Press Coverage

Professor Kim-Renaud

Opinion, Korea Times in the US

December 3, 2015

Importance of Cultural Exchanges for Peace in Northeast Asia

By Young-Key Kim-Renaud

Professor Emeritus, George Washington University

There is welcome news from the young generation that brings a breath of fresh air, warning against the adversary tension among three countries of Northeast Asia and the current tendency in America to feel excessively threatened by China’s economic and political development.

On November 8, 2015, a Japanese speech contest was held at George Washington University. This event, which was jointly organized by GW’s Language Center and the Japanese Program of the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, was the first Japanese speech contest for college students in the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area. The contest started bearing a striking title, “J-Live (Japanese Learning Inspired Vision and Engagement) Talk,” suggested by Anri Yasuda, Assistant Professor of Japanese Literature.

This momentous event was sponsored by a number of organizations and individuals who are interested in Japan, including All Nippon Airways (ANA); the Embassy of Japan in Washington, DC; iConnect’a; Japan Commerce Association of Washington DC Foundation, Inc.; Japan Foundation, Los Angeles; Naganuma School; Nanzan University; Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA; GW’s Sigur Center for Asian Studies; Dr. M. Tsunashima and Washington CORE. A distinguishing aspect of the contest was its emphasis on the 21st century communication skills, including the audio-visual materials, audience interaction, and other innovative ideas. Contestants had ample opportunity to demonstrate their linguistic and cultural knowledge, and their ability to project themselves efficiently.

Another salient feature of the contest was the diversity of its participants. The Gold award (a round-trip ticket to Japan, a six week summer intensive course at the Naganuma School in Tokyo and a stipend of US $3000) went to Danny Dong-Hyun Jeon, a Korean student studying International Studies and East-Asian Studies at Johns Hopkins University. The Silver award (a round-trip ticket to Japan, a six week summer intensive course at Nanzan University in Nagoya and a stipend of US $1,500) was won by Dunkin Adams of George Washington University, and the Bronze award (a round-trip ticket to Japan) by Ke Dong, a Chinese student studying at George Washington University.

Multi-talented Danny Jeon, who has studied Japanese formally only for two years, captured the audience’s attention and heart with his deeply inspiring speech. He expressed his concern about the hostile relations between the three countries of Northeast Asia. He said young people like him should be at the forefront to improve relations between these countries: They should make an all-out effort to promote mutual understanding and to continue the dialog, with the goal of empathizing with one another eventually. Jeon said, “This was an excellent opportunity to see where I stand, and also to learn many new things from fellow contestants.”

Seiichi Makino, Professor Emeritus of Japanese and Linguistics at Princeton University said in his closing remarks that he was a little concerned about the inward thinking of the contemporary Japanese, and praised the contestants, noting that this was the most moving and encouraging speech contest he had ever attended, with many important, hopeful and joyful messages powerfully delivered by those young people.

This Japanese speech contest was inspired by and modeled after the Jiangsu Cup Chinese language contest, which has been organized by GW’s Confucius Institute. The Jiangsu Cup started in 2011 as a collaborative project between GW’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, and the Institute for International Students of Nanjing University, following the suggestion by Dean Cheng Aimin of Nanjing University. With some generous funding from sponsors in Nanjing, this contest also had substantial prizes for the award winners, including a full scholarship to study for a graduate degree at Nanjing University. Phyllis Zhang, Associate Professor of Chinese, designed the whole process, and seamlessly managed the first contest that was held in September of that year at GW.

Since the installation of the Confucius Institute at GW, it completely took over the Chinese speech contests. Prof. Zhang said, “This Chinese speech contest is a successful project. Excellent universities of the Greater Washington Area have participated. This year we are impressed by the College of William and Mary: Although it is the very first time they participated in the contest, they swept the Gold and Silver Awards. All three finalists from GW received Silver Awards, maintaining the excellent record by GW students. This has thus provided an opportunity for GW to proudly demonstrate their excellent Chinese language program.”

Under these circumstances, a Korean speech contest for college students is on the horizon, and remains as one of the possible things to do at GW, which has continually strengthening its Korean program through the years.

Shoko Hamano, Professor of Japanese and Chair of the East Asian Languages and Literatures, views—hopes others will, too—the two speech contests as a natural path toward a one-day symposium entitled "An Interdisciplinary Symposium on Border-Crossing in the East Asian Cultural Sphere" next spring. The aim of the event is to provide students, scholars, and the general public with a broad introduction to the multiple and intertwined paths of flow between the languages and art forms of China, Japan, and Korea. We could envision a day when we have a comprehensive speech contest, encompassing all three languages.”

(This article originally appeared in Korean.)