There has never been a better time at Davidson to study one of the most culturally, politically and economically ascendant regions of the world: East Asia. Through the Chinese Studies Department, students may now choose to obtain a major or interdisciplinary minor in Chinese Language and Literature or East Asian Studies, which were both added to the curriculum this academic year.
Students of Chinese Language and Literature study and master the Chinese language through courses at Davidson and study abroad in a Chinese-speaking country. Students of East Asian Studies earn an interdisciplinary degree by learning about the culture, politics, religion and art of China and surrounding countries such as Japan and Korea.
Brown Professor and Chair of Chinese Studies Shelley Rigger explained the importance of including Asian studies in the curriculum. "East Asia is the home of ancient civilizations with magnificent artistic, religious, philosophical and literary traditions that are well worth studying. And today, China and its neighbors play a huge role in the global economy. They are key partners for American businesses," she said. "As China also becomes a strategic player internationally, there is strong demand for Chinese expertise and language proficiency in foreign service, law and government."
In the past, Davidson students who wanted to graduate with degrees in Asian studies had to design their own majors through the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies. "Now that the majors are incorporated under the Chinese Studies department, students don't have to jump through so many hoops to get their degree," said Rigger.
She added that the number of faculty teaching Asian studies has grown at a fairly healthy rate for the past two decades.
Tom DeMarzo '17, of White Plains, N.Y., is set to become Davidson's first major in Chinese Language and Literature. He started studying Chinese at Davidson after three years learning the language in high school. "It's a challenging but rewarding language to study," he said.
Last summer, DeMarzo joined Professor of Anthropology Fuji Lozada and Director of Sustainability Jeff Mittelstadt on a trip to Shanghai to study sustainability in the Chinese food industry. "Getting to experience the language and culture I had been studying at Davidson was awesome," he said. "Walking down a crowded street in Shanghai is an indescribable experience-you just have to do it."
While there, he conducted a project on the country's food industry in which he observed and interviewed street vendors. They reminded him of people selling nuts and pretzels on the streets of New York City, except that Shanghai's vendors sell full meals.
DeMarzo plans on studying abroad in Beijing next fall. "What better place to perfect my Chinese skills than the cultural heart of China?" he remarked.
After graduation, DeMarzo's plans become foggier. "But I'm not worried," he said, "because my proficiency in Chinese will open a lot of doors."
Gabe Pureco '16, an East Asian Studies major from Winston-Salem, N.C., has long appreciated Asian culture through his love of movies. At Davidson he realized he wanted to pursue an East Asian Studies major because he found the material unique and thought-provoking.
"I have a background studying Spanish and French, but Chinese interested me because it's completely different from those or any other Romance language," he explained.
Last semester, Pureco traveled with the Davidson in Shanghai Program led by Associate Professor of Chinese Studies Ping Shao. "Professor Shao was teaching us every moment," Pureco said.
For example, Pureco said one of the first lessons involved eating as a group. "In America, everyone orders a separate dish, but in China you order many small dishes for everyone," he explained. "Then you allow the elders to fill their plates first."
Pureco, a double major in East Asian Studies and anthropology, wants to use his expertise in the business world. "I'm primarily interested in public relations and marketing," he said. "Businesses need people who know how to reach out to other countries without disrespecting their values."
Pureco expressed his pleasure with the growth of Asian studies of Davidson. "When I entered Davidson there were no majors, and now there are two," he noted. "This gives students the option to pursue a mastery of either language or culture."
He added, "Learning Chinese language and culture is becoming increasingly important. It's another way Davidson is helping prepare students for the future."