaching in India, the U.S., the U.K. and Saudi Arabia.

“In other words, the Fulbright scholarship gives us the opportunity to be a part of something bigger while we can learn about others. The world is always better if we willingly jump at every opportunity to improve our knowledge,” Zeffer said.

The Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) program is a government-sponsored program that gives educators from various countries the opportunity to become teaching assistants at a university in the U.S.

Zeffer is a part of the third round of Fulbright FLTA scholars to come to UNC, Caldwell said. Starting in 2019, the University welcomed teaching assistants from other countries. He teaches in the South Asian language section of the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies.

After specifying what both the University and the scholar needs, the Fulbright program matches UNC with a scholar from another country who can teach in a specific department. This year, the department of Asian and Middle Eastern studies was short staffed and needed someone to help teach Hindi-Urdu, giving Zeffer the opportunity to gain teaching experience in the U.S.

Caldwell emphasized the importance of having a teaching assistant that is fully knowledgeable of language and culture.

“In the classroom, it’s great to have someone who’s a native speaker,” Caldwell said. “When we teach language — we don’t just teach grammar, we teach lots of other things, including culture, sociolinguistics and how language and culture interact. He’ll be good at sort of explaining some of the traditions behind how the language works in the classroom.”

Caldwell’s academic areas of focus include postmodernism, gothic fiction and poetry.

Zeffer arrived at UNC in early August to join the language faculty and said that he is very excited to be here. In addition to teaching, he is also taking audit courses in philosophy and American Literature.

He will be teaching Elementary Hindi-Urdu I (HNUR 101), and works closely with Caldwell to emulate Caldwell’s teaching practices. Next semester, he will be teaching independently, allowing more creative freedom with the curriculum.

First-year Vansh Gogoi started taking Elementary Hindi-Urdu with Zeffer at the beginning of the semester, and said that it’s beneficial and more authentic to have a native speaker instructing the class.

“He’s always helpful, he’s always making clear what to do and he makes sure that students aren’t nervous when there’s a dictation or something” Gogoi said.

The purpose of the FLTA program is to both expose international educators to new learning environments and to bring in different cultural perspectives to college students in the classroom.

“I personally enjoy teaching as a Fulbright FLTA because I am working with students and their personal development and making improvement,” he said. “It became an opportunity for me to engage in new ideas and learn useful interpersonal skills.”

Zeffer said he was fascinated with UNC and the University community before coming to Chapel Hill and has enjoyed the warm and hospitable welcome he has received. He also appreciates how many students from different countries attend the University.

Zeffer looks forward to being exposed to American culture on campus, and hopes to attend events and potentially become an advisor to some student clubs.

The Fulbright program allows scholars from other countries to share elements of their own culture with American students and the UNC community more broadly as well as gain teaching experience in a new environment, Caldwell said.

“The Fulbright program itself is basically designed as a kind of cultural diplomacy,” he said. “People to people diplomacy, which is an important aspect of the diplomatic process for lots of countries.”

Being a part of the Fulbright program means that Zeffer feels he is a part of something bigger than himself while learning about others from all around the world.

“For the Fulbright experience, I can develop a mutual understanding and respect for different people’s cultures and traditions,” Zeffer said. “Meeting people from different backgrounds and cultures is always a gift that comes with the Fulbright experience.”

(Originally published in the DTH on 8/28/2022.)

Meet Sunny Vo: a UNC Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant

September 23, 2022

It is our pleasure to share the DTH article below on Sunny Vo, a visiting FLTA (foreign language teaching assistant) who is engaging our students in the study of Vietnamese!

From teaching Vietnamese courses in the classroom to playing the piano in Cobb Residence Hall, Sunny Vo is making the most of her time at UNC as a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA).

“At UNC, I could be both an instructor, and could be both a student because I get to audit courses during the year and could be a resident student living here,” Vo said. “I think those three roles give me a wonderful opportunity to explore, to learn and to grow.”

Originally from Vietnam, Vo’s journey to UNC started with a passion for teaching linguistics. After obtaining her master’s degree in Chicago in 2018, she began teaching high school and college students in different regions of Vietnam.

After COVID-19-related lockdowns ended, Vo jumped on her opportunity to return to the United States to expand Americans’ knowledge of her language and culture.

That opportunity came through the Fulbright FLTA program, sponsored by the United States Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The program brings graduates of all levels from over 50 countries to teach foreign language courses and immerse themselves in American culture.

“This time, I’m actually not only the instructor, but also like a student,” she said. “Living with them and learning through them, but also teaching and working with them.”

The ability to both teach and learn is one of the program’s goals. Professor Morgan Pitelka, the chair of the UNC Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, said the program helps build bridges.

“The FLTAs spend this year teaching at UNC, and then they go back to their home countries,” Pitelka said, “and that experience informs their sense of friendship and partnership with the United States, but also in particular, with Carolina.”

Through a collaboration between the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies and the Carolina Asia Center, Vo is teaching Intermediate Vietnamese I (VIET 203) this semester. Kevin Fogg, the associate director of the Carolina Asia Center, said the presence of Fulbright FLTAs gives students more options for their language education.

“We are so delighted to be able to bring in these Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants because it allows us to offer more languages to students,” Fogg said. “Students are seeking a global education when they come to a place like Carolina, and it’s so important for us to be able to meet those demands by the student body.”

For Vo, bringing students global education means teaching them the intricacies of Vietnamese in an easy-to-learn way. Vo said Vietnamese can be challenging for students because it’s a tonal language, which is why Vo also focuses on teaching students about Vietnam’s culture.

“I want to make the Vietnamese classroom easier by integrating Vietnamese music, Vietnamese literature and Vietnamese history,” Vo said. “The first thing is the language, however the language in a real context.”

Outside of the classroom, Vo continues to share her cultural background. Starting this year, Fulbright FLTAs have the opportunity to live in on-campus residence halls. Vo is living in Cobb, where she often plays Vietnamese music on the hall’s piano and will host monthly cultural events throughout the year. Her first event will be in a few weeks and will feature making handmade Vietnamese lanterns.

“I think the monthly events help me to introduce my Vietnamese culture and also some knowledge about Vietnamese to locals, especially college students at UNC,” Vo said.

The University also provides funding for Fulbright FLTAs to attend conferences and other professional development opportunities throughout the country.

Fogg said the FLTAs’ opportunities to teach, learn and travel have impacts beyond those they leave here.

“We hope that once they get back to their home country, they continue that ambassadorial mission: speaking about what they saw in America, what their experiences here were like and promoting a greater understanding of the U.S.A. on the ground,” he said.

Vo’s biggest goals for the year are to teach Vietnamese language and culture, as well as to represent her home. However, she said the thing she is most excited for is connecting with people across campus.

“I’m super, super excited to have time to make friends and have communication with the locals here, and not only the locals, but also with the students, the college and the U.S.” Vo said.

(Originally published in the DTH on 8/29/2022.)