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Interview with Professor Ji-Yeon Jo: COVID-19 in South Korea

April 2, 2020


South Korea was one of the first countries to react to the spread of COVID-19 and has largely received positive assessments for both the governmental and popular response. Professor Ji-Yeon Jo, Associate Professor of Korean Studies and Director of the Carolina Asia Center, talks us through the basics.

For more profiles of students and faculty, and to learn about our 40th year anniversary, see our Forty for Forty page.

From Asian Studies to Creative Writing: Brian Blanchfield

February 21, 2020

Brian Blanchfield grew up in North Carolina and graduated from UNC with a double major in English and Asian Studies in 1995. Today he is a professor of creative writing and literature at the University of Idaho. His personal website does a great job of summing up his productive career as a writer:

Brian Blanchfield is the author of three books of poetry and prose, most recently Proxies, published by Nightboat Books in 2016, and by Picador UK in 2017. A collection of essays—part cultural close reading, part dicey autobiography—Proxieswas awarded a 2016 Whiting Award in Nonfiction, was named a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in Gay Memoir and the PEN USA Literary Award in Nonfiction, and has been widely reviewed.

His first two books are collections of poetry: Not Even Then (University of California Press, 2004) and A Several World, (Nightboat Books, 2014), which received the 2014 James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets and was longlisted for the 2014 National Book Award for Poetry.

His poetry and prose have appeared in Harper’sThe Nation, Chicago Review, BOMBThe Brooklyn Rail, Lana Turner, The Paris Review, BrickConjunctions, Tin HouseStoryQuarterly, and The Oxford American, among other journals and magazines. Two long sequences—one poetry, one prose—are available as chapbooks: The History of Ideas, 1973-2012 (Spork Press, 2013) and Correction. (Essay Press, 2016). He is the recipient of a 2015-16 Howard Foundation Fellowship.

Brian mentioned to me by email that he had particularly fond memories of studying Taoism and Chinese literature with Professor Sandy Seaton. He also noted that “living in Beijing for several months at age 20” was a formative experience. Although he doesn’t publish or teach in the field of Asian Studies, his remarkable career is a wonderful example of the ways in which studying Asian and Middle Eastern languages and literatures doesn’t narrow your options in life, but rather opens doors to new experience and forms of creativity.


Testimonial from a Minor in Arabic and Modern Hebrew

February 14, 2020
Michael Turner is an associate professor of Arabic for the World Languages and Cultures department in the College of Arts & Science at UNCW. PHOTO BY:UNCW

Mike Turner is Assistant Professor of Arabic at UNC-Wilmington, but it wasn’t that long ago that he was a minor in Arabic and Modern Hebrew here in the Department of Asian Studies. He shares the following:

I grew up in a small town in North Carolina, and had limited exposure to other cultures when I came to UNC-Chapel Hill as a freshman in 2004. I had taken Spanish in high school, and not been particularly successful in learning it, so the thought of being “forced” to take yet another language in order to graduate did not enthuse me. I nonetheless figured that I would go ahead and “get it out of the way” early, so I decided I’d enroll in whatever language I could find a seat in, as long as it wasn’t Spanish. I signed up that fall for Modern Hebrew.

Surprisingly, I soon discovered that learning a language wasn’t so bad after all. In fact, Hebrew quickly became one of my favorite classes, and the encouragement I got from my professor gave me the confidence to ask whether I might be able to learn other languages, too. As my interest in the history and culture of the larger Middle East grew, I decided to sign up for Arabic. Again, with the guidance of UNC faculty, I developed skills and discipline to engage another language and culture on its own terms. By the time I graduated in 2008, I had studied abroad in Jordan and Israel, completed a degree in International Studies with a concentration in the Middle East, and minored in both Arabic and Hebrew.

Following graduation, I was selected to be a Peace Corps Volunteer and assigned to a rural town in the south of Morocco, where I worked as an English teacher and on-site staff at a local youth center. I had only very irregular access to other English speakers, so I put continued effort into learning Arabic, including the spoken dialect of Morocco, which I used at work, around town, and when traveling. Coincidentally, my Peace Corps site was also in a majority Berber-speaking region, so I took the opportunity to live in a nearby village and learn a good amount of the local Berber dialect (called Tashelhiyt) as well.

Living in such a multilingual environment sparked my interest in the history of these languages. I started to see commonalities between Moroccan Arabic and Berber dialects that seemed to explain some of the differences between Moroccan Arabic and Standard Arabic. But was I right? What if these were just chance coincidences? Who could really tell me? As my questions grew and I probed deeper into increasingly academic sources from my dial-up Internet connection in my mud-walled house, I started to realize that, perhaps, some of these questions hadn’t been answered yet. Maybe I had something to contribute myself. But I’d need training – so I applied to graduate school.

In 2011 I enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin as a combined M.A/Ph.D. student. My program was a combination of coursework in Arabic and linguistics, the latter of which I’d never taken before. I also got the chance to discover a love for language teaching. Over the course of my years at UT, I was able to do extended research abroad, teach my own courses at UT and in study abroad programs, and present at a number of international conferences. In 2018 I graduated with a Ph.D. in Arabic Linguistics, the culmination of a journey that all started back in the Department of Asian Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill.

But it didn’t end there. I’m happy to say I’m now just a couple hours down the road from my alma mater, directing the Arabic program at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. I am continuing my work on the history of Arabic dialects, working with students from our state and beyond, and – of course – enjoying the beach.

A profile of S. Qiouyi Lu, Author

February 3, 2020

S. Qiouyi Lu, now based in Los Angeles, graduated from Carolina in 2012 with a major in Linguistics and a minor in Chinese. Their experiences at UNC included participating in the Carolina Southeast Asia Summer (SEAS) Program. Since graduating, Lu has become a prolific author of polyphonic genre work, including science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Lu’s output includes fiction, poetry, editing, and translating, winning an Emerging Artists Grant from the Columbus Arts Festival and an Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship from The Carl Brandon Society. You can read samples of their work and learn more about the forthcoming collection Inhalations on Lu’s website:


Testimonial from an alumna: Lauren Trushin

January 24, 2020

The following message is from Lauren Trushin, class of 2017, who graduated with a double major in Public Policy and History and a minor in Asian Studies. Lauren is a wonderful example of how substantive work in Asian Studies, including study abroad, can be transformative for students who want to work in a variety of careers. At UNC, she researched the intersection of Anti-Semitism and Civil Rights in the South; she wrote about gender inequality and women’s political involvement in America and Guatemala; she worked as an intern for U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz; and she spent a summer interning at a law firm in Tokyo.

Lauren is now in Law School at Georgetown University.


From Lauren:

In the summer after my first year of college, I had the opportunity to join the SEAS (South-East Asia Summer) program and spend the summer living and taking courses in Singapore, Malaysia, and Japan with twenty-four other rising sophomores. This trip undeniably changed the course of my life. Not only did I fall in love with the countries that we visited, but I also gained a new understanding about my academic interests and my ability to thrive in an unfamiliar environment.


The SEAS program courses were aimed at providing us with a historical background and cultural context for the places that we were visiting and this in-class education was buttressed by out-of-class visits to museums, imperial castles, temples, and other cultural sites. Personally, the courses made me realize that I had an interest in Asian culture and almost immediately after returning home, I declared a minor in Asian Studies. My love for the program also encouraged me to apply for a job as a student mentor/ research fellow for the SEAS program that would take place the following year. I was lucky enough to be chosen for the position and return to Southeast Asia: this time, to Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Through this second summer experience, I had the opportunity to conduct a research project about Singaporean nationalism as it relates to Singapore’s cuisine. I also mentored the new SEAS students and help them in becoming familiarized with the coursework and the setting. I was honored to share my experiences with them and support them as they experienced their own life changing moments of academic advancement, independence, and cultural awareness.


Beyond an intense desire to return to Asia, which I have since done twice, one of my chief takeaways from my SEAS experiences was my deep desire that many more students would be able to have the same transformative experiences that I was enough lucky to have. It’s difficult to put this into words, but the SEAS program had an impact each student that went far beyond education and the joy of travel. I personally witnessed the fact that the program instilled a newfound sense of confidence and self-worth in the students on my trip, largely because we felt that, for the first time in our years of schooling, we were part of a program that was designed in such a way that made it clear that we were valued and our educations and lives were worth investing in. UNC’s Asia Department put such an incredible amount of thought and effort into planning SEAS and the care and time that went into that could not have been clearer to us. As a result of this obvious investment of care and effort, as well as department and donor funding, the experience truly instilled a sense of pride in each SEAS student, as we all felt distinctly honored that the department’s faculty had carefully planned each day of the 8-week program and designed it in a way that made it clear that they valued our education, but also trusted us to be independent and experience Asia through our own lens.


I couldn’t be more thankful for the UNC Asia Department and I can only hope that countless future students can benefit from the same kind of transformative experiences that I had.

Profile of an alumnus: Jason Mortimer

January 23, 2020

Jason Mortimer grew up in Durham and graduated from UNC-CH in 2006 with degrees in Asian Studies and Business Administration. During a 14-month study-abroad in Japan, Jason became fluent in Japanese. Returning for his senior year at UNC, he took two semesters of Mandarin before spending his final semester at a language school in Shanghai, China, where he gained proficiency in Chinese. His first job after graduating was with Bank of America-Merrill Lynch in Tokyo. He later worked for J. P. Morgan in Hong Kong and Singapore. He met and married his wife Miyuki Kawada in Japan. They moved to London where Jason worked three years for First State Investments, an Australian asset manager. For the past two years, Jason, Miyuki and 4-year-old son Kenta have been living in Tokyo, where Jason works for Nomura Asset Management.

From Asian Studies major to a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature

January 6, 2020

Laurel Foote-Hudson came to UNC-Chapel Hill with a deep and abiding passion for the study of languages. She ended up majoring in both Asian Studies and Romance Languages, focusing on Japanese and Spanish, and then was accepted to the Ph.D. program in Comparative Literature here at Carolina.

After years of coursework, her dissertation examined the ways in which early modern Spain and early modern Japan both engaged with the idea of honor and the notion of revenge in domestic theatrical traditions.

Looking in particular at plays such as Lope de Vega’s Fuenteovejuna (1612-1614), Tirso de Molina’s El burlador de Sevilla (1630), Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s The Treasury of Loyal Retainers (1706), and Nanboku Tsuruya IV‘s Yotsuya Ghost Stories (1825), Laurel explored their didactic messages about honor and revenge.

After completing her doctorate, Laurel became interested in putting her language skills, her research and writing talents, and her impressive digital and programming abilities to work in the private sector, and she quickly found work as a Learning Experience Designer at Fidelity Investments in 2019. Congratulations Laurel! You are an inspiration to Asian Studies majors.

Profile of a Chinese major: Matt Coss, class of 2016

December 16, 2019

matt_cossOne of the distinguishing characteristics of our department is the strength of our language programs. Chinese in particular offers the widest range of courses as well as the deepest and most advanced language training in the region. Students who come to Carolina with no prior experience studying Chinese receive expert instruction from the introductory level through to their final semester of their senior year; likewise, students who arrive with prior knowledge of Chinese, including heritage students who might speak quite fluently but need further instruction in reading and writing, discover an entire track of language instruction that they can enter and progress through. Students learn to read Chinese newspapers and novels, and discuss them with their peers. They watch Chinese-language movies and television shows and analyze the contents. They study Classical Chinese and learn to read, discuss, and explain the writings of Confucius and other ancient scholars.

Matt Coss, who started at UNC in 2012, knew he was interested in languages from the start, and had prior training in both Spanish and Chinese when he arrived in Chapel Hill. He ended up pursuing degrees in both languages, as well as a minor in entrepreneurship, and has proven to be an extremely entrepreneurial student of Chinese indeed. While at Carolina, he won a competitive Phillips Ambassadorship that helped fund his participation in the CET Beijing Intensive Chinese Language Study Abroad Program. He also worked closely with the Chinese faculty to develop his expertise in Chinese oral proficiency, and ended up winning the 2015 U.S.-China “Chinese Bridge” Proficiency Competition, a national speech contest in Chinese, and he additionally scored Superior (ILR 3) on the ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interview that year. Because of his love for Chinese, Matt opted to teach two C-START (Carolina Students Taking Academic Responsibility through Teaching) classes in the department as well. Upon his graduation, he won a prestigious Chancellor’s Award, the Class of 1938 Joseph F. Patterson, Jr. and Alice M. Patterson International Leadership Award.

Since graduating, Matt has devoted himself to furthering international education through language instruction, and has participated in a startling range of educational programs, particularly those focused on Chinese instruction. Having benefited as a high school student from the STARTALK Program (a federal program funded by the National Security Agency and administered by the National Foreign Language Center at the University of Maryland) in Chinese, Matt has become an expert instructor and consultant for STARTALK programs around the country, lecturing, teaching, and advising here in North Carolina, Maryland, and Oregon. He completed his M.A. in Second Language Acquisition in 2019, and since then has become part of the language faculty at Georgetown University and George Washington University.

In short, Matt is an amazing ambassador for the study of Chinese and a great example of the transformative work our alumni do in the world. Like Daniel Aldrich and Jan Bardsley, profiled in previous Forty for Forty stories, Matt shows that we shouldn’t ask “What will you do with a degree in Asian Studies,” but rather point out that there isn’t much you can’t do with a degree in Asian Studies. Curious, critical, thoughtful, flexible, and entrepreneurial, our majors represent the best of Carolina.

A Celebration of Professor Emerita Jan Bardsley

November 25, 2019

Faculty, Staff, and Students from the Department of Asian Studies gathered in the Queen Anne room of the Campus Y on Friday, Nov. 22 to celebrate the leadership, teaching, scholarship, and friendship of Professor Emerita Jan Bardsley, who retired from UNC in the spring of 2019.

The event began with Consul General Kazuyuki Takeuchi from the Atlanta Consulate of Japan presenting Professor Bardsley with a commendation for her remarkable career in higher education and service to Japanese-American relations. This was followed by a playful “Jan-ecdote” quiz in which we shared memories of working with Jan over the years.

After the quiz, Professor Emeritus Miles Fletcher read a limerick in celebration of Professor Bardsley, and the event closed with a music performance by Professors Afroz Taj and John Caldwell.

Professor Bardsley’s career has made her one of the most influential scholars in her field. She has published two sole-authored books, fifteen refereed articles, and seven refereed book chapters. She has also written five refereed co-authored articles and chapters, co-edited two edited volumes, and guest edited six special journal issues. Her third sole-authored book is near completion and is under contract for review at the University of California Press.

The quality of Bardsley’s research and writing more than matches her productivity. Her first book, The Bluestockings of Japan, is a major contribution to the study of global first-wave feminism and foundational to Japanese women’s studies. This book earned her the prestigious Hiratsuka Raichō Award from Japan’s Women’s University in Tokyo in 2012. Her second book, Women and Democracy in Cold War Japan, fills a gap in Japanese women’s history by targeting an understudied period (the 1950s) and has consequently been widely read and well-received. Her third monograph in progress, “Maiko Masquerade: Crafting Geisha Girlhood in Japan,” as well as her two coedited volumes Bad Girls of Japan and Manners and Mischief: Gender, Power and Etiquette in Japan, approach Japanese popular culture and vernacular practices in a highly innovative manner. As a result of this extensive, wide-ranging, and high quality research she has been invited to give dozens of lectures at universities in the United States and abroad. Most recently she was awarded a prestigious visiting professorship at Ochanamizu University in Tokyo.

Bardsley has emerged as a leader in Japanese women’s studies not only on the basis of her research, but also as a result of her generous support for colleagues and extensive mentoring of younger scholars in the field of Japanese women’s studies. Through this work she has been a leader in shaping the field in ways that will far outlast her own career as a teacher and scholar. Her extensive record of collaboration (coauthoring and coediting volumes) that is unusual in the humanities is one indication of this commitment. Her guest editing of journal issues and participation on numerous external dissertation committees and reviews for promotion of colleagues is another. It is rare to find a scholar who combines such a sustained personal record of scholarly excellence with a similar record of generosity in assisting others to develop their own careers. In this regard she serves as a model for the type of collaboration and care, as opposed to competition, that sustains high-quality scholarship and teaching programs broadly within fields and institutions over time.

Not surprisingly, Bardsley’s record includes a number of honors, including an invitation to join the Association of Asian Studies Distinguished Speakers Bureau; a Carolina Women’s Center Award, an IAH fellowship, and two Chapman Family Faculty fellowships; a Kenan Senior Faculty Research and Scholarly leave; an Outstanding Faculty Woman Award, and Tanner, Edward Kidder Graham, and Sitterson teaching awards in addition to the honors already mentioned above. She has also held numerous leadership positions within the profession.

Professor Bardsley, we will miss you!