Penn Program Seeks to Widen Students’ International Perspectives

Officials at the University of Pennsylvania hope that two community-oriented projects will help increase awareness among students and teachers about the diversity of the Asian culture.

The university’s Center for East Asian Studies and the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia have teamed up to help Philadelphia-area middle school and high school educators to improve classroom teaching skills relating to Japan via weekend academic seminars, an 18-day summer study-tour and course development workshops. The new initiative called Japan in the 21st Century is part of a larger effort to craft a “Japan component” within the curriculum of schools located throughout Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey, officials say.

Dr. Frank Chance, associate director of Penn’s Center for East Asian Studies, says the broader goal of the project is to help reduce cultural ignorance and widen students’ perspectives of international societies.

“It seems to me that when I was in Japan, the Japanese knew so much more about America than Americans knew about the Japanese. I think that’s one of the problems of the world today … we’re just ignorant about other cultures and other people,” he says.

That effort begins with teachers, who will “participate in discussions with various Penn professors about the history, economics, law, literature, arts, language and contemporary issues of Japan … this is what teachers need to teach the next generation of Americans about Japan,” says Margaret Lonzetta, vice president of the World Affairs Council, who adds that 12 educators were chosen to participate in the program this year based on their leadership and travel experiences and a written proposal detailing a special curriculum project. “If they have the opportunity to impact students and other teachers, those are strengths that we look for in their proposals.”

Lonzetta adds that “Japan in the 21st Century” is an outgrowth of a nine-year initiative called “Phila-Nipponica,” which is funded by the New York-based United States-Japan Foundation. Phila-Nipponica was originally developed exclusively for Philadelphia teachers, however the program has since expanded to include educators from southeast Pennsylvania, northern Delaware and southern New Jersey. More than 100 teachers have participated in the project since its inception. Officials also note that it’s becoming increasingly more important for students to learn about the processes of globalization and Japan’s role in the international economy.

“That’s an important part of it because the reason the U.S.-Japan foundation funds this program is because we want Japan to be taught in high schools and middle schools. This is a way that we can train a group of teachers to be able to do that since it’s the teachers’ personal experience as well as their academic knowledge about Japan that they will bring to the classroom,” says Chance.

Lonzetta adds that participating educators will also take part in an 18-day study tour of Japan in June. In addition to the summer tour, participants will lead English lessons at several Japanese schools. Chance, who is also a cultural consultant for the project and leads the summer study tours, says it’s essential that teachers learn about the rich ethnic diversity of the country.

“The assumption is that it’s completely homogenous and it’s not … Japan’s population, yes, is 99 percent ethnic Japanese but there are Koreans and there are Chinese … there is also a native Aniu population in parts of Japan that live up in the north and there are a lot of people with some ancestry from that group,” says Chance.

University officials also hope that a newly developed summer program will help educate area high school students about the diversity of the Chinese culture.

The university’s Center for East Asian Studies will host the second year of the Penn Young Scholars Chinese Academy: an intensive summer program that incorporates language instruction and lectures on Chinese history, literature, religion and philosophy.

Dozens of area high school students are expected to apply for the program before the May 30 deadline.

“The recent rapid growth of Chinese enrollment has tested the knowledge and abilities of Chinese educators,” says Dr. Mien-hwa Chiang, director of Penn’s Chinese language program, who adds that the Young Scholars Academy provides $1,000 scholarships for all selected students. “We want to see participants have a wonderful summer while learning (the) Chinese language and culture with Penn faculty.”

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