To China with Hope

This past spring, for the first time in Hope’s history, not one but two May Term classes traveled to China. In “China’s Modern Growth,” students examined the nation’s economic policies and business development while touring four major cities as well as Hong Kong. In “China: Land, Wildlife and Culture,” students explored the ecosystems of China’s mountains, rivers and countryside.

Both May Term classes visited Tiananmen Square.

On the face of it, this could seem like a study-abroad city mouse and country mouse kind of story. In a way it is, but of course it would be. In Chinese cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Shenzhen — home to some of the world’s most famous businesses — Hope students saw firsthand what’s being done to affect the world’s second-largest economy. In the Chinese mountains of Tangjiahe Nature Preserve and lowlands of Minjiang River — home to some of the world’s most unique biodiversity — Hope students observed firsthand the likes of panda bears, takins, gingko tree forests and millennia-old irrigation systems unique to the world’s fourth-largest country.

Yet, for as divergent as these two courses’ locations were, their lessons did share one commonality: Each exposed Hope students to historical, cultural and political aspects of a country that is often at the forefront of U.S. and international conversations. Now those exchanges have stuck with them well beyond China’s borders.

That is the whole point of an international study experience: lessons learned make their way back home, get unpacked and then are used.

Andrew VandeBunte, right, and friends take on the city of Chengdu.

“Now that I am back at Hope, my time in China has stuck with me by expanding my international interests here on campus,” says senior Andrew VandeBunte, a business major from Byron Center, Michigan, who enrolled in “China’s Modern Growth.” “In China, we were able to interact with Chinese university students which was a unique way to hear their stories and experiences. This makes me want to build more international relationships on Hope’s campus.”

Clare Da Silva at The Great Wall of China.

Senior Clare Da Silva, a biology major from Danville, California, concurs, as she took note of cultural comparatives while on the “China: Land, Wildlife and Culture” May Term. Travel abroad heightens one’s awareness of a home-country’s normative ways of life. Da Silva noted American social conventions in sharp contrast with Chinese ones.

“Since my return to the United States, I have become more aware of cultural norms in American society that emphasize individualism and govern how we interact with one another,” she says. “In China, I maintained a greater respect for the collectivism that has characterized the growth and fellowship between members of society. By comparing and contrasting the two cultures, I have been able to reflect on different ways to combine the visions of each country to become a more informed human being with a deeper sense of responsibility to myself and others.”

Exploring Tangjiahe

Such words of introspection are music to the ears of Hope educators. In hearing them, they know that some of their course goals and objectives have been met, no matter the subject matter. To be able to teach those lessons in China was both a necessity and a privilege.

“China is big enough and important enough that it really can’t be ignored,” explains Dr. Stephen Smith, professor of economics and co-leader of the “China’s Modern Growth.” Smith, who grew up in Hong Kong and specializes in international economic development and growth, adds, “We felt in terms of the international footprint of the Department of Economics and Business, we just had to have something that invited students specifically to think about China.”

At the Kwai Tsing Container Port in Hong Kong

Dr. Tom Bultman, professor of biology and co-leader of “China: Land, Wildlife and Culture,” agrees from both a biological as well as a interdisciplinary standpoint. “China is huge player in the world in all sorts of areas,” he says, “so it’s really important for our students to get some exposure beyond what they read in the newspaper.”

For Dr. Jianhua Li, associate professor of biology and co-leader with Bultman of “China: Land, Wildlife and Culture,” teaching in China was a brief homecoming — just as Hong Kong was for Smith. Li grew up in Henan in central China, and he wished to show Hope students not only his rural homeland but its cultural and urban features too. Biological outings stood side-by-side on the itinerary with trips to The Great Wall, The Forbidden City and the Summer Palace.

The goal was to show as much of a spectrum of Chinese life as possible in a short period of time.

“We wanted (our students) to see China in a kind of totality because in the media we either see Shanghai with its big, modern buildings, or we see very remote or very poor areas. Like in the United States, it’s not just one thing or the other. It’s more like a continuum of different things.”

Taking in the Three Gorges Dam

Under Dr. Li’s tutelage, Da Silva got it, particularly from the biological vantage point. She was struck especially by China’s strong commitment to improve conservation efforts throughout the country, a realization she would have missed if not on Chinese soil. “Ecotourism has become essential to the preservation of scarce resources and has allowed for more opportunities to increase revenue in Chinese societies,” she explains. “Throughout this May Term, I was amazed by the fairly successful implementation of government policy to protect natural environments and the species that inhabit them.”

The experience of studying in China positively changed VandeBunte’s outlook not just on China but on life. Before his May Term, he had never traveled outside of the United States. Now he has an affinity not just for international travel but for the lessons that can come of it.

“I fell in love with the Chinese culture and pace of life during May Term,” VandeBunte says. “And I came home with an interest in learning more about other places of the world. I think this can only help as I grow older by expanding my knowledge and preparing me to interact with multiple cultures.”

Humans of Syria and Japan

This year’s Critical Issues Symposium – opening today on Hope’s campus – addresses “Engaging the Middle East.” Professor Megumi Hirayama of Meiji Gakuin University (MGU) in Tokyo has been doing just that for more than decade.

Professor Megumi Hirayama of Meiji Gakuin University, Hope’s sister school in Tokyo, Japan, discussed her Syrian experience and her “Stop the Killing in Syria” campaign recently on campus.

Hirayama, a visiting professor at Hope since last fall who specializes in public health and taught a comparative social development class, is a global citizen in her own right. Her passport has been stamped by over 50 countries; she has studied 16 different languages and speaks three fluently; her early career included stints as a health education officer for both the United Nations and World Health Organization in the Caribbean and Africa. She also started six non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to medically aid developing countries.

The Middle East has been Hirayama’s focus since 2005, having visited Syria 12 times, taking MGU students with her on six occasions before the civil war started in 2010. There, they researched on-going water contamination issues while engaging in home stays, making new Syrian friends in the process.

Hirayama wants Americans to know this: We are not the only ones worried about the Middle East. Other world citizens are, too.

She has always wanted her students to know and see and feel a reality of Syria that takes them beyond what the media shows, beyond conflict and crisis, to remember kind farmers and laborers who just want peace.

“I wish the war will end soon, and Syrians will smile as they did before,” said MGU graduate Yutaro Takemori, who studied water-borne diseases under Hirayama’s direction in Syria in 2009. “We should not forget this country and its kind people,” added Mayuko Hagari, another MGU graduate who traveled to Syria with Hirayama.

Utaya Village with Children
Professor Megumi Hirayama with children in Utaya, Syria. Photo courtesy of Megumi Hirayama (2009)

A sorrowful but hopeful nod comes from Hirayama when she hears those words. Her dedicated message of international care clearly struck heart cords and brainwaves. She has always wanted her students to know and see and feel a reality of Syria that takes them beyond what the media shows, beyond conflict and crisis to remember kind farmers and laborers who just want peace. Her current “Stop the Killing in Syria” campaign will continue in that vein when she takes it to the G7 Summit in Ise-shima, Japan, this June.

“This is not a true civil war (in Syria),” opines Hirayama. “It is an international war. So many foreigners are involved and private companies and their weapons are coming in from outside Syria to fight there. I never thought this war would last such a long time.”

syria landscape
Phlox blooming in an olive grove near a suburb of Aleppo, Syria, near the Turkey border. Photo courtesy of Rohei Saito (March 2009)

With photos of Syrian people and sights spread out in front of her recently, Hirayama looks at their stories and remembers more of her own: her former research assistant who she did not hear from for months but later found was living in Sweden after using all his money and nearly dying to escape the country; her affection for Syrian friends and acquaintances whose whereabouts are now unknown.

Sorrow and hope. That’s what those pictures display to Hirayama. And us, too. Sorrow remembering the way Syria once was. Hope for the way it can be again.

Young peace-sign girl in the Yarmouk (Syria) Palestinian Refugee Camp. Photo courtesy of Hirotoshi Muraki (January 2009)

Hip Hop a Hit in Japan

This past September, Professor Crystal Frazier walked into a Tokyo dance studio to teach a distinctly American art form and immediately encountered a vibe that was uniquely Japanese. A class of 40 college students stood eagerly at the ready – respectful, disciplined, hospitable. The music began to play, and an interpreter, earnest to translate, barely needed to speak. For the next three hours, hip hop would be the vehicle to move bodies and relationships across cultural lines; dance would be their universal language.

Crystal Frazier, assistant professor of dance at Hope College

Frazier, an assistant professor of dance who specializes in tap and Afro-fusion dance as well as hip hop, was present in that studio due to her selection by the Dance International Workshop Program to teach in Japan. Her four-week teaching and dancing tour of colleges in Nagoya, Osaka, Fukuoka, and of course, Tokyo, imparted not only the movement of hip hop but its history and social significance, too. To her delight and surprise, her Japanese understudies fully embraced the American art form and their American guest professor too.

Hip hop would be the vehicle to move bodies and relationships across cultural lines; dance would be their universal language.

Professor Crystal Frazier, far right, instructs students in the moves of hip hop in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo courtesy of Crystal Frazier)

“It was incredible,” gushes Frazier who has taught at Hope since 2011. “I was struck by the discipline of the students alone. They focused intensely and were very respectful. There was no fiddling around. They were always ready to go and then for an entire class, they listened and engaged. And when class was done, they cleaned up the room for the next class. I was blown away.

“I was also really amazed at how gifted and talented they were,” she continues. “They have taken it (hip hop) and owned. They were all in. Except for the history part. That aspect they needed to know more about.”

Frazier taught them then—this time relying more on her interpreter—that hip hop started as an art form in the U.S. in the late 1970s. Purely defined, hip hop is an umbrella culture consisting of five elements (MC-ing, DJ-ing, breaking, graffiti, and knowledge). It broke on the scene in the south Bronx of New York City, and since then it has expanded to nearly every American region as well as internationally. Though it has several sub-styles such as lyrical, soul, and femme, hip hop is hip hop to Frazier—a singularly named dance style demonstrative of high energy and emotion. That was her main lesson to impart while in Japan.

Fortunately, hip hop has been deeply appreciated by the Japanese for some time, Frazier found. “Sometimes I think they love it more than people in the States, only because we can take American things for granted,” says the effervescent Frazier who dances professionally still for Rennie Harris Puremovement, an American dance company of hip hop artists.

Though she feels that Japanese teens and young adults gravitate to hip hop, she also felt, and experienced, a lack of social dancing in Japan. This difference in culturally and publicly accepted dancing struck Frazier as profoundly as the respect and discipline her students displayed in class. It is a concept foreign to her, this idea of reserving dance mostly for the studio and stage.

Dancing in the Street: Crystal Frazier, center, bought her dancing energy to the famous Tokyo-Shibuya crossing. (Photo courtesy of Crystal Frazier)

“When we have a party (in the U.S.), people dance,” observes Frazier. “The Electric Slide comes on and everyone gets up and dances. Not so in Japan. Parties were about conversations. People were talking but not dancing. It seemed dancing, newer dancing, is not a socially engaged activity in Japan. I can’t imagine listening to music and not dancing.”

Move and groove. This is a hip hop dancer’s mantra. And it is one Frazier aspired to leave behind in Japan.

Hope in Paris

Last Friday’s deadly terrorist attacks in Paris, and the after-effects that have threatened and grieved the city since, have dominated the U.S. news cycle. And understandably so. If you live in Paris, though, it’s more than news; it is real life. Since the world can feel both large and small simultaneously, it seems almost everyone in the States knows someone who was affected by terrorism in France. For the Hope College community and one Hope student, that is indeed the case.
Junior Katelyn Kiner, a French and history major from Arlington Heights, IL, who is currently studying in Paris

Junior Katelyn Kiner is spending the 2015-16 academic year studying in Paris through the college’s IES program. Commonly, studying abroad means immersion into culture and language via the international classroom and daily living. Kiner—a French and history double major—is particularly fascinated by Versailles and the history surrounding it. To live more fully as a Parisian, she acquired her own bike upon arrival in the City of Light and uses it regularly to explore at length the garden and the park of Versailles.

Now, though, the attacks have given her ventures and scholarship in France a more intense and profound meaning. Kiner was only one mile away from the concert hall massacre at the Bataclan Theatre. After an initial short email exchange to reassure family and Hope friends she was safe, she crafted longer sentiments to Dr. Brigitte Hamon-Porter, associate professor of French, about what it means to be an American in Paris at this fateful time. Her fighting spirit and deep love for France are evident in her own words, published below with permission.

A peace symbol, Eiffel-style, drawn on the sidewalk outside of Kiner’s Paris apartment. Photo courtesy of Katelyn Kiner.

“Anyway, I’m okay.  In both the hopeless and hopeful sense of the word. Life carries on as it should and must and I am so proud of the city for that. Personally, there are moments of great hope when it all seems alright and then there are moments of great despair when you wonder how it could ever get better. I’ve written this email over the last day and I think both of those two sides come out it. The thing is I know it wouldn’t be any better if I was in the U.S. (I touch on this later), but I went through the same grieving process following Charlie Hebdo… Now I know it doesn’t matter if I’m 6,000 miles away or one mile away, I’m still going to grieve, because they attacked a place and a people I love and that is hard to come to terms with. But I’m glad I love this place and people, because without it, I would have missed out on so many moments of exquisite joy.

“This weekend I’ll go to a concert because there is beauty to be seen and heard and no sick men are going to take that chance away from me.”
“This weekend I’ll go to a concert because there is beauty to be seen and heard and no sick men are going to take that chance away from me. It will take time, but I’m on a good path and I’m surrounded by good people here and in the US. Things are getting back to normal here or perhaps it’​s just a new normal, but life goes on…
The re-lit Eiffel Tower this past Monday. Fluctuat Nec Mergitur means “It is tossed around, but does not (or will not) sink.” It is a Parisian motto first used by the city in the Middle Ages. Photo courtesy of Katelyn Kiner.

“Last night (Monday), they lit up the Eiffel Tower in bleu, blanc, rouge (blue, white, red). The tower has been dark after the attacks and I think to have her lit up again in those colors and with ‘Fluctuat nec mergitur’ written on the bottom arch was symbolic sign of defiance. With different people who have visited, I’ve gone to the Eiffel Tower/ Trocadero for them to take a picture. Usually there it is a whole mess of foreign languages (being spoken by the many visitors), but last night it was predominately French. The Parisians were out to commemorate and in the crowd there was a great sense of hope, because tonight the international symbol of Paris said ‘no’ to terrorism. ‘Il est battu par les flots, mais ne sombre pas.’  You tried, you failed. We’re not going anywhere.

“At this point I might just be a fake Parisian, but even so I’m proud to be because these people are amazing.”