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Hamilton Alumni Review
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Illuminating Asia

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Hamilton prepares 'success stories'

Alexandra Geertz '04 agrees that a large part of success in Asia is a respect for this balance. She studied India's Hindi language at Berkeley and did an independent research project with Trivedi on low-caste women in local Indian government. She also studied Chinese history and spent a semester in Beijing with the Associated Colleges in China Program. Recently a project manager for Kamsky Associates, a strategic business consulting firm in New York City — where she guided Western companies as they entered the Chinese market — she has now returned to China to hone her language skills before pursuing further study.

One thing she always told Kamsky clients was to visit the Great Wall. "The Chinese are so deeply honored when someone from a Western society has taken the time to learn about Chinese history," Geertz says. And they may lose interest if they feel their partner has not learned anything about their culture. Geertz notes that a lot of companies, especially private equity firms, expect to find a partner quickly, set terms and do a deal. Often, however, they haven't developed necessary relationships with key people in government; as a consequence, the deal collapses. "Just having the intellectual knowledge base about the structure of government, how it came to be, what's going on in China is incredibly important," she says.

Noah Hudson '01 would add two more priorities: listening carefully and knowing how to negotiate. The export company he worked for first in Taipei and then in Hong Kong acted as a mediator between foreign importers and Chinese factories. "When a factory owner would say, 'This is very difficult to do,' what he meant was he can't do it," Hudson says. Communication was more subtle than at home, and understanding that was critical when it came time to negotiate. "The Chinese style is more like a battle than a competition," Hudson says. "It's more win-lose."

Hamilton alumni such as Geertz, Hudson and Navin may be among the best-trained young professionals looking toward Asia, but they are not alone, of course. Interest in the region is soaring. In 1960, the year Jay Williams returned to the Hill to join the faculty, fewer than 3,700 U.S. college students enrolled in courses in Japanese, Chinese or Korean languages. By 2002, that number had topped 91,000, according to the most recent Modern Language Association survey. While interest in Asian languages is still slight compared to the "big three" — Spanish, French and German — it is growing much faster. Enrollment in Japanese courses jumped 21.1 percent between 1998 and 2002, in Chinese and Korean courses 20 percent and 16.3 percent, respectively. In 2006-07, the College Board offered Advanced Placement courses and exams in both Japanese and Chinese for the first time. As post-9/11 America awakes to the need to learn the languages and cultures of the world beyond Europe, Hamilton is ahead of the curve.

And while global trade is a major part of the picture, it is not the whole picture. Kyoko Omori points out that in Japanese studies, current Hamilton students are much more diverse in their interests and backgrounds than students of Japanese were in the '80s and '90s, when they tended to be business-minded. "We have heritage students of Japanese as well as nonheritage students, and [the former] bring in the cultural component that has tended to be underrepresented at Hamilton," she says. "Among the nonheritage students, we have people interested in learning Japanese language and culture for a variety of reasons — scholarly pursuit, business opportunities, volunteer work, positions in mass media, the arts and technology."

Whatever the draw and whatever the destination, Thomas Wilson says, "Hamilton students who graduate from the Asian Studies Program, who acquire language, who acquire historical and literary studies … they're just not going to be one of the failures over there. They're going to be the success stories."

Steve Goldberg, an associate professor of art history who assumes the chair of the Asian Studies Program this fall, says the program will continue to evolve. The field "is concerned with how each society responds individually based on its traditions and history," he says. "But anyone looking into Asia today is looking at distinctly contemporary issues. The question is, how do we relate those profound traditions to the present, to globalization and so forth? It's absolutely imperative that we prepare students for the 21st century, not the last one. That's what we need to think deeply about."
 

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