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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.


Seeing Japan with Alumna Kate Slade

November 19, 2020

(Alumna Kate Slade, pictured with her husband and fellow alumnus, and their child.)

In March of this year, DAMES alumna Kate Slade (’03) moved to Yokosuka-shi in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. Her husband’s job in the Navy brought her family there. (He’s a fellow ’03 UNC grad from History, by the way! Go Heels!) Restrictions due to COVID-19 have kept them from visiting big cities and exciting indoor locations, says Kate, but she’s managed to find and immerse herself in Japan’s beauty by social distancing, staying mostly outside, and looking through the lens of her camera. “Japan has plenty of outdoor wonders,” she said.

Kate was kind enough to share several examples of Japan’s inspiring landmarks culture. Stuck at home? Feeling stagnant? Pull up a chair, ready your mouse, and travel Japan with Kate!

First up, Jogashima! Located at the tip of the Miura Peninsula, Jogashima’s famous for its bounty of summer hydrangeas, its gorgeous lighthouse, and its population of friendly feral cats.

(Views from the cliffs are astounding.)

(The tide pools are similarly incredible.)

Next on the list, Hokoku-ji in Kamakura! Often called the Bamboo Temple because of its lush bamboo grove, Hokoku-ji was established in 1334 during Japan’s Kenmu Era. Much of the original structure was destroyed during the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, but it’s since been rebuilt.

(The famous bamboo grove. Tengan Eko, the founding priest of the temple, was said to write poetry here.)

(Moss and hydrangeas mark these graves.)

(Flanking Hokoku-ji to the west, these caves contain the ashes of the Ashikaga family, members of a reigning samurai clan, or shogunate, during the Muromachi period.)

Ready for more temples? On to Hase-dera and Kotoku-in! 

(Hase-dera contains an enormous eleven-headed wooden statue of Kannon.)

(Meanwhile, the giant copper Amitabha Buddha at Kotoku-in, also known as the Kamakura Daibutsu, sits out proudly in the elements for all to see.)

Not colorful enough for you? Feast your eyes upon shibori indigo dyeing! 

(Indigo dye is extracted from the leaves of specific plants in the bean family. Cool, huh?)

(Kate learns the art of shibori, or how to tie cloth to dye it in particular patterns. The string is often waxed to further repel the dye and refine the design.)

(Dyes are synthesized in large vats for dipping. The longer a cloth is dipped, the deeper the color.)
(The final product!)

Nearing the finish line: Hakone Jinja at Lake Ashi!

(Ah, the picture of serenity.)

And finally, last but not least: Fujiyama.

(According to Kate, Fuji-san acquired his yearly cap of snow two weeks after this photo was taken.)

Many thanks to Kate, our astounding alumna, for a journey across Japan in incredible pictures, and for the reminder that the world is out there waiting for us when times change for the better.

Reaching for the Stars: A Chat with Current DAMES Senior Rachel Hotong

November 18, 2020

DAMES students are made of strong stuff. Studying the incredible languages and cultures in our department takes time, dedication, and boundless enthusiasm, and Rachel Hotong, a senior double major in journalism and Chinese, has been doing just that as changes sweep across the world from COVID-19.

(Of the above photo, taken during a study abroad adventure in China, Rachel says: During our trip to DaTong, we visited the largest and oldest Nine-Dragon wall which was once believed to protect the local palace. Fun Fact: during this trip, Jackie Chan was staying in the same hotel as us at the same time!)

I interviewed Rachel to see what it’s like to be a student both in DAMES and at Carolina right now, and here’s what she told me:

First, tell me about you! How did you end up here at UNC in DAMES, and why did you choose to study Chinese with us?
I was born and raised in Chapel Hill! Tar Heel born, Tar Heel bred! But I think it’s important for you to know the context of me. My dad is third-generation Chinese and also South African, and my mom is Afrikaans. They met in South Africa and immigrated here. My mom was the typical Tiger Mom despite being blonde and blue-eyed, and she enrolled me into the dual language Chinese program at Glenwood Elementary locally.

I hated it. I hated being different. I just wanted to be a normal kid! In 5th grade, I took a trip to China for the first time, was violently ill the whole time, and hated it too. I stuck with Chinese up through high school because I felt like it was my only option.

Then I went to Malaysia in late high school, where I was able to use my Chinese to talk to people there. Being able to communicate with them made me really fall in love with Chinese… I’ve learned that I love knowing Chinese so I can make people culturally comfortable, rather than making people assimilate to English.

I didn’t start my college career at UNC, actually. I went to Wheaton College near Chicago first because a Chinese professor from there visited my high school and really impressed me. I helped get Chinese established as a major there, then ultimately transferred here to UNC.

My appreciation for Chinese continues here. Each character is like a snowflake! It’s beautiful just looking at it by itself, but if you looked at it under a microscope, you’d see how it’s even more beautiful and intricate because it’s comprised of so many unique pieces. I just love it.

(Rachel: We went to visit the Hanging Monastery for a weekend trip. I’m looking out from the side of a cliff to the beautiful mountain landscape that resides right outside Beijing.)

You went to Malaysia in high school, which is super cool! You studied abroad while here at UNC too, right?
I did the CET Beijing language intensive program during the summer of 2019. They don’t lie when they say it’s intense!

It was probably my favorite summer of my life. I made some of my closest friends there. A year and a half later, we’re still keeping in contact. You know how if you go through something hard with someone, you just bond? We all bonded through working toward the same niche goal together.

Studying abroad in Beijing was instrumental to my Chinese proficiency, knowing Chinese culture, and learning more about the everyday life of living in China. It stuck with me! I went to visit a friend in Spain after the CET program. I arrived earlier than her, and I don’t speak Spanish, but our AirBNB happened to be in a Chinese neighborhood, and I found out I could speak with the locals there! My proficiency was that good!

Studying abroad was one of the best experiences ever. I can’t recommend it enough.

(Rachel: The Great Wall with some great friends I met while studying at CET Beijing.)

Do you have a favorite class here at home in DAMES?
Business in Chinese! Because of that class I now have a resume and cover letter in Chinese, which is awesome.

You’ve been a transfer student, a student abroad, and now you’re a student during COVID. How has that been?
It’s been a learning experience, especially about myself. I’ve had to learn to be disciplined with my time and work. It’s really forced me to go to office hours more, which is good!

It’s hard, but I’m working through it.

Rachel, you’re awesome. If you could give advice to future students in DAMES and at UNC, what would you say to them?
See every single thing as an opportunity. Every single class, even if it’s not immediately on your list. Like, I took Traditional Chinese Theater even though it wasn’t the first thing on my mind, and now I know so much cool stuff about puppetry in ancient China!

Also, go to office hours to learn more about your professors! They are way, way cooler than they let on.

(Rachel: Taken at our last banquet, this photo is proof that my teachers were truly my friends by the end of the CET Language Intensive program.)

Interview with Alumnus Will Powers

November 12, 2020

Like many others, DAMES alumnus Will Powers graduated in the midst of a recession in 2008. Unlike many others, however, Mr. Powers went from being a bartender in Raleigh after graduation to participating in The Tester, a reality TV show. His presence and performance on the show eventually netted him a job at Sony.

(Here’s a link to an interview Mr. Powers conducted with Engadget about his experiences on The Tester.)

At Sony, Mr. Powers did QA (quality assurance) for about six months, then shifted over to PR and marketing. He’s been following that route in video games ever since, though he’s left Sony behind to pursue opportunities at several other industry giants.

I’ll ask the question sure to be on everyone’s mind. What games have you worked on?

Arena of Valor, Journey, Tokyo Jungle, Dead Island, Saints Row… seeing my name in the God of War font for the first time was really cool!

What do you do in your current role?

My company right now (The Story Mob) mostly focuses on esports. I’m the person who comes up with the talking points for my executives! As in, no one wants to say that the gaming industry is currently profitable. That’s insensitive. But the numbers are up, no question, so it’s better to say that the pandemic has opened up doors that didn’t exist before. It’s a silver lining to a really, really dark cloud. Turmoil presents the opportunity for innovation, and entertainment like video games and esports fills the void many of us are feeling right now because of the circumstances surrounding the pandemic.

Is working in video games difficult, especially esports?

Sometimes! I’m working on something that’s watched by 100 million people, but I can’t just go out on the street and talk to the average person about it. I don’t know who’s plugged in and who isn’t. Since COVID started, though, ESPN and other big channels have started broadcasting a lot more esports, so it’s becoming more socially obvious and acceptable. We also get more exposure when traditional sports athletes cross over and play our games.

You know, our generation is the first to not age out of video games. It’s this viable source of interactive storytelling that rivals movies. Cannes and BAFTA have video game categories now. Mainstream credibility is finally starting to seep into the industry.

What is your favorite thing about your job? And your least favorite?

The answer to both of those questions is the same: I never know what I’m going to do on any given day. 90% of my day is putting out fires. I only get 10% routine, so it’s not like working at a bank! There’s no normalcy.

I also have to constantly debate with myself as I consider my future career in the industry: do I want to work on small projects and have a big impact, or vice versa?

When you came to UNC and chose to major within the Asian Studies Department (now DAMES), did you envision an eventual career in video games?

I came into college and left it not really knowing what to do with my Japanese degree. I loved the language, but to be honest, the religion and culture classes were the most interesting to me. Now, though, I have this superpower with Japanese. It and my INTS degree have been instrumental in helping me relate to the international gaming community.

The cultural understanding I gained at UNC, especially on the international level, is something I use all the time. No class or book can teach it. It’s something that’s experienced through exposure in a program or study abroad… it’s completely invaluable, and I tap into it on a daily basis. I have to have split-second understanding of cultures across the globe to be able to work with them, to not offend them. Legitimately, a lot of the classes I took at UNC are the foundational knowledge behind that. Self-images of cultures are so important. How they project their identities, how they want to see them reflected… the classes I took [in DAMES] helped me think about things like that.

Mr. Powers shared with me one of his most memorable experiences from UNC:

I did the Summer in Tokyo study abroad program in 2007. I still talk to my host family! And I have this vivid memory: we’re sitting around the dinner table, my host mom, my host dad, one of three kids, and I’m having a conversation about tea. I worked at a tea house with my dad from age 7-17, so I’m trying to describe to my host family how tea is aged in caves. I didn’t have the vocab. They weren’t getting it, so eventually I ended up explaining it by saying that tea “sleeps” in caves for five years!

Follow Mr. Powers on Twitter here! 

And look at his cute dogs, because they’re just as fun as video games.

Majors and minors in DAMES!

November 11, 2020

Have you ever wondered what the numbers look like in a multi-language department like DAMES? Wonder no more! The infographic below reveals our departmental breakdown as of November 2020.

Songs from the Other Side, and More: Interview with Professor Caldwell

November 6, 2020

Did you know that Professor John Caldwell is writing his dissertation whilst forming the backbone of our Hindi-Urdu program here in DAMES? It’s true! Check out my recent interview below with Professor Caldwell about his dissertation, his process, and how his research ties in with his teaching and his work in the local community.

1) Can you give us a “nutshell” version of your dissertation?

“Songs from the Other Side: Listening to Pakistani Voices in India”

India and Pakistan have been two separate nations only since 1947, but more often than not in history political agents have raised barriers to cultural exchange between them. Most recently, in 2016 a ban was imposed on the Indian entertainment industries prohibiting Pakistani actors and musicians from working in India. I explore a series of case studies in which Pakistani singing voices crossed these boundaries, and their songs became embedded in the Indian songscape. This musical exchange was driven by a variety of “vectors” that operated at the intersection of gender, religion, politics, and taste.

2) What inspired you to pursue research on this topic in particular? And for our students who might be interested in writing their own dissertations someday, what is your research process like/how would you recommend getting started?
First, I’ve always known that if I ever was to do a Ph.D., it would have to be in Music/Musicology. Music has been my lifelong passion and hobby. Doing music, and especially playing in ensembles, keeps me sane and centered. Although I’m not a musical omnivore, I have fairly diverse interests and experience, including directing the UNC Gamelan Ensemble, playing bassoon with the Raleigh and Durham Symphonies, and playing the Indian harmonium with local vocalists. I came to my particular dissertation topic through my many years of experience with music and musicians from both India and Pakistan. It was always fascinating to me to discover which songs were shared, and how music can transcend political enmity.

My dissertation process has been somewhat slow because of teaching full time, but I’m on track to finish early next year. I have enjoyed it throughout, and I may be one of the few dissertators who can say that I’m still excited by my topic. I think if you want to do a dissertation you have to find a great program (e.g. UNC) and a great advisor. The great thing about Asian Studies in general is that we get to do “field work,” i.e. spend a semester or a year somewhere in Asia doing research. I had a Fulbright-Nehru Dissertation Grant to live in India in Spring-Summer 2017 and it was wonderful.

3) How has COVID impacted your dissertation and research, if at all?
Luckily I was mostly done with my research when COVID arrived, but I have many colleagues who have had to revise or postpone research plans this year. Funding agencies have been largely cooperative, but it’s still a shame. I also know that for many it has been hard to keep momentum going, but since I’m still enjoying writing, my dissertation is a welcome distraction to the stress and anxiety of the pandemic.

4) Is it difficult to write a dissertation/conduct your research process while teaching classes for DAMES?
It’s not difficult, but it does require some careful time management. My schedule this semester is crazy for a number of reasons, but I’ve managed to squeeze in writing here and there. I once told one of my seminar professors (when asking for an extension) that “I didn’t underestimate the amount of time it would take me to write my seminar paper, but I did underestimate the number of interruptions and distractions I would experience.” The same thing has been true of the dissertation writing process.

5) Do you ever incorporate your dissertation topics into the classes you teach? How much overlap is there? 
Definitely, in my Music of South Asia class (ASIA 164). But I also include lots of songs in my language teaching, and the “unit of analysis” in my dissertation is the individual song. Music is such a great resource in language teaching, as many of my DAMES colleagues can testify.