Kalamazoo College Welcomes New Faculty Members

Kalamazoo College is pleased to welcome the following faculty members to campus this fall:

Assistant Professor of Spanish Tris Faulkner

Assistant Professor of Spanish Tris Faulkner
Assistant Professor of Spanish Tris Faulkner

Tris Faulkner, who is originally from Jamaica, lived in Chile for about two years, working as a translator and interpreter at a prominent law firm before earning a Ph.D. in Spanish linguistics from Georgetown University. She also has professional experience as a translator and interpreter at the Embassy of Venezuela, and in similar roles at a legal firm and a business school in North Carolina.

Faulkner has lived in Spain and visited various Spanish-speaking countries, experiences which have helped her to observe the diversity that characterizes the Spanish language. Her research investigates the semantics and pragmatics of variation in verbal mood, tense, and aspect, as related to the Romance language family, English, and Jamaican Creole.

In addition to her Ph.D., Faulkner has master’s degrees from Georgetown (M.Sc. in Spanish linguistics) and Wake Forest University (M.A. in interpreting and translation studies), and a bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University (B.A. in Spanish language and literature and international studies). She will teach seminars in Spanish linguistics, as well as various other courses in the upcoming academic year.

Assistant Professor of Religion Sohini Pillai

Assistant Professor of Religion Sohini Pillai
Assistant Professor of Religion Sohini Pillai

Sohini Pillai will teach courses this academic year on religious traditions in South Asia. She is a comparatist of South Asian religious literature and her area of specialization is the Mahabharata and Ramayana epic narrative traditions with a focus on retellings created in Hindi and Tamil.

Pillai is the co-editor of Many Mahabharatas (State University of New York Press, 2021), an introduction to diverse retellings of the Mahabharata tradition in the forms of classical dramas, premodern vernacular poems, regional performance traditions, commentaries, graphic novels, political essays, novels, and contemporary theater productions. She’s also a member of the Steering Committee for the Hinduism Unit at the American Academy of Religion.

Pillai has a Ph.D. in South and Southeast Asian studies from the University of California, Berkeley; a master’s degree in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African studies from Columbia University; and a bachelor’s degree in South Asia studies and theatre studies from Wellesley College.

Assistant Professor of Theatre Quincy Thomas

Assistant Professor of Theatre Quincy Thomas
Assistant Professor of Theatre Quincy Thomas

Quincy Thomas earned his Ph.D. in theatre and his performance studies certification from Bowling Green State University. His research centers on subjects including counter-storytelling, Black performativity in American culture, representations of the marginalized in popular culture, comedic and solo performance and performative writing. At K, he will teach directing, theatre history and playwriting, with further prior experience teaching theatre, performance studies and film.

His courses are informed on issues of cultural marginalization and misrepresentation in the arts, specifically of racial and ethnic minorities, women and members of the LGBTQ+ community. His work has been published in peer-reviewed academic journals, including the International Review of Qualitative Research and Puppetry International, and presented at national conferences, including the Mid-America Theatre Conference, the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry, and the Mid-Atlantic Popular and American Culture Association (MAPACA). He currently serves as president of MAPACA. His most recent directorial offering was Robert Patrick’s Play-by-Play: A Spectacle of Ourselves: A Verse Farce in Two Acts. Thomas also has a background in acting. Some of his favorite roles played include Christopher in Joe Penhall’s Blue/Orange, Albert in Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park, and most recently the role of Actor in Nassim Soleimanpour’s White Rabbit; Red Rabbit.

Assistant Professor of Economics Darshana Udayanganie

Assistant Professor of Economics Darshana Udayanganie
Assistant Professor of Economics Darshana Udayanganie

Darshana Udayanganie earned her Ph.D., with specializations in environmental economics and college teaching, and a master’s degree in economics from the University of New Hampshire. She also has a master’s degree in resource economics and policy from the University of Maine and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka. Before joining K in 2017 as a visiting assistant professor, she taught at Central Michigan University from 2014 to 2017, Merrimack College in 2013 and 2014, and the University of New Hampshire’s global student success program from 2011 to 2014.

Her current research focuses on urban economics and environmental economics. She also has published book chapters on economic growth in relation to military expenditure and international trade.

Assistant Professor of Japanese Brian White

Brian White will teach courses in Japanese language, literature and culture at K.  He specializes in contemporary (post-1945) Japanese popular culture and media studies.

He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, where he wrote a dissertation on 1960s Japanese sci-fi literature and film, asking specifically, “What can a genre do?” He will delve into that history when he teaches a course in the winter term this year on Japanese science fiction and media history.

White earned a bachelor’s degree in East Asian languages and civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Across his undergraduate and graduate careers, he has spent a total of two and a half years living in Japan, primarily in Tokyo, Yokohama and Kyoto. 

Assistant Professor of Chinese Yanshuo Zhang

Yanshuo Zhang’s research addresses multiethnic Chinese identities in literary and visual cultures produced in China and the U.S. Her research on multiethnic Chinese cultural productions helps diversify scholarly understanding of and teaching about modern Chinese national culture.

She was a lecturer in Stanford University’s Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR) from 2018 through 2020, where she designed classes on cross-cultural explorations of diversity, particularly in Asia and the U.S. She also has been a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Michigan.

She earned a bachelor’s degree from St. Catherine University and a Ph.D. from Stanford University.

Visiting Assistant Professor Vijayan Sundararaj

Vijayan Sundararaj leads a biology course this term in ecology and conservation. He has prior education experience as a lecturer, teaching assistant and topic lecturer between Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Canada, and Texas A&M University-Kingsville. His teaching interests include evolutionary ecology concepts, animal behavior, foraging behavior, predator-prey interactions, conservation biology, wildlife ecology, waterfowl ecology, mammalogy, spatial ecology, and introductory geographic information systems.

Sundararaj received a bachelor’s degree with a specialty in zoology from Gujarat University in India before earning a master’s degree in ecology from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel; a geographic information systems applications specialist graduate certificate from Sir Sandford Fleming College in Canada and a doctorate in forest sciences and wildlife ecology from Lakehead University.

Visiting Assistant Professor Eunice Uhm

Eunice Uhm specializes in modern and contemporary art, with a transnational focus on the United States and East Asia. Her work examines the conditions of migration and the diasporic aesthetic subjectivities in the works of contemporary Japanese and South Korean art from the 1960s to the present. She has previously taught courses on modern and contemporary art, East Asian art, and Asian American studies at Ohio State University. She has organized panels and presented her work on Asian American art at national conferences such as CAA. She is an active member of numerous grassroots community organizations for Asian Americans and immigrant rights, and she is involved in immigrant rights campaigns such as Love has no borders: A call for justice in our immigration system. Her essay, “Constructing Asian American Political and Aesthetic Subjectivities: Contradictions in the Works of Ruth Asawa,” is forthcoming (Verge: Studies in Global Asias, University of Minnesota Press).

Uhm received a master’s degree and a doctorate in the history of art from the Ohio State University. At K, she teaches courses on Asian and Asian American art, art and race, and transnationalism.

Visiting Assistant Professor Fungisai Musoni

Fungisai Musoni has joined the history department where she will teach courses in African civilizations, decolonization in West and Southern Africa, and U.S.-Africa relations since World War II.

Musoni has prior teaching experience in African literature, American politics and global issues, and social studies between the Ohio State University, Georgia State University, Gwinnett County Schools in Atlanta and the Zimbabwe Ministry of Education and Culture.

She fluently reads, writes and speaks the African languages of Shona and Manyika. Her education includes a bachelor’s degree in economic history and Shona from the University of Zimbabwe, Harare; master’s degrees in political science and history from Georgia State University and Mercer University respectively; and a doctorate in African American and African Studies from the Ohio State University.

Visiting Assistant Professor Badru-Deen Barry

Badru-Deen Barry teaches Introductory chemistry and biochemistry at K this fall.

His education includes a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Fourah Bay College in Freetown, Sierra Leone, master’s degrees in chemistry from Northeast Normal University in China and Michigan State University, and a doctorate in chemistry from Michigan State.

He previously served Michigan State and Northeast Normal as a graduate research assistant, Société Générale de Surveillance in Freetown, Sierra Leone, as port supervisor and chemist, and Fourah Bay College as a laboratory and teaching assistant.

Visiting Assistant Professor Mikela Zhezha-Thaumanavar

Mikela Zhezha-Thaumanavar is teaching courses in Spanish this fall as well as a course in foreign language teaching methods. In addition, she serves as the coordinator for the Spanish Teaching Assistants at K. She received her bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and doctorate in Spanish linguistics from Western Michigan University.

She has previously taught courses in Spanish at Western Michigan University, Davenport University, and Kalamazoo Community College. She also served WMU as a guest professor, teaching in the institution’s Summer Translation Program. She previously has worked in translation and speaks Albanian and Italian in addition to English and Spanish.

Visiting Assistant Professor Jennifer Mills

Jennifer Mills is leading courses including seminars in psychology and health psychology this term. Mills holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia, master’s degrees from Georgia College and State University and Western Michigan University, and a doctorate from WMU.

She is working on an executive master’s in public health at Emory University with an emphasis in prevention science. For the past 10 years, Mills has owned and operated MindBodyWell, a private counseling practice that focuses on science-based approaches to stress, depression and anxiety. 

Mills is an active member of the Institute for Public Scholarship, a local, anti-racist organization that works on issues of place and belonging. Her research interests focus on preventing and mitigating the impact of early childhood adversity on health. 

Visiting Assistant Professor Robert Mowry

Robert Mowry is teaching two sections of Introduction to Society and Culture offered by the Department of Anthropology and Sociology. His additional teaching interests include quantitative methods, disaster, the intersection of politics and the environment, and ways of seeing and knowing.

Mowry comes to Kalamazoo College from the University of Notre Dame, where he recently earned his Ph.D. in sociology. Previously, he earned master’s degrees from the University of Notre Dame and the University of Sheffield, and a B.A. from Earlham College.

As a teacher-scholar of disaster and politics, Mowry employs multiple methods to study the processes and outcomes of globally diverse, high-stakes political arenas—from post-disaster contentious politics in the U.S. and Japan to the gendered dynamics of protest participation in Europe. A related stream of research looks at how cultural processes of learning, memory, and thinking spur spontaneous laughter outbursts during Supreme Court oral arguments. His work has been published in Sociological Theory.

Visiting Assistant Professor Jennifer Perry

Jennifer Perry leads courses at K including General Psychology, Sensation and Perception, and Psychopharmacology in the Department of Psychology. Her credentials include a Bachelor of Arts from St. Olaf College and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. Perry’s research includes studies on the ethics of laboratory animal research and the role of impulsive behavior in drug abuse.

Faculty Member’s New Book Examines Disability Sports in Japan

Disability Sports Book Author Dennis Frost with family and two Japanese Paralympians
Wen Chao Chen Associate Professor of East Asian Social Sciences Dennis Frost has released a new book More Than Medals: A History of the Paralympics and Disability Sports in Postwar Japan. He’s pictured here with his family and two Japanese Paralympians.

When most sports enthusiasts are thinking about the Super Bowl, a new book from a Kalamazoo College faculty member is focusing on a different kind of athletics competition and how it relates to creating a barrier-free society for those with disabilities.

Wen Chao Chen Associate Professor of East Asian Social Sciences Dennis Frost has unveiled More Than Medals: A History of the Paralympics and Disability Sports in Postwar Japan. The book addresses the histories of individuals, institutions and events that have played important roles in developing disability sports in Japan. Such events include the 1964 Paralympics in Tokyo, the Far East and South Pacific (FESPIC) Games for the Disabled, the Ōita International Wheelchair Marathon, the Nagano Winter Paralympics, and the 2021 Tokyo Summer Games.

Frost’s first book, Seeing Stars: Sports Celebrity, Identity and Body Culture in Modern Japan, traced the emergence and evolution of sports celebrity in Japan from the 17th through the 21st centuries. The new book, he said, is an outgrowth of that project.

“Before I taught at K, I was a teaching fellow at my undergraduate alma mater, Wittenberg University, where I taught a class on sports in East Asia,” Frost said. “Students were working on presenting a project about the Nagano Winter Olympics, and one asked if she could do her part of the presentation on the Paralympics. The student found a few media reports, but neither one of us was pleased with the limited information available on the Paralympics. So that was my first inspiration for this project.”

Disability sports book photo from the 2016 Oita International Wheelchair Marathon
Dennis Frost includes this photo of the Ōita International Wheelchair Marathon in his new book, More Than Medals: A History of the Paralympics and Disability Sports in Postwar Japan.

Frost’s interest piqued further when his youngest son, who was born with spina bifida, began taking an interest in sports.

“He’s played wheelchair tennis and sled hockey up in Grand Rapids, so I get to see some adaptive sports from his perspective, and then I’m doing my research more on the institutional side while talking about bigger scale events in Japan,” Frost said. “In some senses, it’s a project that has combined my personal and academic interests.”

For More Than Medals, Frost conducted interviews with athletes such as Suzaki Katsumi, who participated in the 1964 Tokyo Paralympic Games, the first event of its kind in Japan. Suzaki started training in disability sports just a few months before the Games using therapeutic hot springs baths at his rehabilitation facility in Ōita, Japan. As a result, he was surprised that the pool water at the Paralympics was so cold.

Disability Sports Book cover More Than Medals
Dennis Frost has released his new book, More Than Medals: A History of the Paralympics and Disability Sports in Postwar Japan.

Such anecdotes show that in their early history events like the Paralympics were less about competition. Even today when the focus is more on elite-level competition, the significance of the Paralympics extends well beyond the playing field. Those were ideas echoed in recent years by Tokyo Governor Koike Yuriko, who recognized Japan’s aging population when discussing her city’s preparations for the Olympic Games.

“The success of the Paralympics is really the key to the success of the overall Games here,” she said. “I believe putting weight on hosting a successful Paralympics is more important than a successful Olympics.”

“Part of what I was interested in with this project is understanding how you go from a situation in the 1960s, where very few people in Japan actually knew what the Paralympics were, to a point where they’re almost mainstream in Japan,” Frost said. “In preparing for 2020, the Olympics and Paralympics were treated as a perfect pair, and everybody talked about both at the same time. In 60 years, they’ve undergone a pretty dramatic shift.”

In general, Frost’s research focuses on modern Japanese history with emphases on sports, disability, militarization, and urban development. At K, he teaches courses on premodern, modern and contemporary East Asian history with a particular focus on China, Japan and Korea. He also teaches first-year and sophomore seminars in the College’s Shared Passages Program, as well as senior seminars for the History Department and the East Asian Studies Program. More Than Medals represents a Fulbright grant and a couple of National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grants that supported the project, several working trips to Japan, months spent in Tokyo with his family, and interviews with athletes, citizens and reporters, to compare a culture more adaptive to the needs of the disabled than what we traditionally might find in the United States.

“In Japan, in recent years there’s been a lot of attention more generally even beyond the Paralympics, to how we create a society that is barrier free,” Frost said. “That’s both in terms of the actual physical structures like having curb cuts and escalators and elevators instead of stairs, and also in attitudes toward people that are different in whatever way from others. There’s a lot of discussion about that in Japan. Some of those things are happening in some places in the United States, but in Japan, I think it’s become much more widespread in recent years.”

The book is available now through Cornell University Press.

Pandemic Strikes with Students Far from Home

Pandemic in China
Daniel Mota-Villegas ’21 (in the hooded sweatshirt) visited the Forbidden City during his study abroad experience in China. Mota-Villegas returned to Kalamazoo earlier than he expected to amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Others in the picture include Nick Gorman, Max Caplan, Ryanna Chouman, K student Denise Jackson, Ronnie Rodriquez, K student Sage Ringsmuth and K student Kaylee Henderson.

When Kalamazoo College students began their international immersion experiences this academic year, the Center for International Programs (CIP) didn’t expect a global pandemic to change anyone’s plans. Regardless, a once-in-a-century historical challenge emerged.

“This is my first worldwide phenomenon,” said CIP Executive Director Margaret Wiedenhoeft in discussing COVID-19, an illness that has infected millions and killed hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. “Most of what we’ve worked with in the past has been country or region specific. This is the first time we had multiple programs shut down at once.”

As the seriousness of the pandemic took shape, K was lucky. No students were sickened abroad and no immersion itineraries were cut unreasonably short as they were halted. On K’s campus, international students affected by travel bans were provided residence hall rooms, even as the College took steps to empty campus and implement social-distancing guidelines.

Still, students who visited countries such as China, Germany and Spain, and international students who remained in Kalamazoo, have stories to tell. And if you’ve wondered how the pandemic has affected them in their travels, keep reading.

Maya Hernandez in China
Maya Hernandez ’21 was among four Kalamazoo College students in Beijing when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Days of Uncertainty in Beijing

Maya Hernandez ’21 and Daniel Mota-Villegas ’21 were among four K students studying at Capital Normal University in Beijing, China, this winter. Before coronavirus emerged, “Honestly it was amazing,” said Hernandez, an East Asian studies major. “Everything was super affordable. It was fun to go out and explore the capital.”

In late January, their sixth month of a planned nine-month immersion, that began to change as word developed of coronavirus, and its presence in Wuhan.

“I figured it was like the flu,” Hernandez said. “But within the span of a week and a half, concern increased.”

Although Wuhan is more than 700 miles from Beijing, professors in the capital were warning students not to visit enclosed and crowded public spaces, traffic was dying down, and fewer children were playing outside. Masks were commonly seen from the start because of pollution in the city, yet they were becoming more prevalent. Hotels and beaches even began to close, forcing Mota-Villegas and Hernandez to cancel plans to visit another city.

“After that there were check points around the school,” said Mota-Villegas, a political science major studying U.S.-China relations and how they affect Taiwan. “They closed the school’s gates and there were security guards around. We couldn’t leave campus without direct permission.”

Fear emerged without reliable, consistent communication through tools such as the Internet, which is problematic in China, and with a 12-hour time difference from Kalamazoo hindering communication with the College. Should they go home and risk not returning? Should they make logistical preparations such as closing their bank accounts? Should they stay and risk not being able to leave with travel restrictions developing around the world?

Meanwhile, in Kalamazoo, the CIP was monitoring the U.S. Department of State guidelines, which had yet to focus on Bejing. Partner organizations in China—which had not yet cancelled programs in other parts of the country—sent updates, and CIP was gathering additional information from other U.S. institutions that had students in China. The situation was fast-moving and fluid. Finally, Capital Normal cancelled its global programs for the next term on Jan. 31, leading to a phone call to students from the CIP. It was a call telling the K students that CIP was bringing them home.

“Once we heard we were going home, that was the best feeling in the world,” Mota-Villegas said. “We needed that phone call. It made me realize again that K would take care of us. We felt supported again and we celebrated.”

Downtown Erlangen Germany During Pandemic
Jennalise Ellis ’21 was studying abroad in Erlangen, Germany, when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Similar Tales of Two Cities in Europe

Although news was spreading of the coronavirus in Europe, two K students who were there until March said they initially weren’t worried about it, and they were surprised to come home.

In Badajoz, Spain, Nick Stein ’21 was studying at the Extremadura University in January. Several of his K peers were leaving after attending their program for its scheduled six months. Stein, though, was planning to stay an additional term.

“I first heard about coronavirus as everyone else was leaving,” he said. “Life was pretty normal until maybe March 10.”

Stein had been attending classes and teaching English when he made a trip to an art festival in Madrid. It was about that time when people started cancelling trips and there was talk of Extremadura University calling off its term.

Then, the president of Spain said the country would close borders and restrict travel.

“The CIP was good about saying, ‘You can stay or you can come home,’” Stein said. “They were always good about letting me make the decision. But when the president said there would be action, I knew that was my time to leave. In three hours, I had found a flight. I got on a train to Madrid and slept at the airport on my way home.”

Coming back so suddenly was the only thing he would change about his experience.

“It was surreal in a certain sense,” Stein said. “It’s difficult to come back when you’re speaking a different language for a while. It felt like living in a dream for two months. I was teaching English to families and making relationships when I suddenly had to return. It was a surprise.”

A similar story developed in Erlangen, Germany, for Jennalise Ellis ’21.

Ellis is a chemistry and German double major at K. When she attended Friedrich-Alexander University in Germany, she took mostly German-language courses, but blended her majors by taking a didactic chemistry course and working as an assistant in an organic chemistry lab. She was planning on staying three more months when President Trump planned a travel ban from Europe into the U.S., and countries neighboring Germany began closing their borders.

“I was shocked when I found out that I was actually going to have to move back to the U.S., because I was hopeful that the severity of the pandemic would subside by the start of the summer semester in mid-April,” she said. “I was also sad that I had to say goodbye to people and the city I got to know so well. The hardest part was that I didn’t have time to mentally prepare to leave Erlangen.”

It was an experience that has left her longing to go back some day.

“I definitely want to return,” Ellis said. “I am considering going to graduate school in Germany.”

An International Student Stays

When K students received the notification about distance learning this term, Xiu Cai ’20, an international student from China, was concerned. In addition to feeling frustrated with missing the spring events of her senior year, she worried that the travel restrictions, combined with the residence halls closing, would leave her homeless. Fortunately, the CIP was there to help.

“We received some emails that said people from China and certain places in Europe would not have to leave because of the travel bans,” Cai said. “When I talked with CIP, they emphasized those emails guaranteed me a place. They were supportive and helpful. I’ve appreciated everything they do.”

Since, Cai has attended distance learning courses from her residence hall, eaten meals at the Hicks Student Center, appreciated Mail Center services and exercised by walking through campus. She also is grateful for her professors who gave support, Dining Services who provided her with meals, and the Student Health Center, which provided masks when she need them.

“I feel like being here now is a special experience, for me at least,” she said. “Not everyone would have a chance to experience the same thing in their lives. I’m grateful to the school for allowing me to stay here.”

Still at hand, however, is the issue of getting home after graduation. Cai has tried five times to schedule flights home for June after the Conferral of Degrees ceremony, and all five flights have been cancelled. As of now, she’s uncertain when she will go home and see her family.

“I video chat with family almost every day,” Cai said. When coronavirus emerged, “I was spending all my time worrying about my family. Now, they’re worried about me.”

Regardless, Cai said this experience, if anything, is only encouraging her to travel more.

“The coronavirus, to me, is random,” she said. “You never know what will happen in the next second in life. If you have the chance, go wherever you want.”

Moving forward

Moving forward, students who want to study abroad may need to consider what the “new normal” may be as the pandemic runs its course.

“I would think about what my expectations for travel might be and how we meet our new reality,” Wiedenhoeft said. “I know many of our students who go to Europe, for example, love to travel. What would it mean if you’re in Spain and can’t go to France? That means you can still get to know different regions of Spain very well. You can go to art museums. You can find something that is interesting to you, and be flexible enough to achieve it.”

Wiedenhoeft also is encouraging optimism that student immersion opportunities will stay an important part of the K-Plan.

“There are certain regions of the world that will recover first,” she said. “We need to do what we can to maximize opportunities in those regions. The relationships we have with our partners will be very important in those plans. I think our relationships will be stronger because we’ve been in frequent contact.”

In addition, “We want to encourage folks not to be disheartened,” she said. “We genuinely believe we will engage with the world again and that they will engage with us. It will take time, but it will not be like this forever.”

Two K Students Among Top Three Finishers in Japanese Speech Contest

Japanese Speech Contest
Xiu Cai ’20 (middle) and Shane Spink ’20 (right) finished second and third respectively out of dozens who represented colleges and universities across Michigan in a Japanese Speech Contest organized by Detroit’s Consulate General of Japan. Cai and Spink are third-year Japanese students of Visiting Instructor Masanori Shiomi.

For the second year in a row, two Kalamazoo College students placed among the top three finishers in a prestigious Japanese Speech Contest organized by Detroit’s Consulate General of Japan.

Xiu Cai ’20 and Shane Spink ’20 finished second and third respectively out of dozens who represented the University of Michigan, Western Michigan University, Eastern Michigan University and Lansing Community College at the 24th Michigan Japanese Language Speech Contest. Cai and Spink are third-year Japanese students of Visiting Instructor Masanori Shiomi.

Contest participants drafted their own speeches in Japanese to present in front of three judges and an audience Feb. 9 at Michigan State University. Cai’s speech, “My Life with Accidents and Coincidences,” shared her unlikely foray into studying Japanese and how she came to love it. Spink’s speech, “How to Use Soft Power,” detailed Japan’s use of pop culture in diplomatic relations, contrasting it with the use of hard power in the United States.

Cai’s second-place finish tied Amanda Esler ’19 for the highest-ever finish for a K student in the contest.

The event “offered me a chance to meet new people and make friends with more Japanese students,” Cai said. “These intellectuals helped me learn more about the diverse perspectives of the world. However, I want to say thank you to my amazing Japanese teacher for being one of the most helpful and thoughtful teachers.”

Spink’s third-place finish was the best in the contest’s history for a K student who didn’t study abroad in Japan. Spink, a Kalamazoo native, said he believes he could have done better, but added “many of the other contestants have had far more experience with learning and practicing Japanese.” He plans to work in Japan after he graduates.

“Though it was nerve-wracking to perform a memorized speech in front of a large audience with far greater knowledge of the Japanese language than myself, it was a rewarding experience,” Spink said. “Events like these are important milestones and I will never forget this speech contest.”

K Nets Two Place-Winners in Japanese Language Speech Contest

Japanese Language Speech Contest Participants
Four finalists representing Kalamazoo College and a supportive contingent traveled to the Novi Civic Center in February for the 23rd Japanese Language Speech Contest organized by Detroit’s Consulate General of Japan. The group included (back row, from left) Brian Drenth, Craig Esler, Natalie Quist, Uyen Trinh, Michael Smith, Hannah Pszenica, Professor Tyler Walker and Demi Grivas; (second row, from left) Ploen Villvalin, Caryn Drenth, Professor Noriko Sugimori and Pam Esler; and (front row from left) Elayna Moreau, Lydia Drenth, Amanda Esler, YoungHoon (Richard) Kim and Molly Brueger.

Out of dozens of college and university students who applied this year, four Kalamazoo College students were invited to participate in the 23rd Michigan Japanese Language Speech Contest, a record for any college or university in the competition’s recent history, with two finishing among the top three competitors.

The contest, organized by Detroit’s Consulate General of Japan, offered 10 students from Michigan colleges and universities the opportunity to showcase their language abilities in the finals through self-made speeches delivered entirely in Japanese at the Novi Civic Center. K’s representatives have all been students in Associate Professor Noriko Sugimori’s third-year Japanese language class.

Sugimori noted a snow day prevented Amanda Esler ’19, YoungHoon (Richard) Kim ’19, Molly Brueger ’19 and Elayna Moreau ’21 from having their final dry run for the event. However, “the students worked hard and other students of Japanese also supported them in various ways,” Sugimori said, crediting her second-year Japanese language class, which developed questions about the speeches for the competitors to answer. Some even went to Novi to support their peers. “I am proud of everyone,” Sugimori said.

No K student had ever finished higher than third in the Japanese Language Speech Contest, until Esler finished second with her speech titled “The Importance of Friends.” The speech described how she turned a difficult study abroad experience into something special through the help and encouragement of her friends.

Japanese Language Speech Contest Participants 2
Amanda Esler ’19 (second from left) and YoungHoon (Richard) Kim ’19 (second from right) gave Kalamazoo College two place-winners for the first time in the finals of the Michigan Japanese Language Speech Contest.

“Personally, I love public speaking,” Esler said. “The fact that through your words you can inspire or encourage someone is amazing. And in this contest, it wasn’t in English, but rather Japanese, a language that I have spent nine years of my life learning. It was such an honor and a privilege to be able to compete and share my thoughts and experiences in Japanese.”

Esler said her K experiences inspired her speech, including the support she received from Sugimori and a close friend, Naori Nishimura, who was a visiting international student from Japan.

Without them, “I wouldn’t have studied abroad in Kyoto and none of the events in my speech would have occurred. So, this is really thanks to K. … I hoped to show just how much that bond [with Nishimura] meant to me.”

Kim delivered a speech titled “Shape of Japan” and won third prize, giving K a second representative among the place-winners for the first time. He spoke about his study abroad experience in Japan and articulated his deep appreciation for the country. In his view, his appreciation for Japan can’t be fully expressed in words.

“It was an honor for me, as a student who studies Japanese,” to participate in the contest, Kim said. “It meant that I am able to perform a public speech, openly expressing my thoughts and remarks on a suggested topic, through using a language that I did not know before. … It was only possible because I had an amazing faculty member and brilliant students who spent time with me.”

Brueger, in her speech titled “Breaking Barriers,” talked about how soccer empowers participants to break language barriers and make new friends, leading to greater cross-cultural understanding.

“This was an opportunity for me to feel confident about my Japanese language skills and to compete in a fun environment with other students who share an equal love for Japanese language and culture,” Brueger said.

Moreau delivered a speech titled “The Power of Communication” about their experiences working at Osaka Suisen Fukushikai’s Work Center Hoshin, a day care center in Osaka, Japan, for adults who have intellectual disabilities. The speech focused on how staff and clients communicated and how their experience can help interactions between people in general.

“When I worked with them, I got to experience their efforts to communicate and understand each other firsthand,” Moreau said. “No matter what mistakes I made or how troublesome it was for them to try to talk to me, staff and clients alike always made the utmost effort to include me in their conversations, events and work. They were so patient with me even when they didn’t need to be, and I quickly grew to admire everyone at the Work Center. I wanted to express this admiration in my speech, to express how amazing everyone at the center was. In some way, I wanted this speech to be some small ‘thank you’ to them.”

New Study Abroad Programs Will Connect Students, Interests

Students will learn about social, racial and economic issues in five new study abroad programs coming to Kalamazoo College in the 2019-20 academic year.

Center for International Programs Executive Director Margaret Wiedenhoeft said the new programs will align with K’s values and offer experiences in:

  • Havana, Cuba. From early September through late November, students will live in a historic Afro-Cuban working-class neighborhood. The program will help students

    New Study Abroad Programs
    Kalamazoo College students will have five new study abroad programs to choose from in the 2019-20 academic year including one in Havana, Cuba. Creative Commons-licensed photo of Plaza Vieja by Brian Snelson (exfordy). Photo available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/32659528@N00/495266522/. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.

    understand how the current government and economic systems affect the typical Havana resident.

  • Seoul, South Korea. Students will take courses in English from mid-August to mid-December across disciplines such as computer science, business, economics, East Asian studies and political science, and will have opportunities to learn Korean. The program is ideal for business and economics students who want to experience a large international city. It would also help East Asian studies students, who might have already traveled to China or Japan, develop an understanding of an additional country in Asia.
  • Sao Paulo, Brazil. K students, from early August through early December, will learn in this program about the African roots of Brazilian culture and study the local effects of issues such as poverty and inequality while working with the people affected through local organizations.
  • Cali, Colombia. Offered from July through early December, this program will focus on Afro-Colombian experiences as the city has the second-largest population of people with African descent in South America. Students will study race and ethnicity from an Afro-Columbian perspective.
  • Oaxaca, Mexico. The fall-term experience will be K’s second program in Oaxaca. Students in this program will enroll directly into a local university, live with local families selected by the university’s international student office and take classes with local Oaxacans.

“What students will do in these new programs and who they work with will connect well with who they are,” Wiedenhoeft said. “They will get more agency and choice, yet the programs are structured and tailored to fit into majors and interests at K.”

Most students will participate in the new study abroad programs as juniors. However, Wiedenhoeft added there will be some flexibility in the future to involve sophomores.

“These programs will provide a lens of personal experience very different from what students would receive by learning in a museum, for example,” Wiedenhoeft said, noting alumni will also recognize and appreciate how the programs are structured. “Students will work alongside local organizations and people while maintaining the traditions of study abroad at K.”

These five opportunities will join 45 others in 22 countries accessible to K students. For more information on the CIP or to schedule an appointment to discuss the new study abroad programs or others, call 269.337.7133 or visit the CIP at Dewing Hall.

East Asian Studies Students Earn Boren, Fulbright Honors

Three East Asian studies students at Kalamazoo College have earned prestigious competitive grants, allowing two to study abroad in Japan in the 2017-18 academic year, and a third to serve in an English teaching assistantship in Taiwan. Ihechi Ezuruonye ’19, of Southfield, Mich., and Molly Brueger ’19, of Arlington, Va., secured Boren Awards. Dejah Crystal ’17, of Standish, Maine, has earned a Fulbright U.S. Student Program award.

Boren Award Winner Ihechi Ezuruonye
Boren Award honoree Ihechi Ezuruonye will study for 11 months in Kyoto, Japan.

Boren Winners to Study in Japan

Boren Awards are worth up to $20,000 depending on the student’s financial need and how long the student stays overseas. Ezuruonye and Brueger were granted the maximum. The grants are funded by the federal government through the National Security Education Program, which focuses on geographic areas, languages and fields deemed critical to U.S. national security.

The awards are named after former U.S. Sen. David L. Boren, the principal author of the legislation that created the National Security Education Program. Boren Scholars (undergrads) and Fellows (graduate students) study in countries throughout Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America and the Middle East. The winners commit to federal service for at least a year after graduation. Ezuruonye and Brueger will study from September 2017 to August 2018 in Kyoto, a former Japanese capital, at Doshisha University.

Ezuruonye, an international and area studies and East Asian studies double major with a Japanese concentration, sees similarities between Asian and African cultures, prompting her interest in Japan’s language, history and food. She hopes to work at the U.S. Embassy in Japan as an ambassador or deputy ambassador after graduation to fulfill her federal obligation. The study abroad program first attracted Ezuruonye to K.

Boren Award Winner Molly Brueger
Boren Award honor Molly Brueger will study for 11 months in Kyoto, Japan.

“Learning the language and the culture helps us understand the people,” Ezuruonye said. “If we’re more willing to talk and we’re learning the same language, it brings us one step closer together.”

Brueger, an international and area studies major with Japanese and Chinese emphases, first learned of K through the “Colleges That Change Lives” book by Loren Pope. Pope is a higher-education expert and former New York Times education editor, who describes 40 dynamic colleges, including K, that excel at developing potential, values and initiative in students, while providing the foundation for success beyond college.

Brueger wants to serve abroad in the Peace Corps as an English teacher to fulfill her federal service requirement. She credits East Asian studies Professor Dennis Frost, International Programs Director Margaret Wiedenhoeft, Adviser and Assistant Professor of Chinese Yue Hong, and two of K’s previous Boren winners – A.J. Convertino and Amanda Johnson – for a combination of encouragement, recommendations and essay assistance.

“I was surprised because (Boren scholarships) are so competitive,” Brueger said. “I’m really honored to receive the maximum. I’ll definitely put it to good use in becoming proficient in Japanese.”

Brueger will intern at the Chengdu Consulate General in China’s Sichuan Province this summer before heading to Japan.

Fulbright Recipient Traveling to Taiwan

Crystal is graduating in June with a degree in East Asian studies on a China track after just three years at K. Her study abroad experience took her to

Fulbright Winner Dejah Crystal
Fulbright winner Dejah Crystal will serve in a teaching assistantship in Taiwan.

Capital University in Beijing, although she will serve in an English teaching assistantship for 11 months beginning in August on the small Taiwanese island of Kinmen. After this opportunity, she would like to continue teaching in East Asia or seek a graduate degree there.

Crystal agrees she has found her professional calling in teaching because she has loved working with children through K experiences such as Community Advocates for Parents and Students (CAPS). CAPS is a grassroots, all-volunteer organization, which provides tutoring opportunities to Kalamazoo Public Schools students from kindergarteners to adults.

Crystal’s Fulbright-application process began as a first-year student when she heard another student was applying for a similar opportunity. After a couple of years of reviews from K’s Fulbright Committee, essay assistance from faculty, and general support from family, she thanks people such as her mom, stepmom and dad, Frost, Hong, Wiedenhoeft, K Global Health Director Diane Kiino and Professor Madeline Chu.

“I’m incredibly honored and excited,” Crystal said.

The federal government created the Fulbright Program in 1946, naming it after U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright. It is designed to increase mutual understanding between Americans and the people of other countries through education, culture and science. Crystal is one of about 1,900 U.S. citizens who will study, conduct research or teach abroad through the program in the coming academic year.

Magazine Honors K Student for China-Relations Pursuits

A magazine edited by students at Yale College is recognizing a Kalamazoo College student for demonstrating exceptional promise in China studies and furthering U.S.-China relations.

China Relations Student Amanda Johnson
China Hands Magazine is recognizing Kalamazoo College student Amanda Johnson for demonstrating exceptional promise in China studies and furthering U.S.-China relations.

China Hands Magazine judges chose Amanda Johnson ’17, an economics major and a political science and Chinese minor, for 25 Under 25: Leaders in U.S.-China Relations. As a junior at K, Johnson was one of just 171 undergraduate students nationwide to earn a Boren Scholarship to study abroad in Beijing and Harbin, China. The scholarships are named for former U.S. Sen. David L. Boren, the principal author of the legislation that created the National Security Education Program. Only four Kalamazoo College students have ever earned a Boren Scholarship.

Johnson interned in China as an event planner and writer with the Beijing International Society, where she worked alongside diplomats from around the world. The non-profit organization dedicates itself to expanding an international understanding of Chinese politics, economics and culture.

In other activities at K, Johnson has served as a secretary of finance for K’s Student Commission, a consultant for the student Writing Center, and a teaching assistant for the Economics Department. She plans to pursue a career in international economic policy with a focus on U.S.-China economic relations after graduation.

In establishing the “25 Under 25” honor in 2013, China Hands Magazine wrote, “We aim to highlight students and young working professionals who have worked to further mutual understanding between these two countries. As they continue building bridges between the two countries – whether in government, business or the social sector – we hope their stories will inspire others from our generation to do the same.”

Judges this year included Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States; Graham Webster, a senior fellow at The China Center at Yale Law School; and George Chen, an award-winning journalist and 2014 Yale World Fellow.

K Student Earns Boren Scholarship to Study in China

Junior A.J. Convertino – a Canton, Mich., native and a son of Val and Rick Convertino – has received a $20,000 David L. Boren Scholarship to study Chinese for six months in Beijing during Kalamazoo College’s winter/spring quarters.

A.J. Convertino in the quad at K College
A.J. Convertino will study for six months in China, where he will be immersed in Mandarin Chinese and work in an internship.

Boren Scholarships are funded by the federal government through the National Security Education Program, which focuses on geographic areas, languages and fields of study deemed critical to United States national security. About 170 students nationwide earned the scholarship last year.

The prestigious scholarship is named for former U.S. Sen. David L. Boren, the principal author of the legislation that created the National Security Education Program. Boren Scholars (undergrads) and Fellows (graduate students) will live in 40 countries throughout Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America and the Middle East, and study 37 languages.

A.J., an East Asian studies major and a political science and Chinese minor, said he chose K for its academic and athletic opportunities as well as the study abroad program. He is a wide receiver on the K College football team and a member of the a capella group Kalamadudes, which he feels gave him an advantage in the rigorous Boren application process that required two essays and three letters of recommendation.

A.J. said he started taking Chinese when he attended Plymouth High School.

“At first I think taking Chinese was about me wanting to be different from everybody else,” he said. “We had more than 20 Spanish teachers and only one Chinese teacher. But it’s rare for a native English speaker to be fluent in Chinese.”

The scholarship will be a life-changing opportunity for A.J. When it’s done he will fulfill a two-year service obligation with the federal government in a department with national security responsibilities. A.J. hopes his service eventually leads to work as a Foreign Service officer in the U.S. Department of State.

Most football players at K need to miss their junior season if they decide to study abroad in a program like A.J.’s given when most of the programs are available. However, A.J. worked with Center for International Programs Acting Director Margaret Wiedenhoeft to find a six-month opportunity with enough credits that begins Dec. 28. He will depart Dec. 26 for Beijing’s Capital Normal University.

A.J. credits Wiedenhoeft, football coach Jamie Zorbo, Associate Professor of Political Science John Dugas, Professor of Chinese Language and Literature Madeline Chu, and Assistant Professor of Chinese Yue Hong for a combination of hard work, letters of recommendation, essay assistance, teaching styles and dedication for his upcoming opportunity.

The first part of A.J.’s experience will involve a language pledge, meaning he must speak Mandarin inside and outside the classroom. After the January term, he will have a two-week break for Chinese New Year before spring semester when he will have an intensive language course with a Chinese politics or history course in English. On top of that, he will work in an internship for eight hours a week, but he won’t know what his internship will involve until he gets to China.

“I’m really excited (for the internship) because I made it clear on my questionnaire that I’m interested in government and politics. Learning the vocabulary of that setting would really help me in my career,” A.J. said.

A.J. will return to the U.S. on June 24. Luke Winship (China/Mandarin), Erin Eagan (Senegal/Wolof) and Amanda Johnson (China/Mandarin) are previous Boren Scholars from K.