Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Job Opportunity: Global Resources Center - Gelman Library

Job Description

The Global Resources Center (GRC) is seeking an hourly employee with Arabic or Chinese language skills who enjoys performing research and working with people to join the staff at the George Washington University Libraries. This is an exciting opportunity to explore specialized content, engage with researchers and scholars at GWU and DC-based think tanks, and learn about 21st century collections and resources in the field of international and area studies. All GRC employees are trained to use the library’s online system and GWU’s wide array of research-focused databases.

Primary Responsibilities
  • Processing and maintaining GRC collections and resources
  • Providing research assistance
  • Participating in outreach and event planning
Wage for graduate students starts at $14 per hour

Position Requirements
  •  Academic background in international affairs or a related field
  •  Facility with Arabic or Chinese
  • Availability to work 10-20 hours a week, including some evenings and weekends

For more information, or to submit a resume, please contact:
Global Resources Center
Gelman Library
2130 H St., NW, Suite 708
Phone: (202) 994-7105, email:

Friday, August 11, 2017

Thoughts on National Taiwan University's International Chinese Language Program

My time in Taiwan has drawn to a close. I want to take a moment to review my time studying at National Taiwan University. While the International Chinese Language Program is widely renowned, I do have a few critiques. I would like to preface my review by saying just that, it is my personal review. It does not represent the experiences of all students in the program, but I have talked to many students in the program who shared my views.

ICLP advertises an immersive environment to study Mandarin Chinese. The program also offers students individualized study plans with small class sizes (2-4 students), with an additional one-on-one class tailored to your specific interests and difficulties you face in learning Chinese. Unfortunately, from my own experiences and those of other students, ICLP’s benefits seem to end there.

The following are a few of my frustrations and disappointments with my study abroad experience at ICLP.

  • ·        The program is advertised as an intense immersion program. In reality, teachers struggle to enforce this. This was disappointing for me. My classmates would often use English in class, with little to no comment from our teachers. This does not seem that problematic, but this undermined the benefits of an immersion program which is designed to expand students’ vocabulary and improve their communication skills at a faster rate.

  • ·        When students first arrive at ICLP, they are told that attendance is also critical. Students are only allowed to miss five classes throughout the summer. If a student misses more than 5 classes, they will not receive their certificate of completion at the end of the program. Extreme absence could result in dismissal from the program all together. Timeliness is also critical. Students who come to class over ten minutes late are expected to seek approval from the head office before entering the classroom. Neither attendance or timeliness are enforced, which I found to disrupt class schedules and interaction between teachers and students in general. I was in a morning class with one other student, and an afternoon class with only two other students. My classmate from my morning class was also in my afternoon class. This student missed nearly 4 or 5 classes a week! I spent many of my mornings alone with my professor. When the student would decide to attend class, they would arrive 10 or 15 minutes late. They would barge into the class, disrupting the lesson. On days the student skipped class, my teachers would either cancel the planned lesson or spend the first 15 minutes of class staring at the clock or making small talk with me. I can’t imagine how much more I could have learned had the ICLP teachers and administrators enforced their original expectations, or held students to higher standards of accountability.

  • ·        Let’s talk about the cost of attendance. ICLP is by far the most expensive Chinese language program in Taiwan, if not in all of Asia. For me, as for many students, the cost is not worth it. There are many other programs that offer great learning environments for a third, fourth, or even fifth of the cost. Even your books are not included in the program’s tuition! Many ICLP students had no additional funds to travel around Taiwan, or even explore Taipei. This was very disappointing. Considering the high cost of attending ICLP, many students wrongly assumed the program would provide opportunities for cultural excursions at no additional cost. Nope. Every additional outing was an extra cost for students. Although I had hoped to explore more of Taiwan this summer, I could not afford ICLP’s planned trips. Luckily, I had the opportunity to travel extensively around Taiwan when I studied in Tainan. But for students travelling to Taiwan for the first time hoping to explore the island, ICLP is not for you.

  • ·        My final frustration with ICLP involves the structure of classes. Chinese is notorious for being one of the most difficult languages to learn. With that in mind, you would assume teachers would prefer to guide students’ learning. This is not how it played out for my classes. I was asked to turn in assignments prior to finishing, or even beginning a lesson. I did not have a problem doing the work, but this schedule forced me to teach myself a language I have struggled to master for years. A result of this method is students failing to learn how to appropriately use specific grammar structures or vocabulary. Doing homework before learning a lesson reinforces misconceptions and disrupted my learning process. Also, I felt like I paid a great deal of money to teach myself all summer. Very disappointing.
I made great friends at ICLP and my Chinese improved over the summer, but overall, I felt the program did not live up to its reputation. All I can say is you do not always get what you pay for.

Katelyn DeNap

George Washington University - Elliott School of International Affairs
M.A. Security Policy Studies
Organization of Asian Studies – Vice President
Sigur Center 2017 Asian Language Fellow

National Taiwan University - International Chinese Language Program, Taiwan

Another update from Taiwan

My second vlog! In this segment, I talk about a particularly memorable experience in Taipei.


Zachary Haver is a Sigur Center 2017 Asian Language Fellow. A rising sophomore studying at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Zachary is majoring in International Affairs with a concentration in Asia and minoring in Mandarin Chinese.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Images & sounds from a summer in India

My summer research brought me to a good range of places in India. The above video contains some sights and sounds from Delhi, Hardoi, Gurgaon, and the train to Lucknow.  Sam Frantz

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Typhoon Preparedness

Typhoon season is upon us all studying abroad in Taiwan! So, for those of you considering travelling to the island in the future, I would like to provide a few tips for surviving the storm.

1.       While not all typhoons are equally severe, treat each as if they were capable of equal damage. Typhoons can take you by surprise. Do not disregard the countless warnings you will receive from weather services and government offices. A typhoon is called a typhoon for a reason. The rains and wind that accompany this type of storm far exceed the usual rainy summer afternoon in Taiwan.

2.       With this in mind, DO NOT go outside during a typhoon unless absolutely necessary. And, make every effort to be safely indoors before one arrives. This past week, my friend and I had dinner plans on Saturday night. We were aware a typhoon was coming, but the rainfall throughout the day had been minimal. We wrongly assumed the typhoon had developed weaker than originally predicted by meteorologists. While we had dinner, we were unaware of the storm brewing outside. By the time we were heading home, the typhoon was in full force. Our umbrellas were rendered useless by the extreme wind and rain falling at a 45-degree angle. We nearly did not make it home, fighting the wind the whole way. We learned our lesson, and chose to hunker down indoors for the remainder of the storm.

3.       So how do you survive typhoon inflicted house arrest? RAMEN! While I use typhoons to justify my unhealthy desire for these cheap and incredibly unhealthy instant meals, any food that requires little to no preparation is great. Be prepared for potential power outages. I would also advise you to buy bottled drinks in case you lose access to clean water. If the typhoon is expected to last a few days, I suggest you buy prepackaged milk tea to prevent withdrawals!

4.       Hopefully you can ride out the typhoon with a friend, but if not, be sure to grab a good book and some movies to pass the time!

For those of you staying in Taiwan currently and those planning a to study abroad here in the future, have fun, but be safe!

Katelyn DeNap

George Washington University - Elliott School of International Affairs
M.A. Security Policy Studies
Organization of Asian Studies – Vice President
Sigur Center 2017 Asian Language Fellow

National Taiwan University - International Chinese Language Program, Taiwan

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Floods, Displacement, and Everyday Life in Majuli

Majuli, the river island where my anthropological fieldwork is based, experiences the monsoon every year between June and August. During this time, the river Brahmaputra, which along with its tributaries girdles Majuli, floods the island, turning agricultural lands into lakes, and breaking the large 189-square mile island into smaller islets that are interconnected through a network of waterways. I first read about the floods in the news articles that populated the internet during the state elections in Assam in early 2016. Images, showing submerged houses and fields, people fleeing on boats or waiting for aid accompanied these news reports. However, when I first mentioned these floods to my interlocutors in Sitadhar Phuk, a village where people of the Mishing tribe live, they painted a very different picture. “We love the rain,” Kamalakant Kaman, a much respected village elder and my primary interlocutor told me. “We love the floods. We just go into our fields to catch fish.” He told me this shortly before the rains began in June 2016. By August 2016 several images of flooding and displacement once again populated the island. So, this summer, when I visited him, I posed the question once again. “How were the floods last year?” I asked. And to my surprise, he gave me the same response.

A day later, Kamalakant took me to his friend, Horen’s home in the neighborhood. As we drank tea that Horen made in his kitchen, his wife Momi and I had a long chat. I posed the question again, and Momi gave me a similar response. “We Mishing people love the rain,” she said. “We build our homes on stilts as you can see, and the water passes under the floor boards. So long as our animals are secure, we don’t have a problem from the floods.” Later she added, “We hang our clothes out to soak and use the water to wash and clean our homes. And fishing becomes so much easier.”

Caption: A typical Mishing home in Majuli

“I already told her,” Kamalakant said.

This time I was persistent. I told them about the pictures I had seen in the media. Several homes were completely under water, and had to be abandoned. People had become homeless.

“Yes, but is because of the flash floods and the erosion,” Kamalakant said. Then he began to explain that the weather conditions during the monsoon, turned the land in Majuli into flood plains, which filled up with water, allowing people who lived along these areas to fish in these waters during the rainy season. Once the water drained, these areas, rich with silt, would act as fertile grounds to grow rice and other vegetables that the Mishing needed. However, in the last century, and increasingly so in the last forty years, development projects as well as badly planned flood prevention plans had precipitated flash floods which destroyed homes and washed cattle away.

During my stay in Majuli, I visited areas in the South east of the island, where such flash floods had carried away massive areas of land in the year 2000, and caused people living in nearly 15 villages to lose their homes. Currently, these people live on the embankment, and are still waiting for aid. Several of these badly affected people were also from the Mishing tribe.

While explaining the difference between the floods that Sitadhar Phuk, which a short distance from the coast, and these other villages face, Kamalakant outlined to me the lifestyle that the Mishing had adopted to live in these floodplains. Their houses, as Momi had said, were built on stilts, and they always made raised shelters for their livestock and for storing their grains during the monsoon season. The villagers also repaired their boats, re-built their roofs before the rain in preparation for the downpour. The Mishing were therefore well adapted to the floods that the Brahmaputra valley was accustomed to. However, flashfloods resulting from other “unnatural reasons,” as Kamalakant termed the bad flood prevention methods and other development projects which had caused trouble in Majuli, were destructive and hard to adapt to.

This idea that the Mishing could adapt to their “natural” environment had both pros and cons. In conversations with one of the island’s administrative head, whose identity I would like to keep confidential, I discovered that this notion made the troubles faced by the Mishing invisible, or at least less visible, to the state. This assumption that anyone from the indigenous community could adapt to their “natural” surroundings only allowed the administration to look into the problems faced by other communities. There was no distinction in these conversation between the slow floods that allowed the Mishing to fish and silted their lands, and the flashfloods that destroyed the land, eroded entire villages, destroyed homes and displaced people.

As I advance my research, I plan to follow up on this summer’s findings. In the meantime, as I prepare to spend the year in George Washington University, I am also excited to read more about the environmental history of my field site, through accounts written by historians like Arupjyoti Saikia and Gunnel Cederlof, whose books on the topic I bought in Guwahati, the capital of Assam during my archival work there. Both researchers underline how everyday life is built around the capricious environment in the Brahmaputra valley and in the North Eastern states of India at large, and both underline the role of colonial rule in starting development projects that by the looks of it have been unsuccessful until today in controlling the water systems of the region. These histories, and my conversation with my interlocutors in Majuli, leave us with a question: what does living with the environment look, and how do we do this without making anyone’s problem invisible in the eyes of the State?

Monday, August 7, 2017

Cultural Excursions and Utilizing Language Skills

This past week I had the opportunity to learn how to make a traditional Taiwanese pastry: Pineapple Cake! One of my favorite things about coming to Taiwan is being able to eat pineapple cakes. So, when I was given this opportunity, I quickly accepted! What made this experience even greater was the fact that I would also be given the chance to learn about Taiwanese wedding culture. Currently engaged, I am in the process of planning my own wedding for next May! This excursion, organized by professors at the International Chinese Language Program at National Taiwan University, was right up my alley.

Before our trip, students were given research assignments surrounding pineapple cakes, Taiwanese weddings, and holidays or festivals in general. This allowed, or forced, students to learn new vocabulary related to these topics. Beyond studying new vocabulary, we were able to examine the history behind the Taiwanese culture and cuisine we love!

While background research is helpful, there is nothing like hands on experience to solidify your studies. So, I was excited to get my hands dirty mixing and shaping pineapple cakes! Initially, I thought making these pastries would be difficult. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that the process is quite simple! With only a little butter, sugar, egg, flour, and pineapple (of course), you can quickly whip up a batch of these signature Taiwanese pastries. While my pineapple cakes were baking, I was given the chance to try on traditional wedding dresses, and a couple of students even volunteered to have an impromptu mock wedding. (At least I hope it was not official!) Being able to compare the marriage process and culture in Taiwan to that in the United States was quite interesting. And this brings me to my point…Making connections to your surroundings, whether by recognizing parallels or differences with your own culture or interests, is key for learning a new language. The vocabulary which you can make a connection to is most successfully retained.

So, as you travel abroad or begin your own language training at home, be sure to explore your interests using the new language. You will gain a greater appreciation for your new language abilities and find yourself improving at a much quicker rate! As for me, there will be many pineapple cakes along the path to fluency in Mandarin!

Katelyn DeNap

George Washington University - Elliott School of International Affairs
M.A. Security Policy Studies
Organization of Asian Studies – Vice President
Sigur Center 2017 Asian Language Fellow

National Taiwan University - International Chinese Language Program, Taiwan