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May 27, 2004

New Asian Studies Major

Just two decades ago Larry Herzberg taught four students in Calvin's first Chinese language class.

Now student demand has led to the creation of a new Asian Studies major at the college.

In fact, enrollments in both Chinese and Japanese courses at Calvin College have been on a steady increase in recent years with the 2003-2004 school year seeing an all-time record for the number of students taking the two languages.

History professor Daniel Bays (above), director of Calvin's Asian Studies Program, says the new major is a response to a steadily increasing number of students putting together specialized majors that were in effect Asian studies majors.

Calvin already is the only Christian college in the country that offers four continuous years of language studies in Chinese and Japanese. Now it becomes the only Christian college where students can major in Asian Studies.

"Our curriculum is more in the category of a university," says Bays. "We now draw students to Calvin (specifically) for Asian language studies."

For Herzberg the new major is simply "a dream come true."

The Asian Studies major will offer students three possible tracks.

One will require eight Chinese language classes and four classes in Asian history, religion, philosophy, art history or political science. A second track is identical, but will focus on Japanese studies. The third track will require four language classes in either Chinese or Japanese and eight in Asian studies from other fields.

The interdisciplinary scope of the major was easily achieved thanks to the extra focus on Asia in recent years across several Calvin departments. Calvin’s history department added Asian history to the curriculum 20 years ago, while the Calvin philosophy department sponsors both faculty and student exchanges with major Chinese universities.

Calvin also is sending increasing numbers of students to study in China, Japan, Korea and Hong Kong, through semester abroad and summer programs. A dozen Calvin students will be involved in such programs this summer alone.

Many of these cultural exchanges are funded through an $800,000 grant from the Freeman Foundation, which has also enabled Calvin's Asian Studies program to expand its library resources.

Calvin' growing interest in Asia reflects the growing place of Asia in the worldwide church as well as on the world stage says Bays.

"The body of Christ worldwide is Asian, it’s African, and it’s Latin American more than it is European and North American in terms of where the really dynamic growth is happening," Bays notes. "And of course, there are some practical things such as China becoming a powerhouse economically and politically around the world. It’s not an option to ignore Asia. A lot of our students are instinctively aware of that."

~written by media relations staff writer Myrna Anderson

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Contact Phil de Haan
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