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Smith’s East Asian Languages and Literatures department

The East Asian Languages and Literatures department at Smith College was established in 1988. Interest in East Asia had increased at Smith during the ’80s due to the region’s economic importance, appeal for the exotic, and the postwar climate.

Nishijin Weaving Center Jan 2009 copy (1)

Professor Thomas Rohlin and Smith students in Nishijin Weaving Center, Kyoto, Japan.

The department’s current chair, professor Tom Rohlich commented that “geopolitics and economics are closely related to interest in East Asia as well as strong immigration from the region,” which is evident from the increased number of foreign students at Smith from East Asia. Many students attracted to the department hope to excel at an East Asian language (i.e., Japanese, Chinese, Korean), but the culture also intrigues students—anime and manga being the biggest attractions. An interesting development over the past few years is the prevalence of foreign students wanting to study Japanese or Chinese language due to being exposed to East Asian pop culture in their home countries.

There are many East Asian study abroad options for Smith students, including the popular Associated Kyoto Program in Japan. In addition to sending a large number of students each year, Smith also sends a faculty member to teach at the university every three years.

The one thing Professor Rohlich would like Smith students to get from the East Asian Languages and Literatures department is “a global perspective of what their life could be after Smith.” He realizes that not everyone is going to study abroad, but “every community in the world is touched by globalization.” There is a real importance in our society today to have an awareness of the different cultures in the world and best ways to communicate with people from different walks of life.

In terms of improvements for the program, Professor Rohlich wants increased advocacy for Smithies to live in the world, so naturally there is more of an international emphasis with the curriculum. The departments also want to keep the curriculum up-to-date so that they can serve the changing needs of the students. They are, for instance, offering language courses that incorporate translation skills. Smith has a fourth-year Japanese language course that is doing just that—making English subtitles for the introduction of a Japanese TV show. Smith students involved in the department have gone on to work in the banking industry in Shanghai, do freelance translating, work as manga publishers, and more!

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