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UK Faculty and Students Share Appalachian Culture in China

By Sarah Geegan


University of Kentucky students and faculty will travel to Shanghai in May to share Appalachian culture at the American Studies Center at Shanghai University.

The  American Studies Center, funded by a grant from The Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, is one of 10 similar centers in China. In December 2011, UK signed a joint-venture agreement with Shanghai University to pioneer the center on the SU campus.

The facility aims to broaden Chinese understanding of American culture and to foster intellectual and cultural exchange. UK's primary contribution involves providing a perspective of the American South and Appalachia.

"The purpose of the center is to try and counter Hollywood stereotypes of the United States by bringing them a more nuanced version of American society," Andy Doolen, director both of the UK American Studies Program and of the American Studies Center in Shanghai, said.

The upcoming May symposium will draw the second troupe of UK faculty to present to students and faculty at SU.

In March, three faculty members, professors Richard Schein and Patricia Ehrkamp from the Department of Geography and Doug Boyd, director of the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, traveled to Shanghai to deliver lectures for the Inaugural Symposium, which focused on urbanization in the American South and Appalachia.

"The topic of urbanization in China is a hot topic because of the mass migration of Chinese from rural villages to more industrial centers," Doolen said.

Schein said he was extremely pleased with the Inaugural Symposium, describing the overall experience as "fantastic."

"Basically, three of us from UK gave short papers on our work, interspersed with short papers from five of our Chinese colleagues," Schein said. "There was remarkable complementarity in our work and many interested faculty and students in the audience, and so the symposium served as a catalyst for the more exciting questions and answer sessions and informal conversations that ensued."

Schein said he believes the center will facilitate simple knowledge transfer about the respective countries, allowing the institutions to work toward better relations. It also provides potential opportunities for joint research ventures, opportunities for UK students and faculty to visit and study in China and to bring Chinese scholars to the U.S.

The May symposium, will focus on Appalachian culture, as four prominent UK faculty members will travel to lecture and perform on topics surrounding Appalachian arts and culture.

The group includes Professor Ron Pen of the UK School of Music, poet and Associate Professor Frank X Walker of the Department of English, anthropology Associate Professor Mary Anglin, and art Professor Arturo Alonzo Sandoval. The faculty will present both at the American Studies Center in Shanghai and in Beijing.

The symposium will also feature a student summit, a three day meeting between 12 Shanghai University students and 12 UK students, led by Assistant Professor Michelle Sizemore of the UK English department.

"It’s basically a space to facilitate cross cultural dialogue and communication," Doolen said. "So at the same time that our four faculty members are doing these presentations, lectures and performances in Shanghai, the student summit will be taking place. So they will overlap."

Sizemore described the summit as a seminar, consisting of a series of meetings, and a variety of activities, which the students will attend as a group.

"Our itinerary is structured around various activities that will enable or foster cross-cultural exchange around this overarching theme of storytelling, or swapping stories with each other," Sizemore said. "The goal is to generate ideas about the kinds of stories that are common about the U.S., the kinds of stories that are common about China, and to trade those perceptions as well as personal stories from the students."

The students will also attend one of the cultural events presented by the UK faculty members, and go on a historically focused tour of Shanghai together.

The program is currently in the process of selecting the 12 UK students to participate in the summit. Doolen said that UK students currently studying in China are welcome to apply and travel to Shanghai for the three-day conference, and that the program will help facilitate travel to Shanghai for students who are not currently abroad. The program will provide a $1,000 scholarship for each selected student.

"Our center is rare because most U.S.-China exchanges revolve around business and technology," Doolen said. "Our center explores the more profound cultural connections and relationships between Kentucky, the U.S. and China.

To listen to a podcast, produced by the College of Arts and Sciences, in which Doolen discusses the American Studies Center, click here.