Any reader will tell you that a good book can take you places you’ve never been and expose you to perspectives you’ve never considered. Students of the “Advanced World Literature” class taught by Kirsten Parkinson, Ph.D., John S. Kenyon Professor of English, expanded their insights and worldviews through their study of modern Asian literature and correspondence with students abroad this semester.
Dr. Parkinson’s curriculum focused on two main themes commonly found in Asian literature: community and the idea of insiders versus outsiders. While reading “Silence” by Endo Shusaku, one of the most well-known Japanese authors of the 20th century, students discussed these themes in relation to religion. The students engaged with the literature not just through in-class discussions, but by posting their own reflections and analyses to a class blog.
Still, Dr. Parkinson wanted to broaden the lesson. She reached out to her colleague, Professor Motoi Katsumata, who teaches at Meisei University in Japan. The two met while Dr. Parkinson was teaching a study-abroad course in Japan in 2015. Thinking Professor Katsumata may have something to add to the discussion on “Silence,” she asked him if he knew anyone who could share with her students the Japanese perspective on the book.
Dr. Parkinson soon received a video from Professor Katsumata which featured Japanese students talking about “Silence.” Her literature class members were thrilled.
“The opportunity to interact with people from another culture allows us to recognize the experiences that connect us, such as reading the same book. Great literature gives us a window to talk about the similarities and differences in those experiences,” Dr. Parkinson says.
The students were intrigued by the differences in perspectives and excited to find that they shared some of the same interpretations and opinions as their Japanese counterparts.
“It was cool to see how their perspectives differed because they compared the themes of the book to modern events happening in Japan,” Amber Bessner ’19 notes.
Inspired by the students of Meisei University, the Hiram students decided to respond with a video of their own. Positioned in the comfort of the Bonney Castle parlor, home of the English Department, they used their iPads to record their thoughts on the book. Since the Japanese students spoke in English, the students asked Dr. Parkinson to teach them some phrases in Japanese to include in their videos.
Lisa Marcy ’18 began her section of the video by introducing herself in Japanese and sharing her major and a few of her favorite hobbies. Then, switching to English, she discussed the book’s religious symbolism, discussing the way the themes may be interpreted from an American point of view.
Though some of the students were nervous to speak in front of a camera, they seemed equally enthusiastic, Dr. Parkinson says.
“After seeing the video from the Japanese students, my class instantly asked if we could make a video to send back to them. This occurred in week nine when most students are not excited about adding another project to their to-do lists because they are busy with final projects and beginning to prepare for exams. Their excitement about the video demonstrates that projects that connect to real people get students excited about learning and pushing the boundaries of their comfort zones,” Dr. Parkinson adds.