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Helping to Develop Young Leaders in Community Resource Management

March 16, 2016
By null

Four Sylff fellows from Chiang Mai University, Thailand—Pradhana Chantaruphan, Olarn Ongla, Saiwimon Worapan, and Alongkorn Jitnuku—jointly organized a field study to raise students’ awareness of environmental sustainability through community resource management. This coauthored article describes highlights of the field study and explains how collaboration among Sylff fellows helped to facilitate students’ learning.

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On April 4-5, 2015, four Sylff fellows from Thailand organized an interactive activity in Pa Ngue village, Tanuer sub-district, Mae On district, Chiang Mai Province, Thailand.“Potential development for young leadership through participation in community resource management” was a joint project organized by Chiang Mai University and Silpakorn University. The idea of the project was to encourage students to become more aware of their potential as effective agents of change in society. Learning through real experiences helps students to understand their real potentiality.

Chiang Mai University collaborates with Silpakorn University in Bangkok to provide opportunities for students from both universities to work with villagers as a part of their efforts in community engagement. For students, community engagement serves as a real-world learning opportunity. Besides participating in activities related to their own areas of study, students must serve the needs of the community to help develop wider society and themselves as well. Becoming involved with the community in this way provides useful practice, training, and learning for students and encourages them to develop into active, responsible citizens.

After the university’s Sylff fellows group meeting in 2014, the four authors of this article felt strongly that there was a need for greater community engagement. It was this shared belief that made us decide to undertake a project together. Through our discussion of the strengths of our group, we thought of tapping into the community networks we have established through our various research and projects. We divided our work into several categories. Pradhana Chantaruphantook responsibility for coordination between the two universities as a faculty member of Silpakorn University, while the fieldwork sites were selected by Olarn Ongla based on his experience of research in this village.

Site Selection: An Important Step

The story of Pa Ngue village illustrates how the process of forest management takes place in the community in response to external pressures that can include state policies and economic conditions. One thing that is peculiar to this village is the coexistence of different ethnic groups in the same area. These ethnic groups are the Karen and the so-called native or indigenous people. These consist of two groups: one group is a mixture of indigenous locals and Tai-lu from Mae-Sa-Puad village; the other is made up of indigenous people from the On-Klang sub-district. Together these ethnic groups search for ways to protect their local resources and develop strategies to deal with the state and bargain for autonomy. This is one of the things that make the village so attractive as a learning area for students. The students can see examples of conflict management among stakeholders and witness the development of ideas consistent with the historical and social circumstances. The Sylff fellows selected this area for the project based on these merits.

Project Design

Three activities over two days provided students with opportunities to work with villagers. On the first day, students and villagers cooperated with pupils from the local school to construct a check dam. On the second day, students surveyed the area where the community lives and shared with villagers in a discussion on resource management, leading to an exchange of ideas between villagers and students. This project was devoted to improving the environmental sustainability of the community and to promoting leadership among students at the same time.

Day 1: Check Dam Construction by Students, Villagers, and Local Pupils

The schedule started with an introduction of participants and the community. Villagers told participants about their history and spoke about community development and the management of community resources. Later in the afternoon, students got to put their skills into practice in a real-world setting, working alongside villagers and local students on a resource management project by constructing the dam.

Check dams are made of a variety of materials. Because they are typically used as temporary structures, they are often made of cheap and readily accessible materials, such as rocks, gravel, logs, hay bales, and sandbags. Villagers usually cannot receive financial assistance from the government to construct check dams. They have to depend on their own resources, including manpower. Check dams are also limited in duration. These factors make students’ help relevant to the need of the villagers.

Check dams are a highly effective way of reducing flow velocities in channels and waterways. Compared to larger dams, check dams are faster to build and more cost-effective, being smaller in scope. This means that building a check dam will not typically displace people or communities. Nor will it destroy natural resources if proper care is taken in designing the dam. Moreover, the dams themselves are simple to construct and do not rely on advanced technologies. This means they can be easily used in more rural and less “developed” communities.

After dinner students shared their thoughts on the work of the community, their feelings on working alongside the villagers, and their ideas about young leadership.

Day 2 : Surveying the Community Area

The first activities got underway early in the morning, with the students separated into two groups. The first group carried out a survey on villagers’ working lives. Most of the villagers are farmers, producing corn on contract for the Thai Royal Project. Farming on contract with the Thai Royal Project brings many benefits, including useful information, access to raw materials, and experts who can give farmers advice. The contracts also guarantee farmers an income, giving them security and stability. This binds the village economy tightly with local resources, and brought home to us how important it is for the villagers to be able to manage the areas they use and share resources among the community in a sustainable way.

The second group conducted a survey on water management. The geography of the village is mountainous, and ensuring a steady supply of water is no easy task. Villagers have constructed a water supply system by themselves.

The group walked into the forest to survey the headwater. The villagers told legends about ancestor worship and the animist beliefs that the members of community act out in rituals that pay respect to the local spirits. Nature is therefore something that protects the villagers and their way of life. These traditional beliefs also help to encourage the community to use the water and other resources of the forest with respect. Animists beliefs make it less likely that people will take advantage of one other and help to instill a spirit of coexistence in the community.

Group Discussions

After the students had explored the community, they compiled the data and knowledge they had gained from the course. They shared with friends in the group and passed on these findings to other friends in the separate group who carried out their surveys in a different area. At the same time they exchanged ideas with the villagers about activities in the area and doubts arising from their experiences in the field. In this way, the students were able to learn from one another, and this helped to evoke an atmosphere of enthusiasm. Through the course, participating students came to understand that community resources need to be appropriately managed and that activities of all kinds can act as a bridge to new knowledge, whether the activity involves learning from storytelling, taking part in the everyday activities of villagers, learning about resource management strategies, or taking part in discussions after the activities are over.

Significance and Impact of the Project

(1) Effects on the Community

The community will be strengthened in the management of resources already available. Participation in this activity helped to generate confidence and a sense of pride that will empower the community to put their tacit knowledge into use. The project also served as a reminder that the knowledge of the community has been handed down from generation to generation. Owing to the university’s support, helping communities in this way earns them greater bargaining power with the state. By strengthening academic networks, it also helps to give confidence to youth leadership in the village.

(2) Effects on Sylff Fellows

This project had a positive impact for the fellows from its very outset, involving as it did collaboration between fellows from three disciplines (anthropology, economics, and political science). The project served as a useful reminder of the importance of working with local communities in order to understand the social and cultural phenomena that led us to pursue these careers in the first place. In addition, a joint project of this nature reflects the interdisciplinary work and exchange of ideas between fellows with knowledge in three different fields, each with something to contribute to the project. Political science is relevant to the idea of resource management and the community’s bargaining power vis-à-vis the state, while anthropology covers concepts of culture and beliefs in collective consciousness and community benefit, and economics helps to understand the wealth accruing to the community through resource management. All of this has helped to expand fellows’ understanding and is an example of interdisciplinary work.

(3) Effects on Participating Students

Involving students from different universities and different fields, the project successfully enabled the exchange of knowledge between disciplines and interdisciplinary work among fellows. The project also raised students’ awareness of several important issues, including the struggle between state control and community autonomy and the efforts being made to protect shared resources despite ethnic differences. Witnessing the way that events unfold within the community was in itself a lesson in diversity. By exchanging this newly acquired knowledge with fellow students laid down a basis for applying these insights to other social phenomenon. It is to be hoped that this taste of hands-on learning outside the classroom will help to foster an open and constructive mindset among the young generation.

 

Pradhana ChantaruphanReceived a Sylff Fellowship in 2013 at Chiang Mai University, Thailand, while conducting her PhD studies in anthropology. She is a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology, Faculty of Archeology, at Silpakorn University in Bangkok.

 

Olarn OnglaReceived a Sylff Fellowship in 2013.Completed a master’s degree in Political Science at the Faculty of Political Science and Public Administration, Chiang Mai University.

 

Sasiwimon WorapanReceived a Sylff Fellowship in 2013. A master’s student in the economics program at Chiang Mai University, Thailand. Areas of interest include business economics, international economics, and the uses of economic theory and quantitative methods to analyze problems. Her thesis is titled “Impact of Remittances on Economic Growth in ASEAN Countries.”

 

Alongkorn JitnukulReceived a Sylff Fellowship for the 2013-15 period. An MA student in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Chiang Mai University, Thailand.

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[Report] Identifying Effective Prevention and Intervention Strategies for School Bullying

November 26, 2015
By null

Jaimee Stuart, who received a Sylff fellowship at New Zealand’s Victoria University in 2009–11, organized a conference on school bullying as a Sylff Leadership Initiatives (SLI) project on July 8, 2015, in Wellington, New Zealand. Attending the workshop as observers from the Tokyo Foundation were Mari Suzuki, director for leadership development, and program officer Mana Sakamoto. The following is a report by Mana Sakamoto.

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Jaimee Stuart

Jaimee Stuart

New Zealand has one of the highest prevalence of bullying in the world, with nearly 70% of students aged 8 to 12 and 50% aged 13 to 17 having experienced bullying at their schools, according to a Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. Drawing on her research and experience as a phycologist, Sylff fellow Jaimee Stuart convened a mini-conference titled “Bullying: Identifying Effective Prevention and Intervention Strategies” to address this serious social problem, bringing together 75 participants from research institutions, governmental agencies, community organizations, and the media for a rare opportunity to share best practices and discuss how the issue can be tackled together.

Despite the pervasiveness of school bullying in New Zealand, which was found to affect both bullies and victims negatively even after they reached middle age, the many school-based interventions have failed to achieve beneficial changes in behavior. This is believed to be because such programs are not based on research evidence, they do not systematically address the complexity of bullying behavior, and they do not have broad community and government support.

By convening this conference, Stuart—a research fellow at the Centre for Applied Cross-Cultural Research and the Roy McKenzie Centre for the Study of Families at the Victoria University of Wellington—sought to encourage fuller dialogue among policymakers, researchers, and practitioners. She also hoped to produce an evidence base on which guidelines for effective intervention and prevention guidelines can be developed and issued to families, schools, and communities. A set of resources on bullying, including video presentations of the sessions to be disseminated online and an edited book for the general public compiled with submissions from invited presenters, will also be produced.

Potentially Fatal Consequences

In her opening remarks, Stuart pointed out that minority groups, such as the Maori, can also become targets of bullying, as many people find it difficult to accept the symbolic role of this indigenous group in New Zealand culture. Likewise, sexual minorities and increasing numbers of immigrants are often victimized. Bullying can have long-term repercussions for both perpetrators and victims, she noted, with bullied students more likely to suffer poor health and develop psychological symptoms and bullies having greater risk of serious injury and of becoming substance abusers and criminal offenders. The consequences, she added, can sometimes be fatal.

The workshop was held in conjunction with the 19th Conference of Australasian Human Development Association, which was organized to share knowledge, wisdom, and research-based insights into healthy development for young people and families. Held the day before the start of the AHDA conference, Stuart’s workshop helped to shed light on bullying behavior and encouraged dialogue for a fuller range of participants.

Short presentations introduced key statistics regarding youth behavior and implications for long-term, negative health and social influences. Examples of intervention and prevention programs were shared, including KiVa, an evidence-based intervention for school bullying developed in Finland with funding from the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture. Through an online game, students learn the best ways to deal with bullying behavior. Three schools in New Zealand currently use KiVa in their curriculum, and in the light of the preliminary positive results, many more schools are expected to adopt this program.

In another short presentation, the Gibson Group introduced a documentary about a unique intervention program in New Zealand schools that was shown on a national network in July. Small tutorials are held with students to discuss bullying behavior that is actually occurring in their class, enabling students to understand how their behaviors have led to bullying (http://www.gibson.co.nz/screen-projects/bullies).

In addition, a number of concurrent workshops were held, including one on cyber bullying that discussed cases of online intimidation and harassment. Differences with face-to-face or physical bullying were noted, such as anonymity, and schools were urged to provide training for teachers so they can quickly spot such hidden forms of bullying.

Another workshop given by the Ministry of Social Development asked participants to create a community intervention plan involving students and their families, highlighting the importance of community and family involvement in addressing school bullying. Other workshops and a panel discussion were held on such topics as the influence of family violence on girls’ behavior, safe and peaceful schools, and the role of the community in addressing bullying.

“One of the Best Workshops I Have Been To”

All the objectives of Stuart’s SLI project were met. The sessions of the conference were filmed so that videos can later be shared with other experts, filling an important void in resources. New networks were formed among the participants, which should not only lead to an improved school environment but also engender new initiatives to combat bullying. Based on the results of the conference, Stuart also plans to present policy proposals to the Bullying Prevention Advisory Group and publish a book in the near future.

The conference generated great enthusiasm among participants, who referred to it as “one of the best workshops I have been to in my professional career.” One doctoral student at the University of Auckland, who drove all the way to Wellington to attend the conference, said he was impressed by the commitment other participants had shown in addressing the issue, adding that he was able to actively communicate with experts and gather information for his research.

Many speakers related their firsthand experiences with bullies. Sharing emotionally difficult stories required great courage, but they were determined not to retreat into their shells out of a desire to combat the bullying issue.

While working as a project organizer, Stuart actively and enthusiastically communicated with participants, and the conference is likely to have a positive impact on future efforts to reduce young New Zealanders’ engagement in and exposure to violent behavior. It was also an excellent example of how an SLI project can be shaped to incorporate both research and networking elements and to address important social issues in a developed country.

Thanks to the SLI award, moreover, Stuart was able to raise 1,200 NZ dollars, which will be donated to the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.

The Tokyo Foundation wishes her much success in all her future initiatives.

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Developing Youth Leadership in the Western Cape
-SLI Workshop Organized by Fellow Xena M. Cupido-

May 22, 2015
By null

On December 3–5, 2014, Sylff fellow Xena M. Cupido organized a highly successful interactive workshop in Gleemoor, Athlone, Cape Town, South Africa, for 30 youth leaders between 16 and 19 years old. The first day of the three-day workshop, financed with a Sylff Leadership Initiatives grant, was devoted to improving communication, the second day to promoting leadership, and the final day to expanding opportunities for engagement. Photos and videos of the workshop can be viewed at http://sayouthleadership.weebly.com.

Cupido received a Sylff fellowship from the University of the Western Cape in 2012. The following reports were filed by two other UWC Sylff fellows: Althea Whitaker, who coordinated the attendance of fellows at the workshop as observers, and Errol Brierley.

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Xena M. Cupido

Xena M. Cupido

Day 2: Facilitating Creative Leadership
Errol Brierley

I was privileged to observe the leadership session of this Cape Town SLI project, and accordingly this report will begin by reflecting on the skill with which the facilitator assisted a group of teenage leaders, who were eager to learn about leadership styles and ways to influence a community. Xena was particularly skillful in helping the young leaders to achieve these objectives without taking sides in any deliberations or presentations.

Notwithstanding the fact that the young leaders came from a variety of backgrounds in terms of geographical location, cultural ethos, and the challenges their communities faced, they clearly displayed a common tenacity in pursuing specific societal values and experiences. The atmosphere among the young leaders was that of active participants really enjoying the learning process. I was impressed by the young leaders’ practical knowledge in engaging with the information that was taught. Despite their youth and innocence, they were very aware of and able to understand all topics. They looked up to positive role models like Nelson Mandela and the many political activists who have served in the South African government but at the same time lamented that such role models were not to be found in their communities at present. The materials presented were consistent with the values and guidelines of the National Youth Development Policy Framework.

The emphasis of this policy framework is on the need to give youths the opportunity to develop leadership skills and the competency to recognize poor leaders in their communities. The young leaders’ comprehension of the principles of leadership and related complexities reflected their sense of purpose and awareness of their own personal strengths, as well as of the areas requiring further growth.

Day 2

Day 2

The facilitator provided impeccable guidance toward creative leadership. Her presentation highlighted real, practical constraints and reflected social and ethical concerns. What I found impressive is the fact that the facilitator had the ability to intervene in ways that encouraged creativity among the participants, rather than seeking to lead the discussion and taking away the group’s initiative.

The group dynamics clearly reflected differences in the backgrounds and orientations of the participants, and the facilitator was successful in getting all involved in the discussion. The workshop was interactive and enjoyable, thus resulting in a true learning experience. Understanding leadership can be very complicated, but the techniques and tools of the facilitator, as far as I could see, kept the learners focused on and interested in the workshop material.

This suggests that the approach adopted by the facilitator can play a key role in successfully familiarizing young leaders with what seemed to me to be complex material. The young leaders understood the content of the training and spoke confidently on various topics. They learned that a leader’s role and position were not easy to attain and that a leader needed to consider many aspects in that role. In order to bring about positive social change, a leader must be creative and be able to influence the behavior of others. By applying the new knowledge gained in the training sessions, the young leaders will surely be in a better position to make a difference in their communities.

Day 3: Opportunities for Engagement
Althea Whitaker

On entering the room on day three, one immediately got the impression that quite a bit of work had gone into creating this cooperative atmosphere. The program of the day was structured around several subthemes that consolidated the topics covered over the three days. I observed 30 very enthusiastic young leaders who participated actively in the day’s programs.

Day 3

Day 3

The first theme was the importance of research in paving the way to effective leadership. The approach used was experiential, asking the young leaders to write down what they knew about their research topics. The process was followed by group discussions to come up with new ideas and methods of gathering information.

The second theme introduced the young leaders to the process of selecting topics and the means of deciding on a focus. They were taught the process of reaching a consensus in a group and of voting to decide on issues.

The third theme was to consider community issues and assets and to discuss the root causes of the challenges identified. This was an important session, as it taught the young leaders the importance of embarking on approaches that evolve from within the community so as not to impose inappropriate solutions.

The fourth theme was to introduce them to the process of concept mapping and to identify the causes and effects of community issues. Once the concepts were identified and categorized, they moved to the fifth theme, which taught them the process involved in the advocacy of the selected issues.

They were taught organizational skills and how to view the community in terms of the various infrastructure resources available to support youth-related programs and topics and to find solutions through the drafting of Neighborhood Needs Maps and Community Asset Maps, taking time to connect with the neighborhood.

The day concluded with an awards ceremony, where the young leaders had an opportunity to apply some of the techniques that was imparted over the three days by validating each person. They were asked to call out the next person after receiving a certificate of participation and to express the value the person imparted on them over the last three days. This called for careful thinking about and the application of the listening skills they were taught over the three days toward their new friends. Some of the words of appreciation were very emotional and reflected the journey the young leaders had travelled over the three days.

I would like to express my sincere congratulation to Xena for the very successful three-day event that she hosted. I could see that the young leaders felt empowered and were proud of the new knowledge they gained—especially about themselves—over the three days. I would like to also thank Xena for her vision and the Sylff Leadership Initiatives program for supporting this very important leadership development program, which Athlone and the surrounding communities of the Western Cape so badly need. Athlone is a very old suburb created to house historically disadvantaged groups that had been displaced from South Africa’s biggest economic centers as part of the country’s apartheid policy.

Athlone was established in the 1930s, and compared to newer residential areas built for the poor, its infrastructure and those of such surrounding areas as Silvertown, Mountview, and Hanover Park—home to residents from working-class backgrounds—are fairly well developed. As such these neighborhoods have been largely overlooked by the government’s development aid programs. The high schools that participated in the workshop are Peakview, Mountview, Alexander Sinton, Belgravia High, Windsor, Maitland, and Oude Molen, located in working-class to poor areas. Most people living in these areas had been employed in the manufacturing sector in the Western Cape, but due to the closure of many factories, quite a number of workers have lost their jobs, and their families have fallen into poverty.

The poverty rate in the Western Cape is lower than most other provinces in the country, but because of the high rate of migration and the impact of the economic situation, many communities have been adversely affected. The Western Cape has 1,452 schools, of which 885 are categorized as “very poor.” The rest are dependent on state financial support to keep them running and to provide stationery to all learners. The neighborhoods where the schools are situated must battle to maintain financial sustainability. While some schools receive assistance from parents, most of the funds to meet running costs come from the government. Many of the participating schools have children attending from very poor residential areas, which impacts on the schools’ ability to collect fees. This is the general trend in the public schools of these neighborhoods, where 20% of the population are poor. One major problem affecting youths in the province is drug abuse.

It is very important that leadership programs are offered to give youths the opportunity to rise above their circumstances. External support programs are needed to assist the schools and to provide additional outreach programs. I wish these communities every success in building their futures.

Althea Whitaker
Althea Whitaker is a lecturer at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and received a Sylff fellowship from the University of the Western Cape in 2004.

Errol Brierley
Errol Brierley is a human resources manager at Groote Schuur Hospital, Western Cape, and received a Sylff fellowship from the University of the Western Cape in 2005.

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Belgrade Fellow Publishes Serbia’s First Kanji Textbook

February 20, 2014

The cover of Divna’s kanji textbook.

The cover of Divna’s kanji textbook.

Kanji is analyzed in ways that Serbians can easily visualize.

Kanji is analyzed in ways that Serbians can easily visualize.

Divna Trickovic, 2002 fellow at the University of Belgrade, has published the first textbook on kanji (Sino-Japanese characters) ever written in Serbian. She is now an assistant professor in Japanese language and literature at her alma mater.

The textbook, published in July 2013, was developed in collaboration with professor Ljiljana Markovic, Sylff Steering Committee chairperson and head of the Department of Oriental Studies at the University of Belgrade, and two of her graduate students.

Divna was in Tokyo recently and shared news of her new textbook with Yoko Kaburagi of the Tokyo Foundation.

Divna was in Tokyo recently and shared news of her new textbook with Yoko Kaburagi of the Tokyo Foundation.

Kanji is analyzed in ways that Serbians can easily visualize. Leaning kanji is not easy for many Serbian students, who are not familiar with its unique features, so the textbook introduces each character in innovative ways that Serbians can easily visualize and remember. It has captured the hearts of Japanese learners in Serbia and is being adopted as an official textbook for high school students choosing to learn Japanese as an elective.

A top researcher in comparative linguistics of Serbian and Japanese, Divna was invited by the Slavic Research Center of Hokkaido University in Japan to make a presentation at a workshop on Serbian linguistics. During her visit, she also discussed the role of poetry in society in an event featuring many renowned Japanese poets, including Sadakazu Fujii.

Warm congratulations to Divna on her achievements and her pioneering efforts to bridge the cultures of Serbia and Japan.

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A Lesson in Leadership: Organizing the Jadavpur Tenth Anniversary Celebration

December 24, 2013
By 19596

Jadavpur University is located in Kolkata, the former capital of India and the religiously and ethnically diverse cultural center of the Bengal region. The city has a rich and active local tradition in the arts, including drama, art, film, theatre, and literature. That tradition was alive and well at the tenth anniversary celebration of the Sylff program at the University, which featured a documentary film, a special edition newsletter, and a lively debate.

The Jadavpur University Sylff Association organized a full day of events under the theme of “Leadership and Governance.” India is still searching for a perfect model of governance, as leadership often cannot be fully exercised for want of institutional support.

For the members of the association, preparing for this big event provided valuable lessons in leadership, public communication, and collaboration. Two young fellows who played a central role in organizing the event share their thoughts below.

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Aritra Chakraborti
Principal Organizer, JU-SYLFF Association (Sylff Fellow, 2012)

Aritra

Aritra

When I became a PhD-level Sylff fellow in July 2012, Professor Joyashree Roy, the Project Director for JU-SYLFF, told me that I would have to take up a major role in the proposed Tenth Anniversary Celebration of the Sylff Program in Jadavpur University. A few months into my tenure as a Sylff fellow, I was made the principal organizer of the JU-SYLFF Association, and I knew straightaway that I had a lot of hard work ahead of me.

My worries were mitigated by the presence of a team of very committed colleagues eager to work together, people whom I have known for a long time as students at the University. Now, when I look back at those days that were filled equally with anxiety and enthusiasm, it becomes evident how every Sylff fellow—from the senior-most fellows who joined in 2003 to the newly selected batch of 2013—did their best to make the event a success.

I still remember sending the first e-mail, back in October 2012, asking the Sylff fellows to come for a meeting where we were to discuss how we would go about organizing the major event. The fellows responded enthusiastically by turning up in large numbers. It was the first in a series of meetings that were held during the course of the preparations.

We decided that, in order to organize an event of this magnitude, we would have to take up a lot of responsibilities, including raising funds to cover the event’s expenses. Our target was to showcase the various activities and both the academic and non-academic achievements of the association and the fellows, as well as making the JU-SYLFF Program more visible within and outside the University.

We were helped immensely by our Project Director, Professor Roy, and Sylff assistants Sayanti Mitra (who left shortly before the event) and Samrat Roy (who replaced her). Suman Datta, who has been associated with the JU-SYLFF Program for a long time and remains irreplaceable, was always there whenever we needed his help and advice. The association also received generous support from members of the University administration, who cooperated with us in every way possible, thus making the celebration a truly collaborative event.

The Sylff Program requires that the fellows reach beyond their academic duties and fulfill various other roles as socially responsible leaders. One major benefit of this schooling is that it teaches the fellows the very useful skills of multitasking and rising beyond personal likes and dislikes for the benefit of a common cause. In taking up multiple duties, for instance, students of history and philosophy found the hidden designer in them; and those studying the intricacies of economics found themselves practicing the fine art of letter writing and selecting the perfect menu for lunch.

JU fellows and the members of the Tokyo Foundation

JU fellows and the members of the Tokyo Foundation

Being the principal organizer of the JU-SYLFF Association, I had to take up multiple duties as well: With Nikhilesh Bhattacharya and Sreerupa Sengupta, I co-edited the tenth anniversary edition of our annual newsletter, Fellows, and with the latter, I co-directed a short documentary titled, JU-SYLFF: The Journey So Far, detailing the decade-long journey of the Sylff Program at Jadavpur University. The documentary, which was shown on the day of the celebration, was conceptualized as an exciting and unconventional way of preserving the story of the wonderful partnership that the University and the Sylff Program have formed (click here to view the video). We tried our best to cover the entire history of the program—from the award ceremony at the Rajbhavan (Governor’s House) in 2003, through the formation of the JU-SYLFF Association and its various social and academic activities, to the present state of the program and what the fellows have gained by being a part of this community.

Former Vice-Chancellor of JU, Professor Ashoke Nath Basu, told us in the interview that was used as the introductory speech for the documentary how the introduction of the Sylff Program has helped the University to carry out cutting-edge research in interdisciplinary areas. The then Vice-Chancellor of the University, Professor Souvik Bhattacharyya, told us in his interview how he saw this wonderful partnership blossoming into a very profitable association in near future. By telling the story of our long and highly valued ties with philanthropic organizations such as the Premananda Memorial Leprosy Mission Hospital, we tried to show how the JU-SYLFF Association is trying its best to reach beyond the ivory tower and take part in social action programs. Duke Ghosh, one of the earliest Sylff fellows who did the voice-over for the documentary, re-collected the occasion when the University had the honour of hosting the South-Asia Pacific Regional Forum in 2007.

Despite our best efforts, though, we did feel the pressure during the final days of the preparations: There were sleepless nights as we tried very hard to tie up all the loose ends. In the end, however, we found that everything can come together when likeminded and determined people stick together. We received a lot of help from people who had little to do, directly, with the Sylff community previously. This, for me, was the highlight of the event, as it showed the bonding that the Sylff network has created within the University community. The Jadavpur University Press lent its expertise in designing the special edition of the annual newsletter. Researchers from the School of Women’s Studies gave us technical advice on creating the documentary. Ramprasad Gain, a former student of film studies at Jadavpur University and now an editor in the Bengali film industry, spent sleepless nights with us during the last few days editing and making last minute changes to the documentary.

There were moments of frustration and fear. During the last days of the preparations, the project director was travelling and there were times when we did feel that we had bitten off more than we could chew. But we also understood very quickly that these were part and parcel of preparing for any event of this magnitude. The key was not to lose focus: We had to be perfect in everything, since we were to host a lot of very important people on that day. In these moments of anxiety, the senior fellows took charge and provided guidance for the younger ones. Now, when I look back at the day of the event when everything proceeded perfectly, I think that those days of endless pressure were worth going through.

Nikhilesh Bhattacharya (Sylff Fellow, 2013)

Nikhilesh, center, and Yohei Sasakawa, the chairman of the Nippon Foundation

Nikhilesh, center, and Yohei Sasakawa, the chairman of the Nippon Foundation

My stint as a JU-SYLFF fellow began in a whirr of activity. When I was selected for the fellowship program I had no idea I was going to be thrown in at the deep end. As it happened, I joined in August 2013, less than two months before the tenth anniversary celebration of the Sylff Program in Jadavpur University. By then, preparations for the big day had already entered the final phase.

JU-SYLFF fellows had the responsibility of planning, organizing, and partly funding the day-long event on September 24, 2013. It meant a lot of work for all of us. And we had to balance that work with our academic responsibilities because the celebration was being held mid-term.

The first rule was good teamwork. Without it we could never hope to execute the diverse tasks facing us. This was, in a sense, a refreshing departure from academic research, which at times can be a rather lonely pursuit. Hours spent reading a book in the far corner of a library, poring over manuscripts in a desolate archive, or writing a thesis in a closed room ignoring the revelry outside bring their own reward. But team dynamics, too, is a fascinating subject: How the chain of command functions; how team members react to responsibilities; and how friendships are forged and occasional differences resolved (or not!).

On this occasion, the team’s task was made difficult by the fact that Joyashree Roy, the JU-SYLFF Project Director, was travelling extensively in the lead up to the celebration. That meant we were effectively left without a unanimously accepted leader for much of the time. The academic community of Jadavpur University is fiercely egalitarian and establishing a command chain with a temporary head was always going to be tricky. The core team was also small because most of the former JU-SYLFF fellows no longer live in Kolkata but are based in different places across the world.

This is where the former fellows who were still in the city played a crucial role. While all fellows, past and present, contributed to the program fund, Sreerupa Sengupta, Duke Ghosh, Rimple Mehta, Anindita Roy, Ritajyoti Bandyopadhyay, Deeptanil Ray, Nilanjan Pande, Sebanti Chatterjee, Abhishek Basu, and Payoshni Mitra took time off from their busy schedules to take charge of the preparations. We also got help from the administrators, teachers, and members of the university’s non-teaching staff whenever we asked.

I had the cushy job of coordinating among the fellows, which allowed me to order them around, lend a helping shoulder when someone was down, and, once or twice, order boxes of pizzas and pass them off as working lunch. My other responsibility was to put together the special edition of the JU-SYLFF Association’s newsletter, Fellows.

On the day of the event I could not follow the proceedings in the first session because most of my morning was spent making frequent trips backstage with instructions and ensuring everyone connected with the program had lunch. In between I was briefly on stage with Mr. Yohei Sasakawa, chairman of the Nippon Foundation, and the editorial team of Fellows for the launch of the special edition. The warm smile on Mr. Sasakawa’s face reassured me that things were going well.

Click here to view all

"FELLOWS"- Newsletter of the Jadavpur University Sylff Association

The last session saw a lively debate. The motion of the house was “Leadership is more important than governance,” and each debater could choose whether to speak for or against it. We settled on the subject because it is extremely relevant in a developing country such as India, where the search for a perfect model of governance is still on, and leadership often cannot fulfill its potential for want of institutional support. Two factors were kept in mind in choosing the participants: moderator Sugata Marjit and debaters Prasad Ranjan Roy, Supriya Chaudhuri, Anup Sinha, and Anchita Ghatak. One was that all be leaders in their respective fields, ranging from the Indian administrative service, academics, business administration. and women’s rights. And the other was that they be involved in governance in one way or the other. Some have been associated, directly or indirectly, with the JU-SYLFF Program for a long time. The debate taught us that good governance must lay the foundation for leadership to flourish.

What else did I learn from the experience of being part of a team tasked with planning and organizing an event of such scale? I learnt a new skill: I can now work with the design software used to make the layout of the newsletter. I learnt to keep calm, or at least appear so, when things were seemingly going haywire. And I learnt that the job is not done until the last payment has been made and accounts settled, which can be many days after the event is over.

More importantly, I learnt there is nothing more fun than taking collective ownership of an event and being able to stage it without a hitch. I couldn’t have had a better initiation into the larger Sylff family spread across the world.

Read related Sylff News article here.

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Voicing Violence: Constructing Meaning from Narratives by Children in Red-Light Districts of South Kolkata

August 21, 2013
By 19594

Anindita Roy received her Sylff fellowship from Jadavpur University in India in 2012 and conducted research in the United Kingdom using a Sylff Research Abroad grant from April to June 2013. In this article, she writes of children’s psychological development under adverse conditions in India, based on an analysis conducted in the UK of the field data she gathered over a year of research in Kolkata, India.

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kolkata.map

Interests drive passion. Sometimes, they also help to shape paths that lead one to journeys of exploration. In my case, an interest in children and their development have led me into landscapes of the mind and how it constructs meaning. Specifically, mine has been an academic endeavor to understand the meaning-making process and its relation to identity formation, especially in children living in adverse environments. My research was carried out in two red-light districts of Southern Kolkata, and its participants were girls and boys aged between 8 and 14. During this year-long research, I was often asked about my choice of research site: “But, why the red-light district?”

Empowering Children in Economically Deprived Areas

Through a community involvement project I undertook at Jadavpur University, I had the opportunity to access the red-light neighborhoods of Kalighat and Khidderpore (which are the sites I chose in my research for a master of philosophy degree). The project was designed to empower children in economically and socially deprived areas whose needs and concerns, it was felt, were largely under-represented and often misrepresented. The participants of this project were trained to become radio reporters so they could express themselves on the platform of a community radio station located on the Jadavpur University campus.

There was one young and promising participant from Kalighat who suddenly stopped attending the training sessions after an enthusiastic involvement over half a year. We were informed by the institution that introduced us to the children in this sensitive area that the participant had left the city and returned to the village and would no longer be able to join the project. It was some weeks later that this participant was seen (by several members of our project) standing with a couple of young girls on the lanes of Kalighat, trying to get clients. We assumed from what we saw that the child, who was still a minor, had become part of the flesh trade. Over the course of the project, a few more children left to “go back to their villages.” (This is not to suggest, though, that they, too, entered the same profession, for unlike the first participant, they were never seen again.) I was less troubled about the truth of what we were told and why than about the kinds of thoughts that must have run through the children’s minds as they made their choices.

How did they make their choices? This was my chief concern: How do these children perceive their lives and the environments in which they live, as well as the meaning and consequences of the choices they make? The current research is part of an organic work in progress—an attempt to understand some of the questions that had seized my mind a long time ago.

Narratives of Abuse, Violence, and Suffering

Coming back to this work, made possible when my proposal was selected for a Sylff Research Abroad award, gave me an opportunity to carry out advanced research in the United Kingdom, where I was guided by scientists and teachers in the fields of psychology and childhood studies. A significant objective of my SRA project was to identify patterns from narratives created by children to understand their psychological development. For my fieldwork, participants were asked to take part in semi-structured interviews and story-telling sessions based on pictures that were presented to them.

Whether in reconstructing narratives from memories of lived experiences or in creating new tales for characters in their stories, the participants selected and conveyed narratives that were indicative of abuse, violence, and suffering. This repetition of certain information emanating from the participants’ memories defined and described their narratives. Understanding such field texts required a co-construction process based on familiarity with the field of research. Understanding violence starts from reading between the lines of what appears on tape in interviews and stories. The facts that are explicitly stated, though, helped me to categorize various expressions of violence. These categories may help lend meaning to the violence the participants recreate for their characters and elucidate the way they understand it in their own experiences.

Violence renders characters helpless. They protest but without support often succumb to the adversities in their environment. It entraps them:

“He started to hit his son, saying that he should work. The son protested, since his sister was studying, and said that he wanted to study too. He did not want to go to work. But the father hits him again and forces him to work. The son is frustrated and sad. He isn’t being allowed to do what he likes. He is not being allowed to gain an education or obtain a sense of security. The parents are forcing the son to do what they want. The boy weeps and cannot communicate.” (Participant A, story, excerpt)

The voice of the protestor surfaces but is silenced by authority—the father in this case. The “son is frustrated and sad” but has no resources that might extend support to him. In another story, the narrator finds his character equally distressed.

“One day, the boy was sent home from school for not being able to pay the fees. He went to his father and requested that he pay the fees. The father said that he had no money and that all the money was gone. The boy had to leave school. The boy requested that the father take up a job and help support the family. The father slapped the boy and said, “Why should I work? You will work.” And he sent the boy to a brick factory. The boy got 1000 or 2000 rupees a month. The father would snatch all the money from the boy and not even let him eat properly. The father would eat first and then give the leftovers to the son. The son was falling ill from not eating.” (Participant B, story, excerpt)

Death of Aspirations

In the face of discouragement, constant pressure, and abuse, the protestor’s voice is silenced. There is not only a metaphorical annihilation in terms of communication but also a physical extinction in certain cases. This reiterates the sense of seclusion, isolation, and neglect that the participants often mention in the process of their interviews, too. Not many are willing to listen or interact, and possibly the protestor may stop protesting altogether.

In the case of the first example, the narrator ends the story by saying, “He cries and declares finally that he will work, for his sister’s sake. He goes to work.” (Participant A, interview, excerpt). The voice of the character of the child in the story—the protestor—is dead. Their voice is possibly just as dead as their aspirations to study. The lack of voice eventually becomes the loss of voice.

“My parents have a fight between themselves. My mother works even in the night. My father comes in the morning and fights with her for money. He gambles and is unemployed. He comes home, eats, gambles, snatches money from my mother, and goes away. He does not let my mother sleep and hits her. I have tried so much to explain to him, but he will only beat me up. When I was seven, he hit my mother so badly that her skull cracked and was bleeding. I tried to stop him, but he slapped me so hard that I fear him from that day.” (Participant B, interview, excerpt)

Reconstructing the experience, the participant mentions the atrocities and the efforts made to check them by trying to convince the father against torturing the mother but is beaten up in response. It seems that there is no one to whom the participant can reach out for support, none that is consciously available in the participant’s mind at least. In the lack of support and a sense of helplessness, there arises the emotion of fear, which eventually swallows the participant’s voice in expression.

Perpetuation of Violence

Children celebrating Durga Puja, the biggest festival of West Bengal, where the author conducted interviews for her research

Children celebrating Durga Puja, the biggest festival of West Bengal, where the author conducted interviews for her research

In some cases, the expression of violence as a ‘should’ is also prevalent. This norm is in keeping with a social code of disciplining the child, for example: “If I were to choose between the father and the son, I would want to play the role of the father. I will have to become a father once I get married. I am hitting the boy because he doesn’t listen to me. I asked him to get a bucket from the market but he ran away.” (Participant C, story, excerpt)

It is as if, just like the character who feels he “will have to become a father” once he gets married, he will “have to” hit his children to help them learn. Another participant tells in a story, “If I were to play the role of the father, I would hit my son, too. I would hit him, if there is a need, to get things done. Sometimes it is important to hit, or else children become disobedient.”

Very few cases look at violence through the lens of characters that resort to violence for the sake of it or for the fun of it. “There are some people who only need a trivial reason to pick up fights. They are always ready to fight.” (Participant D, interview, excerpt) The readiness to fight seems to be reason enough for a fight as well. Another participant says in a story, “And this older boy is now hitting the younger boy. The older boy just feels like it. The reason could be anything—he just feels like beating up this boy, or he may just feel like creating trouble. If he creates trouble, he will have fun.” Few in number, but qualitatively significant, is the concept of characters deriving pleasure from the troubles they create (usually for others). “We might wonder why the man should hit the boy at all; but the man might be enjoying this act of hitting a boy.” (Participant E, story, excerpt).

Succumbing to violence, whether as oppressor or oppressed, is the dominant pattern in most plots. The characters suffer physically through beatings, psychologically through trauma, and emotionally through frustration and anxiety. The characters’ sufferings could be reflective of the participants’ own suffering, including from the inability to choose more positive alternatives, even in the realm of imagination. I do not present these patterns as predictions about individual development or social adaptation. I only propose that these constructions be regarded as voices that demand understanding and keen attention. There must be an attempt to understand what the narratives mean to the ones making them. In the case of my research, an attempt has been made to understand the meaning of violence as a first step in understanding the environments within which these children live and grow.

Is Schooling Synonymous with Learning?

In the recent past, the field of child development has been focusing on approaches to promote sustainable growth. While social theories and large-scale data have been constructively prevalent in India, so far, very little attention has been paid to children’s development from the perspective of understanding the child’s mind, emotions, and imagination. Well-meaning programs and policies have been formulated to accelerate growth in adverse conditions. In education, for example, programs have been introduced aimed at improving learning, such as a mid-day meal and free schooling until a certain age to promote education, especially for families in economically deprived conditions.

However, children may not necessarily equate schooling with learning. For example, in the course of data collection, some of my participants said that they would like to go to school, knowing that education is important, but also admitted that they are more interested in either the mid-day meal or in playing on the large school grounds from a lack of space in their own homes or their neighborhoods. The mid-day meal might thus help improve attendance at school but may not help improve learning. If school for these children means food and a place to play, then education will not be their first synonym for school. This is the dimension I hope to elucidate.

Such meanings will become clearer and more audible when the children are allowed to express and speak their minds. But sometimes, their realities are too difficult to share, even if they want to share them. In other parts of my research I have, therefore, analyzed the techniques of narrative construction as a means of expression and as clues to the understanding of the child. Henceforth, it would be interesting to explore and analyze the realm of the imagination and the use of it by children to renegotiate with their realities (or, maybe, to chance upon a completely new understanding).

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Qualitative Research as a Collaborative Enterprise

April 15, 2013
By 19651

Paulina Berrios, a doctoral candidate at the State University of New York, Albany, and a Sylff fellowship recipient at the University of Chile, shares the experiences of her field research (conducted with a Sylff Research Abroad award), during which she interviewed a number of part-time professors at Chilean universities to understand what they do inside and outside the classroom.

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Qualitative Research as a Collaborative Enterprise:How I Learned from Other People’s Experience and Developed as an Interviewer

The research process is itself a learning process. You discover new facts, identify new relationships among variables, and realize the many implications that the focus of your study can have on reality. On the other hand, you also come to master research skills that will be long lasting. As a research project usually involves many people and often multiple institutions, you also have an opportunity to network, which is an important skill to develop over time. My experience researching abroad fits this learning process too.

Paulina at the library of the State University of New York, Albany.

Currently pursuing my PhD in educational administration and policy studies with a concentration in higher education at the State University of New York at Albany, I went to Chile—my native country—to collect data for my dissertation. This research project deals with the academic work of part-time professors at universities in Santiago, Chile, and how institutions treat, value, and regulate their academic work.

The purpose of my research abroad was to conduct in-depth interviews with both part-time professors and university administrators. Having to conduct at least 60 interviews taught me many lessons. Among the most important were that qualitative research is a collaborative enterprise and that the skill of interviewing develops during the research process.

Focus of My Research

The research for my dissertation pays special attention to what part-timers do inside and outside the classroom in Chile, a country where part-time professors have a predominant presence at both public and private institutions of higher education. In addition, my study asks the question: What is the academic work of part-time professors? Because this is conditioned by many variables, an exploration of the academic work of part-time professors needs to be seen through multiple perspectives. By bringing together sociological, historical, and organizational perspectives into the analysis of part-time professors, research can be conducted that will help elucidate how institutions, organizational arrangements, national contexts of higher education, and individual dimensions like gender and age condition the academic work of part-time professors.

Research Hypothesis

Researchers have found that US part-time professors engage mostly in teaching activities (NCES 2002; Kezar 2012) and that they teach an average of 1.6 undergraduate classes and 0.2 graduate courses (NCES, 2002). So, I started by assuming that even though the data is for the United States, the Chilean case will not be dramatically different. In other words, I hypothesized that teaching, and more specifically, undergraduate teaching, would represent the main chunk of the academic work of the part-time professors at sampled Chilean universities. However, given the literature on differentiation in higher education, I expected that patterns would vary by both system factors, such as academic discipline and professional field, and individual factors like gender and age.

Selection of Cases

Regarding the selection of institutions for the fieldwork, geographical location and range of academic programs were the two main criteria. As a result, nine academic programs at five universities were selected. Specifically, these five universities were of three different types: research universities (Universidad de Chile, Universidad de Santiago, and Pontificia Universidad Catolica), a selective, large private university (Universidad Nacional Andres Bello), and a nonselective, large private university (Universidad San Sebastian). The nine academic and professional programs selected were mathematics, chemistry, sociology, history, education, engineering, nursing, odontology, and architecture.

Andrés Bello National University

Preliminary Findings

As for the major findings, to a certain degree, the academic work of part-time professors in Chilean universities matched the literature on this topic worldwide: Generally, part-time professors focused on teaching, but the teaching was executed differently, depending on the academic or professional program. Their work was also treated very differently by the various academic departments and schools. One manifestation of this differential treatment was the salaries offered to part-time professors; another was the institutional mechanisms introduced as incentives to retain part-time professors.

My research at Chilean universities revealed that some academic departments and professional schools were highly dependent on their part-time professors. Although their employment was not secured, part-time professors at these universities were offered very good salaries and incentives for their teaching services. As this study was not intended to be representative of the Chilean higher education system as a whole, these findings pertain only to the types of institution that were selected for this study, namely, public research universities and both elite and serious private universities.

The Researcher and the Fieldwork

In a qualitative study such as mine, collaboration proved to be critical. This is not to say that other types of research (e.g., quantitative) do not engage in collaboration, but in my case I could not have achieved all I did in the field without having both institutional support and good advice from relevant actors.

Good Advice Makes a Difference

Reality is not always what you expect. When engaged in the field, I found that what I learned about my research topic—that part-time professors are invisible to many—had a practical manifestation: When trying to contact part-time professors for interviews, I realized that they were hard to reach, since their contact information was not easily available. Information for full-time professors could be found by just navigating a university’s or department’s website, but this was not always the case for part-time professors. While I had some initial success in making connections with part-time professors, I realized that I would not reach my goal if I continued trying to contact them on my own.

Paulina attended a higher education seminar at the Center for Research on Educational Policy and Practice

So I asked a Chilean professor, who is a member of my dissertation committee, for advice. He suggested that in order to deal with the logistics issue, I should change my strategy and consider a top-down approach. I thus decided to establish contacts first with department chairs and deans at the selected universities and academic programs to not only learn how institutions manage, evaluate, and monitor the academic work of part-time professors but also obtain a list of potential interviewees. This turned out to be very good advice, as I was able to interview department chairs and deans for my study and, at the same time, gain their trust. This also enabled me to receive additional information, such as institutional documents that facilitated access to additional participants. The good advice made a big difference, turning potentially discouraging and unsuccessful fieldwork into a very positive experience. In the end, I was able to conduct not 60 but 70 interviews!

Support Is Critical

Carrying out qualitative research is costly in terms of time and economic resources. As the process of collecting data is time consuming, and in my case, I had to travel to another country in which meant I had to invest significant resources and get support from others. Thanks to the Tokyo foundation’s SRA program that provides support for academic research related to doctoral dissertation in a foreign country, I was able to plan a 13-weeks stay to conduct my fieldwork in Chile.

However, after engaging in my fieldwork, it became obvious that the original allotted time of 13 weeks was too ambitious, which led me to extend my time in the field to 35 weeks. Because of this unexpected turn, I had to talk with the many people who were supporting my research and get from them not only their consent but also their support to keep moving forward in my research despite the hardships encountered along the way. Fortunately, at the end of the process, I was able to achieve successfully my field work’s goals thanks to the institutional support given by the SRA program, my sponsor and fieldwork supervisor –Dr. Rosa Deves- at Universidad de Chile, my committee member professor –Dr. Andres Bernasconi- at Pontificia Universidad Catolica, my institutional liaison at Universidad San Sebastian –Vicerector Gonzalo Puentes-, and my academic advisor –Dr. Daniel Levy- from the State University of New York at Albany.

San Sebastian University

The Interviewing Experience

Learning from others can be a priceless and unforgettable experience. As I traveled far to explore what Chilean part-time professors do inside and outside the university classroom, I gained a deeper understanding of what these professors do and what motivates them to work part-time in higher education. And while interviewing university administrators, it became clear why they were employing these part-time professors and how much they relied on them. In some cases, part-time professors were regarded with such high esteem that I wondered if this was the case in other countries as well.

My research also helped me to master the skill of interviewing. Can you imagine trying to interview someone who does not know anything about you but just the topic of your research? Even more, how would it feel when your interviewee sits down in front of his or her computer and does not pay any attention to you? It can be very hard to get started indeed! During my first interviews, it was difficult to deal with people I did not know, not to mention how nervous I was! But as I kept interviewing, I learned how to grab the attention of the interviewee from the outset and, more importantly, how to gain their trust about the seriousness of my research.

People are often very busy, and they want to know immediately how they were chosen for the interview; sometimes it is hard to break the ice. So, in some ways an interview is a performance from the very first moment you greet your interviewee to the minute you end the conversation. Moreover, the performance needs to be executed in a transparent manner so that you gain the trust of your interviewee and makes him or her willing to collaborate with your research and respond with valuable information to your questions. People are curious about you, so sometimes you have to talk about yourself as well. It is a two-way exchange, and as an interviewer you have to be open to the needs of the participants too.

Finally, the fieldwork evolved from being almost impossible to achieve and highly exhausting to execute (interviewing 70 people meant I had to contact many more people!) to a completely satisfying endeavor with a strong sense of accomplishment. Without doubt, it was an experience that I would recommend to anyone planning to conduct qualitative research. If you are one of them, good luck with your future endeavors! As for me, I now have to start writing and analyzing all the rich data I have managed to collect in the field.

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Lessons That Will Last a Lifetime

March 18, 2013
By 19649

I learned about the Michinoku Wind Orchestra project in spring 2012. I had a wonderful time on an earlier visit to Japan, so I was eager to travel there again. I also wanted to do something for the areas decimated by the March 2011 disaster. There was a limit to what I could do on my own, but I felt I could be of some help by participating in this project.

Damage from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami was truly shocking. I couldn’t sit still while watching the images of the destruction broadcast on television in the days following the disaster. While preparing to travel to Japan for the workshops in Tohoku and the concert at Suntory Hall in mid-August 2012, I was at once excited about being able to perform with other outstanding musicians who had volunteered to participate in the project and apprehensive about how I should communicate with the students who had gone through such a tragedy.

I arrived at Sendai Airport on August 12. This was the same airport that I had seen being engulfed by the tsunami, with its runway being strewn with planes, cars, and even homes. As far as I could tell, though, the airport seemed fully recovered from that horrifying event a year and a half ago.

Workshop at Tohoku High School

Workshop at Tohoku High School

The next morning, the other Sylff fellows and I departed for Tohoku High School by bus, and there I met the Tohoku students I would be teaching. My first impression was that they were very shy and nervous. Other Sylff fellows felt the same way. We wondered that perhaps the traumatic events of March 2011 had caused them to become withdrawn.

I later learned, though, that the students were so reserved because they didn’t know each other either. They had come from various schools throughout Miyagi Prefecture, and many were meeting fellow members for the first time. As we practiced our parts, they grew more relaxed and cheerful, and I realized that my initial concerns about emotional wounds were ungrounded. Despite their youthful innocence, they also displayed the kind of maturity and inner strength that no doubt were an outgrowth of the hardship they had gone through.

Their resilience also melted away any apprehensions I had harbored prior to my visit. The workshops with the students, held over three days in Sendai, were a wonderful opportunity to make many young friends through the medium of music.

No Borders to Natural Disasters

Before moving to Tokyo for the concert at Suntory Hall, I and the other Sylff fellows visited Ishinomaki, which suffered heavy tsunami damage, and performed a mini-concert. I was appalled to see the destruction firsthand on the tour of the city. We visited a music store whose owner was repairing the pianos the tsunami washed away. While they can probably never be fully restored, the pianos were being painstakingly repaired, the owner said, so they could be used in concerts as a tribute to all those who lost their lives in the disaster.

Concert at Ishinomaki

The Ishinomaki Concert

The Ishinomaki concert was organized as an event to offer hope and encouragement to local residents, but we wound up being on the receiving end, moved and uplifted by their indomitable spirit and their will to live. I have only the highest respect for them.

It was a very hectic week, and I was quite tired by the time we reached Suntory Hall, but I thoroughly enjoyed all the rehearsals and the concert itself. At the reception following the performance, all the performers overcame the language barrier and our very different backgrounds and shared a strong sense of accomplishment and fulfillment.

There, I met a local student musician who introduced herself as a Zainichi—an ethnic Korean born and raised in Japan. While I was happy to meet a fellow Korean in Japan, at the same time I realized that natural disasters have no borders and that anyone can become a victim.

The students in Tohoku had not lost their dreams and aspirations despite the difficult circumstances and seemed to truly enjoy the chance to perform. Seeing how dedicated they were, I couldn’t help but feel that music was a factor behind their bright outlook on life.

It hit upon me, then, that music can be very effective way of helping people maintain a healthy frame of mind. I also realized that music is not just something that is performed to be heard. The week I spent with the students working toward the goal of a Suntory Hall concert taught me that it is also a medium of communication. These are insights that will stay with me throughout my musical career. I also resolved to actively participate in any similar projects in the future.

The Michinoku workshops and concerts turned out to be a very valuable experience for me. I am very grateful to the Tokyo Foundation for giving me this opportunity, and I would also like to thank the teachers at the Tohoku middle and high schools, the other musicians who donated their time and energy for this project, the students at the Senzoku Gakuen College of Music, and most of all the student performers from the Tohoku area who traveled all the way to Tokyo and performed so admirably at Suntory Hall.

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Japanese Language Education at Chinese Universities

November 14, 2012
By 19690

Of the approximately 3.65 million students of the Japanese language outside Japan, the highest numbers are in South Korea (960,000) and China (830,000). China, though, claims more students at the tertiary level, at 530,000. How are Chinese university students learning the Japanese language and gaining an understanding of the country’s culture?

Yusuke Tanaka, a 2009 recipient of a Sylff fellowship as a student at the Waseda University Graduate School of Japanese Applied Linguistics and a research fellow at the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, conducted a detailed study and analysis of Japanese language education at Chinese universities. He examined textbooks and curricula and interviewed both teachers and students. His research revealed features quite distinct from those seen in South Korea and Taiwan.

The following are excerpts from his report:

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Japanese Language Students at Institutions of Higher Education in Each Country as a Percentage of the Total

Japanese Language Students at Institutions of Higher Education in Each Country as a Percentage of the Total

Of the 1,170 universities in China, there are 466 that offer majors in the Japanese language. The figure is a threefold jump from 1999, when the Chinese government introduced a policy to expand the number of university students in the country.

The aim of this report is to examine how students of the Japanese language at Chinese institutions of higher learning—which today enjoy a growing global presence—are learning the language. Specifically, the analysis focuses on classes in jingdu (Comprehensive Japanese), the chief course taken by Japanese majors at universities in Beijing, Shanghai, and Dalian, examining and analyzing the Japanese text found in course textbooks.

The examination revealed three major characteristics. (1) The jingdu textbooks widely used today frequently quote the same passages and authors as those appearing in kokugo (Japanese language) textbooks used at schools in Japan. An extremely high percentage of Chinese students are thus exposed to the same materials as Japanese schoolchildren. (2) When creating Japanese language textbooks in China, kokugo textbooks are considered one of most reliable sources for quoting passages. (3) Inasmuch as teachers, students, textbook publishers, and researchers, as well as the instruction guidelines all concur that the aim of Japanese language instruction is be to gain an “accurate understanding of the Japanese language, Japanese culture, and the Japanese mind,” many believe it is only natural and logical for materials appearing in Japanese high school kokugo textbooks to overlap with textbooks for Chinese learners of the Japanese language.

The study revealed that the teaching materials and methods used in Japan had a definite influence on the way Japanese was taught to Chinese university students, suggesting that domestic teaching methods have a role in Japanese language education abroad. Both learners and instructors pointed to biases and deficiencies in Japanese textbooks, however; one researcher noted that the grammatical system adopted in the textbooks was designed for native speakers of Japanese, making it unsuitable for Chinese students of the language. Others voiced the need to make a clear distinction between native and foreign learners, adjusting the content and methods of Japanese language instruction accordingly to meet fundamentally contrasting needs and aims.

There was also a perceived need to be vigilant for normative elements and assumptions about universality that, by nature, are part of language instruction for native speakers. And there may be a danger in referencing textbooks that are designed for domestic use and contain—as some claim—biased content as sources for the “accurate understanding of the Japanese language, Japanese culture, and the Japanese mind.”

Nevertheless, making a mechanical distinction between Japanese language instruction for native and foreign speakers and simplistically assuming them to be isolated concerns will only hinder efforts to gain a true grasp of Japanese language teaching in China. Rather, there is a need to broaden our perspective and fully acknowledge the intertwining of the two approaches to language teaching that now exist in China. This, I believe, is an extremely important consideration in understanding the diverse and fluid nature of foreign languages and cultures and in reexamining what Japanese language education in China should seek to achieve and how it should be structured. I thus hope to conduct further research and analysis into this topic.

This study focused on an analysis of textbooks used in Japanese language instruction at Chinese universities. I would be most happy if the findings of this report—that the methods used to teach Japanese to native speakers deeply influence how the language is learned by nonnatives—would become more broadly known to Japanese language educators both in Japan and other countries.

Read the full Japanese report at: www.tkfd.or.jp/fellowship/program/news.php?id=130

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Proceedings of the 2010 Sylff Administrators Meeting is now available in PDF format

May 11, 2011
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From November 2 through 5, 2010, the Sylff Administrators Meeting was convened at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU) in Beppu, Oita, on the southern island of Kyushu. APU, the newest member of the Sylff community, hosted this gathering, which was attended by some 100 administrators and faculty members representing 62 (out of 69) Sylff-endowed institutions in 40 countries, as well as 11 Sylff fellows from 8 countries.

The proceedings includes the minutes or summaries of all sessions in Beppu—plus photos—and the dialogue with cabinet ministers during the Tokyo field trip. The Appendix contains a List of Participants, and there is also a group photo taken in Beppu at the end of the file. Please click on the name of the session to view the file. Continue reading