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Nanzan collaboration offers students connection to Japanese culture

On a regular basis, students from UNG and Nanzan University in Nagoya, Japan, log onto their computers in the early morning or late evenings to talk to each other. Both schools formed this partnership using the Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) initiative. Using technology, students and faculty in the two countries collaborate on teaching and learning opportunities without leaving home countries.

On a regular basis, Dr. Tomoe Nishio and students in her intermediate-advanced Japanese language class at the University of North Georgia (UNG) log onto their computers in the early morning or late evenings to talk to students at Nanzan University in Nagoya, Japan.

In an early October meeting, all students and their instructors met for a 90-minute Zoom call. Instructors created breakout sessions to stimulate small group discussions that allow students in different hemispheres to practice speaking a foreign language and learn about each other's culture on a personal level.

This is one way the partnership between UNG and Nanzan University has helped both programs thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The significance of this project has drastically increased since the pandemic hit the world," said Nishio, assistant professor of Japanese at UNG. "With the cancellation of programs such as study abroad, Nanzan and UNG have added more Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) projects as the best alternative."

Daniel Shearer, a junior and member of the Corps of Cadets pursuing a degree in East Asian Studies with a concentration in Japanese, has been involved in about eight COIL projects. He said the experience during pandemic has added another layer to his education.

"Despite living on the other side of the world, the Nanzan students and I have a shared experience in COVID," he said. "It's interesting to talk about life before and after it, what we valued and have come to value because of it. These conversations always provide great perspectives."

UNG and Nanzan adopted the COIL initiative in 2018. The initiative is designed to strengthen existing ties between U.S. and Japanese higher education institutions and generate new partnerships by introducing this mode of virtual collaboration. Using technology, students and faculty in the two countries collaborate on teaching and learning opportunities without leaving home countries

It began as the collaborative online component of a short-term program with UNG students traveling to Nanzan in summer 2018 and 2019 and Nanzan students visiting UNG in spring 2019.

In fall 2019, UNG added three interdisciplinary courses to complement the cultural exchange visits. While Nishio continued to teach the language courses, Dr. Robin O'Day and Dr. Candice Wilson integrated anthropology and media studies courses into the COIL initiative.

"Last year, we were reading about what it's like to work in Japan," said O'Day, assistant professor of cultural anthropology in the Department of History, Anthropology and Philosophy at UNG. "My students got to ask the Nanzan students, 'What kind of job do you want to apply for and what kind of expectations will they have?' This makes it a real exchange among peers."

Based on the results, UNG added a fourth and fifth interdisciplinary course to the COIL ranks. Dr. Yanfei Zhu, assistant professor of visual arts, taught a course entitled Japanese arts in summer 2020 and implemented a two-week COIL project. Dr. Laurel Wei, assistant professor of political science, has brought in the most recent studies and analyses of international affairs into the COIL initiative. In her class project, UNG and Nanzan students explored 10 different sociopolitical issue topics in contemporary Japan.

"We have expanded the course offerings over the last couple of years among the faculty of East Asian Studies at UNG, especially those who teach the Japanese language or content courses related to Japan," Nishio said.

This interdisciplinary collaboration has benefited students in UNG's Japanese language programs and Bachelor of Arts in East Asian studies. Brianna Welch, a junior pursuing a degree in East Asian Studies who is from Cumming, Georgia, said her future career plans are structured in working with East Asian companies.

"Seeing students' perspective and understanding their work ethic is incredibly insightful," she said. "For this project, working with the Nanzan students and talking with them — whether it is for school related matters or not — has been my favorite part."


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