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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.

Study Abroad Excellence: Michael Sparks, IES Abroad Film Finalist

October 27, 2020

Michael Sparks, a senior studying computer science and communications, has been named a finalist in the IES Abroad Film Festival for the film he created on the UNC Summer in Japan program in 2019. IES says of Michael’s film: “[Michael] provides us with an incredible cinematic experience of scenes in Tokyo, Japan that are dramatic and comedic–a balance that is curated so beautifully that we can’t help but hit the replay button.”

Founded in 2014, the IES Abroad Study Abroad Film Festival is one of the first student-focused study abroad film festivals in the industry. Celebrating its fifth anniversary this year, the IES Abroad Film Festival has provided students a platform to voice their global journey through their own words and video footage, capturing unique views into their life-changing study abroad experiences – showing what the experience meant to them and how it redefined their world. For more information, please visit:

Congratulations, Michael! We’re so proud of you!

Video of Professor Timothy Daniels, “Blackness in Malaysia and Indonesia: Stories from the Field” (UNC only)

October 26, 2020

Professor Timothy Daniels (Hofstra University) spoke on the topic of “Blackness in Malaysia and Indonesia: Stories from the Field.” The talk was part of the DAMES 2020-2021 speaker series, “Blackness in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies,” and this event was co-sponsored by the UNC Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies and moderated by Dr. Kevin Fogg (Associate Director, Carolina Asia Center, UNC).

Video of the talk (UNC login required)

Congratulations to our Phi Beta Kappa members in DAMES!

October 26, 2020

Further demonstrating that DAMES is simply bursting at the seams with excellence, several DAMES students have been inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious college honors society.

A student who has completed 75 hours of coursework in the liberal arts and sciences with a GPA of 3.85 or better (on a 4-point scale) is eligible for membership. Also eligible is any student who has completed 105 hours of coursework in the liberal arts and sciences with a 3.75 GPA. Grades earned at other universities are not considered. Fewer than 1% of all college students qualify.

Past and present Phi Beta Kappa members from across the country have included 17 American presidents, 41 U.S. Supreme Court Justices, more than 140 Nobel Laureates and numerous artistic, intellectual and political leaders.

The DAMES initiates are as follows:

•       Elizabeth Taylor Cox, a senior with Arab cultures and peace, war and defense majors and a Middle Eastern languages minor, of Chapel Hill.

•       Tucker Eugene Craven, a senior with political science and Chinese majors, of High Point.
•       Andrew Nenow, a senior with computer science and Chinese majors and a statistics and analytics minor, of Boone.
•       Katelyn Marie Shadowens, a senior with Chinse and communication studies majors, of Hickory.
•       Sarah Wang, a junior with computer science and Chinese majors, of Apex.
•       Lydia Sun Yun, a senior with Japanese and peace, war and defense majors, of Durham.

Not to be outdone, our minors:
•       Evangeline Huei-En Liauw, a May 2020 graduate with a business administration major and a Chinese minor, of Durham.
•       Lindsay Zhou, a junior with computer science and linguistics majors and a Japanese minor, of Cary.
•       Hannah Olmstead, a senior with public policy and economics majors and an Arabic minor, of Oklahoma City.

Congratulations to our wonderful students!