Closing the Gap on Critical Need for East Asian Language and Area Studies

The GW Sigur Center for Asian Studies and the Institute for Korean Studies were awarded funding to establish a national resource center to broaden the study of the East Asian region.

Benjamin Hopkins
Benjamin Hopkins directs the Sigur Center for Asian Studies, which houses the Elliott School’s Asian Studies program. (Photo courtesy of Elliott School)
January 28, 2019

By Tatyana Hopkins

The Sigur Center for Asian Studies and the Institute for Korean Studies, both housed in the Elliott School of International Affairs, have been awarded $1.8 million to establish an East Asia National Resource Center at the George Washington University.

The grant, which covers four years, comes from the U.S. Department of Education’s Title VI programs, National Resource Centers (NRC) and Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships. The programs support international and foreign language education.

The new center’s aim will be to address a national need for greater knowledge and expertise on East Asia through expanded language instruction, area studies educational programs, outreach and teacher training. 

This is the first time that the Sigur Center and the Institute for Korean Studies have received NRC status, which means the center they operate will serve as a national base for teaching resources for modern East Asian languages. The Elliott School’s Institute for Middle East Studies previously held an NRC designation.

Benjamin D. Hopkins, Sigur Center director, said the two research hubs serve as the perfect foundation for the East Asia National Resource Center, which will broaden priority language and area study of the region that is necessary to maintain national security and economic competitiveness. 

“East Asia is one of the most dynamic, important and complex regions of the world,” Dr. Hopkins said. “With increasing tensions between the U.S. and China, it is doubly important that policymakers and the public at large understand the history, cultures and languages of this region.”

For more than 25 years, the Sigur Center has housed the Elliott School’s Asian Studies program and worked to increase interaction between American and Asian scholars through publishing, teaching and public engagement programs.

Jisoo Kim, Institute for Korean Studies director, said it works to expand Korean humanities in the nation’s “policy-oriented” capital by bridging the gap between academics and policymakers.

Dr. Hopkins said with GW having the largest and most influential Asian studies program in the D.C. area, the NRC award recognizes GW’s established academic excellence in East Asian studies and will facilitate the university’s ability to share that knowledge with the broader public. 

“GW now has one of only 15 East Asia NRCs nationally and is the only one in Washington, D.C., joining the ranks of institutions like Columbia, Stanford and the University of Chicago,” Dr. Hopkins said. “The GW East Asia NRC boasts not only its unique position in the heart of Washington but also a world-class and well-recognized faculty who lay at the heart of our funding and intellectual success.”

In addition, he said, the grant will help continue GW’s commitment to extension of language instruction.

Outreach initiatives at the new center will include instruction-training workshops for K-12 East Asian language teachers and a program that will make original K-12 language lesson plans, designed by graduate education and Asian studies students and aligned with Common Core standards. They will be available for free download on the East Asia NRC website.

The new center also will offer instruction, events and podcasts that examine current major events in the East Asian region, such as North Korea’s nuclear program. There also will be an annual workshop with students from Spelman College, a historically black college in Atlanta, designed to expand the study of East Asia.

While the NRC grant will help support academic outreach in East Asian studies, the Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) portion of the grant will support instruction in East Asian languages and culture.

GW was awarded over 90 FLAS Fellowships, which support undergraduate and graduate students studying Chinese, Japanese and Korean and related area or international studies. The fellowships will be available to GW students starting in summer 2019 .

GW currently offers bachelor’s degrees in Chinese and Japanese. The Korean major has been recently approved and will be offered in fall 2019. A master’s in Chinese was unveiled at the beginning of this academic year.

Additionally, the Chinese language program will expand to include advanced specialized courses for professionals in business and international affairs and an undergraduate Korean language and literature program, including advanced composition and conversation language and history of the Korean language courses. Those new courses will launch in fall 2019.

The grants will also allow the university to host visiting East Asian scholars and acquire more Asian language library material.

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