Bringing Southeast Asian Studies to Puget Sound

Over the last few weeks, you may have heard about some new opportunities to study Southeast Asia-related topics at Puget Sound, including Thai language. But just what’s going on with this program, and what can you expect to see in the future? Well, I’m glad you asked…

My first Indonesia trip at Puget Sound, with Professor Ben Lewin and SOAN (then CSOC) students including Delaney Height, Malorie Spreen, and Kadie Burton.

My first Indonesia trip at Puget Sound, with Professor Ben Lewin and SOAN (then CSOC) students including Delaney Height, Kadie Burton, and Kira Wilpone-Jordan. June, 2009.

Since I began teaching at Puget Sound in 2008, I have been taking groups of students on summer course-trips to Indonesia, where my research is based. I’ve been lucky to have had the help of SOAN professor Ben Lewin on three of these trips, which quickly became integrated into the curriculum back in Tacoma through SOAN 312, where we studied Southeast Asian cultural, linguistic, and environmental topics before departing to continue our coursework in-country. We’d also collaborated with Nick Kontogeorgopoulos in IPE to do a joint Indonesia-Thailand course trip. So when I heard from Associate Dean and SOAN professor Sunil Kukreja about an opportunity to apply for a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation that supported environmental initiatives in Asia, I immediately thought of the work we’d been doing, and the student excitement we’d encountered around faculty-led study abroad in Indonesia and Thailand.

Hang on there… what’s the Henry Luce Foundation?

Gareth Barkin in front of the Luce Memorial Chapel, on the campus of Tunghai University, Taichung, Taiwan.

Gareth Barkin in front of the Luce Memorial Chapel, on the campus of Tunghai University, Taichung, Taiwan.

The Luce Foundation was created by publisher Henry R. Luce to promote Asian studies, particularly in smaller, liberal arts institutions like ours. In prior years, the Luce Foundation provided grants to Puget Sound that created my position at the University, as well as that of Professor Kontogeorgopoulos, who conducts research in Thailand. So we knew they were supportive of Southeast Asian Studies on our campus, and that they valued the work we’ve done. When we learned of this new opportunity, Associate Dean Kukreja, Professor Kontogeorgopoulos and I collaborated with faculty from Environmental Policy and Decision Making to craft a proposal that focused on the expansion of our existing field-course model. This model involves a full semester of study on campus, including some language training, combined with an integrated abroad trip over the summer.

So they just gave you guys a big grant to continue doing that?

Students on the 2014 course-trip prepare to release some baby turtles who were part of a turtle 'head start' program. Tangkoko, June 2014.

Students on the 2014 course-trip prepare to release some baby turtles who were part of a turtle ‘head start’ program. Tangkoko, June 2014.

No, they did not. First, we applied for an exploration grant and undertook a pilot program to successfully demonstrate our concept, integrating a greater focus on environmental studies and collaboration with EPDM faculty. In addition to the pilot class, 2014’s SOAN 312, we started to explore some of the additional elements we wanted to bring to our program, and which we hoped the Luce Foundation would support. These included hiring a native speaker to teach the class Indonesian language, holding a workshop for faculty on experiential learning abroad, and bringing out guest speakers to engage the campus community in a discussion of Southeast Asian environmental topics. During the last week of the field course, Professor Peter Wimberger from the Biology Department and EPDM joined us in North Sulawesi, to help expand and strengthen our discussion of environmental and conservation issues.

This blog is already pretty long.. maybe just cut to the chase?

But there’s so much more to this story! Ok, fine, well the pilot project went really well, and we were even able to do a small-scale symposium, which will become a big part of our full implementation grant, which we were also awarded! Over the next four years, our new Southeast Asia Program will include a lot of great opportunities for SOAN majors, including:

  • Southeast Asian field schools—intensive student learning abroad, conducted with Asian partners and involving a full semester of on-campus study, plus three weeks of summer overseas research. Planned courses will fall in the SOAN, IPE, and EPDM departments.
  • Phased introduction of new Southeast Asian language courses, including Thai, Indonesian, and Malay, which currently are rarely taught as full-credit courses in Washington state, much less at liberal arts universities.
  • Grants for faculty members to explore and develop future Southeast Asian field schools or enhancements to the curriculum (which may influence your courses in the coming years)
  • An annual Southeast Asia Symposium that will draw international speakers and scholars from around the state, and that will be a resource center for Pacific Northwest partner colleges

What’s a symposium?

Southeast Asia Symposium

Students from the 2014 trip present their research at the first annual Southeast Asia Symposium. Participants included SOAN students Lenny Henderson, Chelsea Steiner, and Kasey Janousek.

Seriously? Okay, well this symposium is a forum that draws together the field schools, language classes, and faculty initiatives while placing a focus on reaching the campus community and infusing the knowledge gained from these programs throughout the university. In addition, symposia will bring together Southeast Asia scholars from around the Northwest along with speakers and artists from Southeast Asia in one three-day period that involves workshops, research panels, performances, and informational sessions. Organized around a central theme, the annual symposium compels students from our Southeast Asia field schools to reflect on and share their experiences and their research, to engage potential students with the next field school, and raise faculty interest in Southeast Asia.

Well, I’m sold! How can I take advantage of this tremendous opportunity?

SOAN major Elana Maslow shows off her freshly dried batik painting at BatikJolawe, Yogyakarta in February. Will there be batik at the 2015 Symposium? Come and find out!

SOAN major Elana Maslow shows off her freshly dried batik painting at BatikJolawe, Yogyakarta in February. Will there be batik at the 2015 Symposium? Come and find out!

That’s more like it. If you’re interested in Thailand, that will be next year’s focus, as Nick Kontogeorgopoulos leads a course-trip there in the spring/summer of 2016, and Thai language will be offered both fall and spring. There are still some spaces open in Thai 101 at the time of this writing, so consider enrolling!

Want to learn more? Come to the symposium this October 23-25, 2015! In addition to an exciting keynote talk and student presentations from Professor Wimberger’s course-trip to Malaysia that is currently underway, we’ll have panels with PacRim returnees who did Southeast Asia research, faculty participants from around the Northwest, and an information session for those interested in applying for the Thailand course. There will even be a tasty banquet and possibly some arts and/or crafts.

What if I’m really interested in these programs, but for some reason have no interest in Thailand?

Lucky for you, we plan to shift field-course destinations and topics as well as languages each year. In the next few years, we hope to return to Indonesia with SOAN 312 again, and to Malaysia, while offering Indonesian and Malay language courses on campus. For more information, be sure to check out the Southeast Asia Symposium & Programs website, and feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions.

See you at the Symposium!

Gareth

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