Knox professors and students are travelling abroad this winter break, pursuing intensive immersion in foreign cultures. Professor of Philosophy Bill Young will be exploring historic temples and shrines in Japan. He is preparing for an upcoming class he will be teaching Spring Term on Japanese Buddhism. Subjects of his travel include the various religious temples and shrines of Japan. By studying the differences in their design, he hopes to glean how the architecture displays specific sets of values and religious points of view.
“It will make a difference to what we say in that class. I will be visiting various number of historical places that I may or may not incorporate… depending on what I discover there” Young said. “It helps me to visit the places that I’m going to talk about because it makes my discussion of those places, I think, more authentic.”
He also plans on working closely with Zen Buddhist masters in Kyoto and joining them in their meditation practices. The practices typically go from 6:30 a.m. until 9 p.m., and can take place anywhere from one day to a week long. At the end of practice he will get the chance to talk with the Zen masters, to learn more about the centrality of meditation in regard to Buddhism and what people believe they are doing and why.
To conduct his studies, Young has undertaken background reading to understand the relevant cultural context and history. Sophomore Isaac Hughes has prepared similarly for his trip to Mexico by attending a prerequisite class once a week this Fall Term. Over break, Hughes will be teaching lesson plans to children in Oaxaca. Students in Hughes’s class covered the specific geography of Oaxaca, the history of its culture and food, and the current state of its education system which is embroiled in teacher strikes.
This serves to provide cultural context as Hughes creates lesson plans for 10 and 11-year-olds, and works at a local after-school program for at-risk youth. But Hughes’s chief focus remains centered upon the program’s foreign immersion. He has never conducted this kind of work in a foreign language before.
“For me it was less about those specific tracks and it was more about me using those tracks to help improve my Spanish abilities. And who knows, maybe it will open the door to me and I will realize I really like teaching English as a language,” Hughes said.
Professor and Director of Asian Studies Weihong Du’s trip to Southern China follows similar prerogatives. There are 56 different ethnic groups in China, many of them small and spread out, especially in the regions of Southern China. Du is accompanying students in her class “Arts, Culture and Landscapes of Southern China” to Southern China, traveling through the region by bus and river boat. The itinerary includes attending several dance and music shows exhibiting Chinese folk-tales performed by local farmers. The performances emphasize using the surrounding landscape as a stage. With a focus on traveling through the rivers and mountain ranges of Southern China, the students will be immersed in the landscape indelible to Chinese religion, art and folk-tale.
On the subject of Southern Chinese landscape and culture, the trip has attracted students from a wide variety of disciplines, including creative writing, anthropology, and photography, not just Asian Studies.
“When you go to a beautiful landscape or a beautiful place you go… and take a picture of the sunrise or sunset, even if you major in creative writing you can be really inspired by the scene and write some beautiful poems and literature,” Du said.