Skip to main content

Social Distance Questionnaire: Dr. Yaghoobi

April 7, 2020

As we all adjust to our strange new world during the COVID-19 crisis, professors in our department are working hard to meet the needs of our students as they scatter to homes near and far. But how are the professors themselves adjusting, you ask? Find out firsthand, starting here with Dr. Claudia Yaghoobi as she answers our Social Distance Questionnaire!

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

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.

An Interview with Mercedes Deramgozin, the Asian Studies Work-Study Assistant!

February 28, 2020

More than just our faculty make the UNC Asian Studies Department an incredible resource on campus. This interview with Mercedes Deramgozin, the 2019-2020 Asian Studies work-study assistant, offers a special behind-the-scenes chat with someone who helps to keep our department running smoothly every day!

Tell us about yourself, Mercedes!

Hello! My name is Mercedes  Deramgozin and I am a sophomore student at UNC Chapel Hill. Contrary to popular belief, I was not named after the car nor do my parents own a Benz :). I was actually named after a character in a book called The Count of Monte Cristo. I am currently a Peace War and Defense major and a Persian minor, and I plan on going into the psychiatry field in the future. Some of my hobbies include sketching, reading books, and playing the guitar.

What made you apply for our work-study position here in Asian Studies?

One of the main reasons why I applied to this job is my own personal connection to Asian studies. During my freshman year, I dealt with a lot of anxiety and stress (as does any college student). Some of the classes that I looked forward to attending were those in the Asian studies department. My Persian language classes with Dr. Adel were the highlight of my day, as they made me feel a connection with my heritage. Taking classes with her made me feel more confident in speaking my mother language. Now that I am a PWAD major and Persian minor, I have many classes that overlap with Asian studies and I thoroughly enjoy all of them.

Did you have any exposure to Asian Studies before taking this job?

Prior to being a PWAD major, I was a Chemistry major and I didn’t have much space in my schedule to take the classes I wanted. I did take a few classes that interested me, and they happened to be in the Asian Studies Department. Even though I plan on going into pre-medicine, these classes persuaded me to change my major into something that I equally enjoy. So while I am taking my pre-med requirements, I am also studying other subject material that intrigues me through my major.

What is it like working in the department?

Working in the Asian Studies Department is one of the favorite things in my busy days. All the staff and faculty members are so welcoming and kind that New West has become one of the main places on campus where I feel safe and included.

What advice would you give other students at Carolina?

Students who may want to study something that they feel does not relate to their career path should definitely consider pursuing it. Being in a liberal arts college means you get to study a diverse range of subjects without the stress of being limited to your major or path. Another thing I may suggest is finding a hobby, volunteering, or working a position that isn’t necessarily related to your field of study. By doing this, you might find out something about yourself that you didn’t know before. If you are able to manage your time and schedule, it is definitely worth opening your scope in studies. I feel this is one of the main ways a college campus can become inclusive and diverse in thought.

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.