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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!


Summary of Prof. Aldrich’s “Black Wave” Talk

November 18, 2019

TO THE READER: This is a summary of the “live tweets” written by Morgan Pitelka during Professor Aldrich’s talk. Apologies for infelicitous grammar.


Hosting a talk by @DanielPAldrich on his new book Black Wave today at 5:30 pm in the FedEx Global Ed Center, 4003. Daniel isn’t just an influential political scientist who studies disaster resilience; he’s a @UNCAsianStudies alum. What will you do with an Asian Studies major?

18,400 people died in the 3/11 disaster, but the percentages from community to community differed. This means something and allows us to study why some communities lost no one and others lost more than 10%. Why? Book talk on Black Wave.

Another topic of interest to Aldrich is recovery, and the rates of recovery after 3/11. He quantifies the rate of recovery in different communities and then tried to understand why and how some are more successful.

Clusters of communities were particularly successful, in a two-year period. Why?

Lastly what is the mental health toll of these disasters, and how does the ongoing shock of displacement and disaster change lives and communities? Aldrich says emergency kits is not the answer.

Likewise giant public works projects are not the answer, says Aldrich. The core aspects of survival and recovery come from social connections.

He asked people why they wanted to return to Fukushima? Social ties.

What was needed after the disaster was collective action, says Aldrich, and social ties enable this. Makes it possible to overcome barriers to collective action.

Also necessary after a shock is what Aldrich calls “informal insurance” – knowing your neighbors and being able to rely on them, trust them. The book tests these various theories of social capital.

First, did communities with the highest wave (19 meters, 60 feet) have a higher death rate? No. Some communities had worse death rates with significantly lower wave heights. Why? Was it political participation at the national level? Did communities that had pushed back against the LDP have inferior infrastructure, and thus suffer more? Was the amount of concrete between your community and the ocean the answer? Was it the average age of the community? 40 minutes between the earthquake and the tsunami. If you are elderly or infirm, that might not be enough time in some communities. But if the community had strong social ties, even those elderly who didn’t know they had to evacuate received help.

Aldrich argues that the strength of social ties in the community trumps all the other possible explanations–wave height, politics, age, infrastructure–and drives outcomes.

Another question: who rebuilds after a disaster? And is rebuilding, cleaning up, the same as recovery? Aldrich shows us pictures of a street that has been cleaned but is empty, no people, and perhaps indicates a dead community.

Gives example of 2 billion spent on a fishing village of 16,000 people. One of the members of the mayor’s cabinet had gone to school with the head of construction ministry; that connection gave them full funding while other communities got nothing.

So Aldrich proposes in the book an index of recovery. The most powerful predictor of successful recovery turns out to be how many powerful politicians in national government come from or are connected to your village.

Communities that had a lot of powerful connections sometimes rebuilt even stronger and better than before the disaster.

Looking at stress after the disaster, found that wealth does not affect stress levels. Good health also doesn’t affect stress, though bad health (before the disaster) does, in the negative. Social ties did have a positive effect on stress levels.

So Aldrich proposes 5 social-tie building solutions: First, get to know your neighbors who are in effect the first responders. Build neighborliness. Second, build a sense of the large neighborhood, the broader expanse of social ties. Third, build better communities in the sense of the physical landscape–a park, a third space, a dog run–that allows mundane activities. Trees=shady spots.Fourth, improve civic engagement, get people involved in political process. Hold multiple meetings so people help run the town or city. Fifth, encourage volunteering through community currencies that stay in the local region and don’t go to big corporations.

Aldrich says they’ve tested these five proposals and see results in which social ties improve by more than 10%. Various projects across the world–in the U.S., in Australia, Hong Kong, Japan.

$240 billion sea walls have no demonstrable effect on survival, recovery, or mental health rates.

Asian Studies Alum Daniel Aldrich Book Talk

November 18, 2019

Dr. Daniel Aldrich, Professor and Director, Security and Resilience Studies Program, Northeastern University, gave a presentation on his new book, Black Wave: How Connections and Governance Shaped Recovery from Japan’s 3/11 disasters (University of Chicago Press, 2019) on Monday, November 18th in 4003, FedEx Global Ed Center.

Image result for black wave aldrichAldrich received his Ph.D. from Harvard in Political Science; his M.A. from UC Berkeley; and his undergraduate degree in East Asian Studies from UNC-Chapel Hill in a previous incarnation of our department.

As a student at UNC in the 1990s, he developed unusual fluency in Japanese, partially through studying abroad in Japan. He also developed his interests in political science and global issues. One of his first teaching jobs was at Tulane University during Hurricane Katrina. Later, the 3/11 Disaster in Japan (AKA the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami) took the lives of nearly 16,000 people. Aldrich, with a background in the study of communities, social resiliency, and disaster recovery, was the perfect scholar to do fieldwork along the Tohoku coast to try and understand how people made sense of the shock and its aftereffects.

Aldrich’s book and his talk here at UNC explore why some communities had higher survivor rates during the crisis and better outcomes during the recovery. He also presents a compelling prescription for communities to be better prepared for disasters of the sort that will likely be increasingly common in the decades ahead.

Black Wave and Aldrich’s research more broadly is a marvelous articulation of how studying Asian and Middle Eastern languages and cultures prepared students to do meaningful work in the world. Students and parents sometimes ask, what can you do with a degree in Asian and Middle Eastern studies? Aldrich’s work is a perfect example of the best answer: what CAN’T you do, armed with knowledge of a foreign language and cross-cultural communication skills and global knowledge.

For more on the contemporary applications of the findings of Aldrich and his research lab, see the links below:

Brought to you by our new Forty for Forty campaign!





Professor Aldrich addressing the crowd

Aleeshah Nasir presents original research at the Ackland

May 12, 2019
Undergraduate Aleeshah Nasir presented her research on the role and complex relationships of the epic heroine Sita in three different literary versions of the Ramayana–the classic Hindu version, a Buddhist version, and a dramatic adaptation by a famous Sanskrit playwright–at the Ackland Museum’s Spring 2019 Student Showcase. She argued that although Sita appears differently in these texts, still has deep relevance and is a source of inspiration to many South Asian women. A first-year at Carolina, Aleeshah impressively completed this research project for an advanced seminar, ASIA 522.

Four Asian Studies Majors Inducted into Phi Beta Kappa

March 8, 2019

Four Asian Studies majors will be inducted into Alpha of North Carolina Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest honor society in the U.S.

Congratulations to Hannah Balser, Scott Diekema, Wenwen Mei, and Takoda Ren.

DAS faculty social

February 18, 2019

Faculty in the Department of Asian Studies gathered to socialize and relax on February 14th. Professors Uffe Bergeton, John Caldwell, Mark Driscoll, Ji-Yeon Jo, Pamela Lothspeich, Morgan Pitelka, Afroz Taj, Claudia Yaghoobi, and Nadia Yaqub, plus department Accounting Technician Angelika Straus gathered at Linda’s for good cheer. 

Arabic summer courses

January 23, 2019


  • Intensive courses for introductory Arabic studies
  • A full academic year (8 credit hours) will be covered over the two summer sessions
  • Classes meet five days per week from 9:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m
  • Visiting student application opens February 4, 2019
  • Summer School registration begins March 18, 2019
  • FLAS funding eligible

FLYER: UNC Arabic Summer Courses 2019

First Session (May 15-June 20)

  • Elementary Arabic I (ARAB 101, 4 credit hours) Introduction to written and spoken Arabic. Includes introduction to both Modern Standard Arabic and a dialect. No prerequisite.

Second Session (June 24-July 30)

  • Elementary Arabic II (ARAB 102, 4 credit hours) Continued introduction to, and development of, written and spoken Arabic skills. Prerequisite: ARAB 101 or departmental placement.

On-campus housing available on request
Program is available to current UNC students, incoming freshmen, students from other universities, community members, and rising high school seniors
For more information about Arabic Studies at UNC Chapel Hill, please visit

Professor Lothspeich to serve in MLA’s Delegate Assembly

January 10, 2019

Associate Professor Pamela Lothspeich has been elected a delegate for Women and Gender in the Profession in the Delegate Assembly of the Modern Language Association, the largest professional organization for scholars of language and literature in the U.S.  She will be serving in this capacity for a three-year term beginning in January 2019.

Advanced Hindi-Urdu Student Presents Poetry at Conference

December 3, 2018

One of the department’s advanced Hindi-Urdu students, Denton Ong, presented his original Hindi poetry at a major Hindi literature conference in Boston. The conference, “Hindi Manch Rashtriya Mahostav (Hindi Manch National Convention)” is the first of its kind in the United States to feature Hindi learners alongside native language poets and creative writers. Attendees included the Consular General from India. Denton wrote his poems in Professor Afroz Taj’s HNUR 306 course as part of a creative writing assignment.