Current Program Fellows

Program Fellows: 2021 & 2020

The 2021 ASIANetwork Freeman Student-Faculty Fellows Program (SFF) is the twenty-third funded by the Freeman Foundation to support undergraduate projects in East and Southeast Asia. The program has awarded a total of 249 grants to 1,210 student and faculty fellows at 119 ASIANetwork member institutions since its inception in 1998. ASIANetwork is grateful to the Freeman Foundation for its extraordinary commitment to supporting this program. We also thank all applicants and recipients this year and in the past for their interest and support for the SFF program.

SFF 2021 Awardees

(The 2021 programs have been postponed due to COVID-19.)

Denison University and Kenyon College
The Aspirations of Asylum Seekers, Refugees, Labor Migrants, and Immigrants in Japan
Taku Suzuki, Professor of International Studies, Denison University
Sam Pack, Professor of Anthropology, Kenyon College

This collaborative research project aims to explore the current prospects and future aspirations of asylum seekers, refugees, labor migrants, and immigrants in Japan. It takes a more contextualized and holistic approach to transnational migration by focusing on distinct legal statuses in Japan: student visa holders, technical trainees, and permanent residents. Through recorded oral interviews with Nepali students, Vietnamese intern trainees, and Filipino legal residents, the research will take place over the span of three weeks at three different locations: Tokyo, Aichi, and Gifu. The six student fellows will be divided into three pairs, and every pair will be responsible for soliciting and interviewing a willing participant in each of the three locations. At the conclusion of the three weeks, there will be a total of nine oral history interviews that will be subsequently edited into digital stories and made accessible online.

Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Envisioning post-pandemic tourism through Japanese history
Lisa Yoshikawa, Associate Professor of History and Asian Studies

“Japan is the land of color, charm, and courtesy where the East blends with the West and the old with the new,” begins Japan Tourist Bureau’s (JTB) 1955 English language Pocket Guide to Japan. This introduction was part of Japanese governmental effort to revamp foreign tourism, a decade after the US fire-bombings devastated its capital and Japan’s international reputation plummeted decisively with its defeat in the Asia Pacific Wars. With the COVID-19 pandemic halting much of international travel, Japan, like other tourism-dependent countries, faces a similar time of rupture. How to welcome back foreign tourists remains a dilemma, especially for Japan, whose national branding had been faltering in pre-pandemic years. As the above quote shows, Japan historically had attracted tourists by balancing its self-manufactured image of Oriental charm and (post)modern advancements. This project examines these past strategies to shed light on future possibilities for tourism in Tokyo. Students will re-trace Tokyo tourist itineraries in old JTB travel brochures to explore how this government-affiliated agency branded Tokyo over the past century, and analyze changes over time. To better approximate past tourist experiences, students will mine archives for old postcards, photos, and maps to imagine various sites. In the process, students will interact with locals to navigate the sites, and with tourists about their impressions of them. For the most recent branding perspectives, students will interview Japanese students studying to enter the tourism field. Students will learn through the preparation, field-work, and post-research analyses such skills as cross-cultural and -temporal communication, critical reading and thinking, strategic decision making, collaboration and delegation, basic cultural and linguistic literacy in Japanese, and succinct writing and digital presentation. Through the project, students will wrestle with immediate challenges of global economic recovery and longstanding issues of Japan and Asia and their places in the world.

Lewis & Clark College
On the Move: Roads and Development in the Borderlands of Nepal
Kabir Mansingh Heimsath, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology /Asian Studies

Building infrastructure is the primary development strategy across Asia. International tourism has been a mainstay of the Nepali economy since the 1980s and continues to blossom as a major economic pollinator across Asia. Ironically, these major economic trajectories do not necessarily work towards mutual or local benefit in the borderland regions of Nepal. The proposed project engages with the explosion of feeder road construction in the highlands and asks: why are these roads being built? who is making decisions? who is affected? and how? The student and faculty fellows will cooperate with non-governmental organizations, community leaders and entrepreneurs who have been involved with national policy, regional infrastructure development, and local tourism programs to address these questions. This will allow for a high degree of collaboration across different social levels otherwise impossible for students newly arrived in Asia. All of these collaborators stated their interest in ethnographic research as a way to document local transformation in a time of radical change. Students will participate in broad household-survey fieldwork as well as more focused interviews to gain basic ethnographic skills. These skills are crucial to the disciplines of anthropology and sociology, and increasingly valued in social justice, international development and market research sectors. The faculty mentor, Kabir Mansingh Heimsath, is an anthropologist with over twenty years’ experience guiding undergraduate research through academic study-abroad programs in Asia. He has lived and worked in Nepal periodically since 1992. As a secondary layer crucial to the project, each participant will reflect on their own perspectives as a foreign visitor to Nepal, and share these reflections with local collaborators in efforts to generate a more critical and long-term discussion on both development and research practices.

San Diego State University
Whose woods are these?: Human-wildlife conflict and biodiversity conservation in Sulawesi, Indonesia
Erin P. Riley, Professor of Anthropology

Across many areas of the world, infrastructural and agricultural development continue to expand, often eliminating or encroaching upon wildlife habitat and resulting in considerable human wildlife conflict. This project will provide students an opportunity to gain practical knowledge of this contemporary issue via an immersive field experience in Indonesia. Students will prepare for the field trip by enrolling in a 1-unit special study course covering the ecological, cultural, and linguistic diversity of Indonesia and Indonesia’s goals for balancing sustainable development and conservation of its diverse flora and fauna. The project trip will entail three weeks of fieldwork in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, in collaboration with local project partners. Fieldwork activities will include: lectures and meetings with faculty and leaders of governmental and nongovernmental organizations focused on sustainable development and biodiversity conservation, and field training modules in wildlife ecology, ethnographic research methods, and conservation education methods. During the field component, the SDSU students will live in a village with an Indonesian family. They will be paired with Indonesian university students and will work collaboratively, using digital technologies, to create digital educational tools to inform conservation education outreach efforts and the management of human-wildlife conflict in the area. After returning from the fieldwork, the students will have an opportunity to conduct further research related to the core issue and present their work at academic conferences. These project components will expand students’ career and professional preparation. Moreover, by collaborating with Indonesian students and engaging with local community members, this project will enable SDSU students to develop skills in cross-cultural communication and effective teamwork in diverse settings.

Scripps College
Participatory Action Research Theatre: Myanmar Ballad Opera in the time of COVID
Anne Harley, Associate Professor of Music and Interdisciplinary Humanities

The Three-Kyat Opera is the title of a new multimedia musical theatre project to be developed as a workshop collaboration between Prof. Harley, 4 Scripps students, approximately 5 Myanmar performers from the New Yangon Theatre Institute, and directed by New Yangon Theatre Institute founder/director Ruth Pongstaphone, for presentation in several Myanmar locations (in Yangon and Shan State), May 18-June 12, 2021. The Three-Kyat Opera is inspired by the tremendously popular 18th -century English ballad opera, The Three-Penny Opera by John Gay, and its modern reprise by Berthold Brecht and Kurt Weill Die Dreigroschenoper (1928). The creative process of a ballad opera retexts strategically chosen popular songs with new lyrics relevant to contemporary life. Employing the ballad opera recycling procedures of musical parody and contrafact, our Three-Kyat Opera will restitch popular melodies and updated texts together, resulting in a new work in which are examined human behaviors, social adaptations, and forces of capitalism and democracy in Myanmar, during the Covid-19 global pandemic, through the lens of musical theatre. Our performance team will consist of 4 Scripps students and approximately 5 young actors from the New Yangon Theatre, enabling a one-to-one partnership between each Scripps student and a NYTI actor, within the group context. In our performance creation and playwriting processes we will use documentary source material and timelines from the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak to the present moment, in combination with material gathered by students and NYTI actors in ethnographic interviews with Myanmar community members, as we investigate the notion of physical, mental, emotional, social, and digital contagions. We will follow the procedures of participatory action research outlined by Augusto Boal (Theatre of the Oppressed), gathering qualitative data in the form of ethnographic interviews, and then distill these into the text for the theatre project presented in each community. The community will witness their own perspectives reflected in our work therefore, and then engage in post-performance dialogue with the actors (both Myanmar and US participants). Our performances will function as auto-ethnographic explorations of the intersectional identities in these interactions; research which is gathered, reflected upon, and then performed self-consciously as theatre for an audience in each community. In each community, these performances will hopefully function to foster public discussion of community concerns and more generally, build support for public civic discourse, which is essential for a flourishing democracy. Our group base will be in Yangon, but we plan travel to Shan State for one week. Shan State is home to 7-12 ethnic groups and also known as an EcoZone for sustainable agriculture, and organic farming. As we work and travel through Shan State, as a result of our ongoing community interviews in each location, identities and narratives of self will be translated into iteratively evolving staged performances for each community by our collaborative international team of Myanmar/US performers.

 University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
Live Music in Tokyo: Mapping a Parallel Musical Universe
Robert Hodson, Lecturer of Music

The phrase “parallel musical universe” is not just an overused science-fiction cliché but an apt description of Tokyo’s live music scene. While there are points of intersection, Japan—for the most part—has a somewhat self-contained live music scene, in contrast to the greater integration of American and European scenes. This project will take a deep dive into contemporary music cultures in Tokyo. We will explore jazz, contemporary classical, and rock/pop/vernacular genres, documenting live musical events from May 15–June 15 to capture a detailed picture of this stunning metropolis’s vibrant scene. The concept of mapping will be applied to many spaces: physical, cultural, social, aesthetic, and pedagogical. We will map musical performances in Tokyo during the given period and perceptions of contemporary music-making in Japan. We will map Japanese musicians’ aesthetic and artistic styles. We will document music venues, musicians, and performances through interviews, writing, sketches, photographs, audio, and video. Exploring and encouraging international connections is an issue of global importance. The common language of music will facilitate connections between our team and Japanese musicians. By sharing our experiences and research, we will help build a greater understanding of contemporary Japanese music in our communities. We will engage in extensive interaction with musicians, students, educators, and others through interviews, performances, and social/cultural activities. The student fellows will develop skills in research, performance, writing, interviewing, logistics, global competence, audio/video capture, and communication. Recently, the training and career development of 21st-century musicians has been a topic of discussion in higher education, as we recognize the need to expand musicians’ roles beyond being just a composer or performer in a single genre. Musicians also need to be comfortable as scholars, arrangers, and entrepreneurs in multiple genres. The interdisciplinary skills the students will develop in this project will have a profound effect on their preparation for careers in the dynamic music field of the 21st century.

Warren Wilson College
Getting to the Root of Global Plant Invasions: A Case Study in China
Alisa A. Hove, Professor of Biology

Over the last century and with increasing global travel by humans, biological invasions have had serious, often costly, environmental and economic impacts across world. Native to the USA, the plant Plantago virginica was introduced into China in the 1950’s and is now considered an invasive species in Asia. The biological mechanisms underlying this invasion, however, are not well understood. This project represents an international collaboration that utilizes the expertise of project Principal Investigators (P.I.’s) to impart knowledge and intercultural learning, while building collaborative research skills, advancing quantitative literacy, and cultivating positive career outcomes. Along with Dr. Hui Guo (Nanjing Agricultural University, NAU) and his students, Warren Wilson College (WWC) Student-Faculty Fellows will investigate the degree to which mutually beneficial ecological partnerships with soil fungi (mycorrhizae) contribute to P. virginica’s invasive spread. In Summer 2021, Drs. Guo and Hove will cosupervise a group of ASIANetwork Student-Fellows and Chinese undergraduate and graduate students. Our international research team will collaborate closely to conduct ecological fieldwork in southeastern China and laboratory genetics work on the NAU campus. The partnership will continue into Fall 2021 and 2022, as we analyze our shared data set and co-author a manuscript for publication in a peer reviewed journal. Through work on this project, students will gain skills in field and laboratory research, quantitative analyses, oral communication, and scientific writing. Student participation will occur in tandem with the development of an international professional network and focused career advising, setting the stage for positive professional outcomes, enriched by shared work focused on a common theme: studying biological invasions in a global setting.

SFF 2020 Awardees

(The 2020 programs have been postponed due to COVID-19.)

Berea College
Sacred Geography and Environmental Change in the Mekong River provinces in Vietnam
Jarrod W. Brown, Assistant Professor of Philosophy

The project asks the question, “How do cultural factors influence the way communities in Dong Thap and An Giang conceptualize and respond to environmental change?” The project will investigate how religion and culture influence the way communities think about and respond to environmental and ecological change, particularly erosion and subsidence, along the Mekong River and its tributaries. Using previously collected and analyzed satellite and open-source data to determine research sites, we will travel to and document sacred sites located in close proximity to areas that have experienced recent riverside erosion. At each of these sites, we will validate the previously collected information and investigate the surrounding landscapes. Through informal interviews with the assistance of our in-country collaborators, we will explore how religious communities are responding to and preparing for environmental change, particularly erosion as it represents a critical problem both in terms of long-term geographical change as well as immediate disasters in the case of large landfalls. This will be combined with political, religious, economic, and ecological data, using the qualitative data analysis platform, Atlas.ti, to understand interconnections and spatially organize data, as well as reading and contemplation of works on agricultural and environmental ethics.

Bucknell University
Epistemology of Primatology in Japan and the U.S.
Regina Paxton Gazes, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Animal Behavior

The field of cognitive and behavioral primatology focuses on studying our closest living relatives in order to elucidate the origins of the human mind. Today, the field of primatology is at a crossroads, globally. The field is experiencing dramatic differences in public and political support in the West and in Japan, with Japanese primatology leading the way in the current global scientific environment. This proposed project will explore the epistemological differences between Western and Japanese primatology through hands-on experience conducting primatological research in close collaboration with Japanese scientists at the Primate Research Institute (PRI) in Inuyama, Japan. The project will be a full collaboration between the faculty and student fellows and the Japanese scientists at PRI, with the fellows immersed in the scientific culture of Japan for 4 weeks. Fellows will work side by side with scientists and animal care staff daily and will visit scientifically important historical sites. Through this experience, student fellows will gain methodological scientific skills, skills at conducting science in a global context, and skills at reflecting on and refining their own epistemology, all of which will help them mature as scientists. Gaining a solid understanding of the past, present, and future of the field will allow them to make informed decisions about where they want to take their careers.

Eckerd College
Sociocultural Impediments to Ending Child Sex Trafficking in Cambodia
Nancy Janus, Professor of Human Development

Human trafficking is a problem of global scale. The majority of human trafficking involves women and children forced into the sex industry. Cambodia is a known destination for pedophiles seeking sex with children. Children are sold by their parents to traffickers who place them in sex establishments. Child sex workers are exploited by Cambodians themselves and by foreign tourists. To address the problem of human trafficking, anti-trafficking organizations focus on a paradigm known as the “3 Ps”: Prevention, Protection and Prosecution. Our focus will be on prevention. In Cambodia, prevention efforts are primarily made by NGOs. Our team seeks to learn why these prevention activities have not lessened the problem significantly. We seek to ascertain if cultural or religious factors allow parents to find it acceptable to sell their children for sex. Regarding ASIANetwork’s goal for interaction and collaboration with Cambodians, our team will visit the Ministry of Interior to learn its perspective on child sex trafficking. We will partner with anti-trafficking NGOs to observe prevention workshops and activities; meet regularly with partner NGOs and faculty at Pannasastra University to discuss learning; interview Cambodian peers in focus groups; and interview monks regarding views on gender and virginity coming from Theravada Buddhism. These activities will give students skill development with intercultural communication, cultural awareness and sensitivity, effective working with translators, and critical analysis. They will observe government and NGO functioning to consider them as career choices. Faculty mentorship will occur in daily interaction in Cambodia and frequent meetings with the team prior to and after travel. We will spend 30 days living in Cambodia, observing counter trafficking work and interviewing subjects together and independently. We will continuously analyze findings together.

 Lake Forest College
“Doing business in China:” The investment opportunities and challenges of enterprises in Jiangsu province under the current economic environment
Dimitra Papadovasilaki, Assistant Professor of Finance
Ying Wu, Assistant Professor of Chinese

China and the US, the world’s two largest economies, have been locked in a trade war since July of 2018, placing tariffs on each other’s goods, and increasingly a war of words. The consequences for the U.S. economy are already apparent, as evidenced by declines in business investment, exports, and employment in the manufacturing sector. The Chinese is experiencing similar challenges, including a declining rate of economic growth and a decline in the aggregate demand. A swine fever outbreak has fueled inflation, pushing up prices for consumers. A declining Chinese economy poses a genuine threat to the global economy. The goal of this study is to understand how Chinese corporations are facing these and other potential economic challenges by adjusting their investment and pricing. We propose to visit 18 companies currently operating in the manufacturing, chemical, and finance sectors, among others, in the province of Jiangsu. Qualitative data will be collected by performing on-site interviews that will help us to understand how the financing, pricing, export, and expansion strategies at these companies have evolved to meet the current challenges. Through their participation in this research project, student fellows will develop critical thinking and analytic reasoning skills and devise a questionnaire for data collection. Student fellows will gain a deep understanding of the current business environment in China. They will communicate, in Mandarin Chinese, with people in a variety of business settings, thus improving their understanding of the business climate and their Chinese language proficiency. Working closely in a cross-cultural setting, the students will develop the teamwork and adaptation skills crucial to their eventual careers. Students will also develop and enhance their presentation skills using PowerPoint and/or poster sessions.

Maine Maritime Academy
Aquaculture, Sustainability, and the People of the North of Vietnam
Aaron Kingsbury, Assistant Professor of Arts and Sciences

With four students and one faculty mentor (FM), our research team will challenge and redefine our notions of sustainability through a more comprehensive exploration of aquaculture, in its myriad of production styles, locations, stakeholders, and intentions, across the north of Vietnam. Based in the provincial city of Thai Nguyen, individual student team members have each designed projects befitting their skills and desired professional aspirations. These include exploring gender roles and agency as a component of social sustainability, the effect of climate change on the profits and production systems from the perspective of economic sustainability, and if aquaculture can provide tangible local examples of environmental sustainability. These are further connected by a series of humanities-based projects that seek to use the medium of photography to gain an insight into, interact with, and share our interpretations of Vietnamese people and culture. Our goals will be further supported by a substantial collaboration with the students and faculty of the Advanced Education Program at Thai Nguyen University of Agriculture and Forestry and with research trips intentionally designed to meet and interact with specific people in Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Haiphong, Viet Tri City, and the Northern Mountainous Region (NMR). Every project of our team stands alone, yet each team member will be directly involved in the research of other members. Projects and activities for individuals and the entire group have been organized in a manner that encourages and supports individual agency, yet ties us together as a collective and dynamic research team. Ample opportunities are scheduled to work with collaborators to achieve identified research, professional, and even personal objectives. Overall, our team seeks to re-conceptualize our own notions of social, economic, and environmental sustainability through an interaction with the people and places of Vietnam.

 Randolph College
From “Maiden Aunts” to “Virtuous Renouncers”: Changing Opportunities for Buddhist Nuns in Nepal
Suzanne M. Bessenger, Associate Professor & Chair of Religious Studies 

Nearly twenty years into the second millenium, the United Nations continues to cite gender inequality as a pressing issue of global concern. In Buddhist worlds across Asia, this same two‐decade period has brought growing recognition of historical inequities between male and female members of the Buddhist monastic order and, in response, historically unprecedented changes to religious and educational opportunities for Buddhist nuns. While these changes in Asian Buddhist institutions coincide with renewed global attention to issues of gender equality, they also occur amidst growing recognition that in Asia, such transformation in the lives of nuns is the culmination of decades of local strategizing in distinctively Buddhist and Asian idioms, not just of international pressures shaped by the values of secular liberalism. This project will explore and document these remarkable changes as they have manifested in two unique locales in Nepal: Khachoe Ghakyil Ling Nunnery, a Vajrayana Buddhist institution located in Kathmandu; and Peace Grove Institute, a Theravada‐inspired nunnery situated near the Buddhist pilgrimage site of Lumbini. Several questions will guide our study: What educational and religious opportunities are currently offered to nuns in each of these two institutions? How do these opportunities differ from those available in the past, and what were the catalysts for these innovations? How do lay people perceive the value of nuns’ new opportunities? Do lay people see their financial support of nuns’ activities as equally valuable as donations to monks? By conducting interviews and learning to respectfully navigate the overlapping social networks of these two nunneries (nuns/monks, teachers/students, lay people/monastics), students will develop research experience and intercultural communication skills in distinctively Asian environments, thus laying the groundwork for their future careers in education, non‐governmental organizations, politics, and non‐profit social justice work.

 Warren Wilson College
Meaningful Markets: Contextualized Study of Localized Food Economies in Rural Chinese Communities
Dongping Han, Professor of Political Science

As four determined college students, passionate and fascinated by food systems, we aim to experience and study as many models of localized food economies in pursuit of our education, our future, and the betterment of the existing food industry in the United States. Our goal is to do a comparative study between Centralized and Decentralized food systems through examining localized farmer’s market economies in specific regions of rural China. Our proposal explicates our desire to study the decentralized agricultural markets in Baoding City, Mancheng County in Hebei Province, and Rushan County in Shandong Province over the course of three weeks. Living with families there, immersing ourselves in their culture, and conducting interviews with community members, we hope to gain an understanding of the culture and food systems knowledge of our hosts. Our final product, a documentary, will integrate the stories of the community while lending a visual aid to demonstrate these localized market economies. In going to China, we seek to gather methods and perspectives that may complement, refine, or improve our food systems in our local communities, in Western North Carolina, and the United States food industry as a whole. Given the opportunity to work in China, we will return to the United States ready to integrate and share our documentary as a visual symbol of what we learned with our surrounding community, carrying this knowledge into our personal futures and the future of the food system.