Class Exhibition: Vanderbilt and Asia

I’m so proud of my students in ASIA 2610 Overseas Encounters (Spring 2023), who together built this site of online exhibition — Vanderbilt and Asia: Student and Alumni Connections.

The class happens to include 23 students many of whom are first-year international students. For the final project, we explored the Asian students who came to Vanderbilt University for an education from 1873 to 1923, the first 50 years of Vanderbilt’s history. We have discovered amazing adventures, tragic stories, and thought-provoking life choices in times of national conflict.

This has been a unique course and unique experience. I have witnessed significant and occasionally worrisome changes in the south of America during my eight years as a faculty member at Vanderbilt University. Stories of VU’s Asian alumni from 100 years ago shockingly resemble our experiences in modern-day America. I hope students have found my course helpful for them to understand history and navigate today’s troubled world.

Ms. Jenny Shi Brings “Finding Yingying” to Vanderbilt

During the winter of 2020, in the heat of the presidential election, international students, especially those from China, became easy scapegoats targeted by some mean and malicious politicians in the U.S. I was angry. I was infuriated. I designed and offered a course that I called “Overseas Encounters: Reading the World through Students Abroad”. The subtitle is too long to fit into the registrar catalogue, but I insist on keeping it on my syllabus. This is a course about international students, those to and from U.S., who travers the world and make history.

The 2021 spring course was taught online, with students participating from around the world–thanks to covid. While searching for materials for this class, I ran into the documentary about Finding Yingying directed by Jenny Shi. My students watched the movie and had a virtual conversation with Jenny.

Two weeks ago, in the spring of 2023, Jenny visited Vanderbilt and met with my students in the Overseas Encounters class. It’s such a powerful movie; Yingying’s dead body was not found, but Yingying is discovered and remembered by all of us thanks to Jenny’s courageous work.

Students in my class shared their experiences of accepting rides from strangers in the U.S., about the challenges related to languages, religions, and ideas about race and gender. One student who transferred from UIUC talked about passing by Yingying’s tombstone on the roadside every day.

I also recall that, fourteen years ago, I borrowed money from my former college roommate to buy a one-way ticket to attend graduate school in the U.S. It’s been more than a decade. Now we encounter each other in this classroom, former and current international students.

Thanks so much to Jenny Shi for producing this documentary and for visiting Vanderbilt and my class. We are trivial beings; but we are all significant enough to be known and remembered.

Grant for Trans-Pacific Links: The Vanderbilt Asian Alumni Project

I’m glad that Trans-Pacific Links: The Vanderbilt Asian Alumni Project is among the first group of projects to receive a Vanderbilt University Sesquicentennial Grant ($50,000, 2022-2024). The Trans-Pacific Links project aims to uncover the history and stories of Vanderbilt University’s Asian alumni and the university’s linkage with Asia. The project will involve Vanderbilt undergraduate and graduate students, faculty members in Asian Studies, as well as librarians and staff.

As a first step, students in my class ASIA 2610 Overseas Encounters will work in groups to track down Asian students who came to study at Vanderbilt since the late 19th century, including Charlie Soong (China) and Yun Chi-ho (Korea), among others. It will involve archival work, field work, interviews, and website building.

The project will be co-directed by my colleague Gerald Figal and myself.

2021 Overseas Encounters

2020 was a chaotic year in America, with the presidential election, the pandemic, and so on. I designed and offered a new course titled Overseas Encounters: Reading the World through Students Abroad. We read and discussed the history and literature about international students in the world from the seventh century China to the 21st century America. We also explores themes related to those experiences: religion, culture, gender, language, etc. Below are some projects my students created to document their discoveries.

My Sense of Nationalism

The Overseas Encounter of Bhangra

Viewing Cultural Interactions Through Different Lenses

Crossroads in a Storm for Chinese Overseas Students

This World of Ours

The Legend of the Red Lantern

The Legend of the Red Lantern is one of the eight modern operas during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). It was based on movies and novels produced in the preceding decades. It was a work of art as well as propaganda for decades in contemporary China. The episode performed by Isaiah Degen features the interrogation of a Communist army member by a Japanese military official. Isaiah innovatively plays both roles by himself.

Peony Pavilion on Zoom

Peony Pavilion is a Chinese opera composed by Tang Xianzu (1550-1616). It is often compared with Romeo and Juliet due to their shared themes of love and death. After discussing part of the drama with a focus on the protagonist Bridal Du’s death caused by lovesickness, a group of students came up with their own ways to dress up and read/perform the encountering in dream between Bridal Du, her lover Student Liu, at the presence of a God of Flowers.