In Motion: Old-world journeys lead to new worldviews
General studies biology major Betsy Howd was looking for only three more college credits—not a new worldview—when she signed up for Kota Inoue’s “Ecology in East Asian Cultures” class. “It wasn’t related to my degree. I just took it to cover my humanities requirement,” said the senior from Camas, Wash.
But a semester later, Howd’s view of the world and her ability to reshape it had changed dramatically.
“This is one of the more important classes I have ever taken at WSU,” she said. “I believe I can help shift things. I can more easily see the connections that determine what is happening globally. Whether it has to do with politics, the economy, or nature, I believe I am able to analyze and discern what is going on with a better trained mind.”
Howd’s self-described “transformation” is precisely the type of outcome that Inoue, an assistant professor of Japanese, hoped for when he conceived and designed the discussion-based, 300-level course for the Department of Foreign Languages and Cultures.
Helping students develop critical-thinking skills while they acquire new knowledge to navigate the world is what teaching is all about for Inoue.
“Introducing students to different traditions’ approaches to ecology and nature not only expands their knowledge, it also provides different ways of thinking about both the familiar and the unfamiliar,” he said.
“Using our knowledge to reflect upon our beliefs and why we think the way we do—asking what makes the mainstream the mainstream, for example, and connecting the dots—all this helps us see the dominant power structure that we normally don’t see. This is a very important skill to have in our society.”
Howd and her classmates at WSU Pullman explored representations of nature in East Asian literature and film, and they learned about political, social, and family structures and how they are reflected in Eastern approaches to ecology and the environment. By examining diverse ways people in China, Japan, and South Korea perceive ecological challenges, the students also learned new ways to view important ecological issues facing the United States.
Knowledge to transform the world
“Over this past year, I have gone through a transformation in the way I think—this class helped me articulate what I see is ‘wrong’ in this world and what we can do to change it,” Howd said.
At times, some of the course material left her feeling “very desperate and angry,” she said. “There is so much bad happening in the world. However, Professor Inoue also taught us about the efforts of those who are trying to do good. He ended the class with hope.”
A native of Fukuoka, Japan, Inoue joined the CAS faculty in 2012.
Birth of a beverage and birth of a nation
For students in Pullman who were looking a taste of French culture this summer, Sabine Davis, associate professor of French, tapped into an historically rich and distinctly flavored resource—one with roots reaching deep into American soil and tendrils intertwined with Washington state’s economy.
Yep, you guessed it: wine.
From the Roman invasion of ancient Gaul, which introduced viticulture to France, through the devastating grapevine blight of the mid-1800s and the ravages of World War II, wine has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry and an integral part of French culture.
“That’s ‘Culture,’ with a capital ‘C,’” quipped Davis, a native of Nantes, France, and a member of WSU faculty since 2001.
“French Culture through Wine,” a course she designed for the foreign languages and cultures department, took students on a heady journey through much of the political, social, artistic, and religious history of France through the development of one of its most illustrious and intoxicating commodities.
“It’s about both the birth of a beverage and the birth of a nation,” Davis said.
Following the way wine was introduced in each of the main grape-growing regions—from Provence and Burgundy to the Rhone River, Bordeaux, and the more developed areas of Alsace and Champagne—her students encountered historical events, such as the 100 Years War, the French Revolution, and other incidents that left lingering impressions on France and its wine industry.
They also examined the influences of famous French people, including authors and filmmakers whose works incorporate wine in various ways.
In Washington state, where the burgeoning wine and viticulture industry is an important economic driver, the lessons of French winemaking are especially pertinent. In fact, many of Davis’s students study wine business management at WSU. In her class they conduct research and review some of the practical aspects of wine production, including significance of terroir, different grape varieties, and optimum growing conditions.
They learn about wine bottling, what’s behind the different glass shapes and colors, and tips for pairing wine with food. They also explore the effects of the European Union on everyday life in France and the impact of new European regulations on winemaking and labeling.
French wine with American roots
An important underlying factor to French winemaking of the past century is the grapes’ rootstock, much of which originates from the United States. After the Great French Wine Blight wiped out most of the country’s vineyards in the mid-1800s, a huge portion of European grapevines were grafted onto American roots that are resistant to the ruinous pest.
To Hannah Johnson, a senior from Fall City, Wash., majoring in natural resource sciences and French for the professions, the combination of French history, wine, and viticulture was especially compelling.
“In France they are greatly intertwined because historic events change wine production and consumption,” Johnson said. “For my future in resource management, understanding viticulture can help me see possible uses of land that isn’t suited to most crops.”
Both Johnson and Danielle Brill, a senior from Bellevue, Wash., appreciated learning to identify different wines by their fragrances. Using scent vials, the students compared the varying notes and could describe them in industry terms. Students of legal age also tasted several wines to compare flavors.
“As a class, we prepared a French meal together that was very memorable and delicious,” said Brill, an elementary education major. “I learned so much about France’s culture—I would really love to visit.”
The Department of Foreign Languages and Cultures (DFLC) is as old as WSU itself, offering language courses continuously since 1890.
By providing training in the languages and cultures of other countries, DFLC is integral in advancing the college and University’s goal of creating communicatively competent and informed global citizens. The curriculum includes courses in languages, cultures, literature, film, and global studies.
Internationally renowned faculty bring insights and depth of experience from speaking and living immersed in languages and cultures worldwide. Their research contributes to a greater understanding of the human experience around the globe.
Within six major language sections—Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish—are specialized courses for students in business, the social sciences, engineering, and the sciences. The new “Spanish for Veterinarians” class, for example, is offered in collaboration with the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine to meet emerging communication needs of professionals in animal health.
The DFLC graduate program in Spanish also continues a long tradition of excellence, dating back to the first master’s degree awarded through the department in 1902. Graduate students are prepared for continuing education at the doctoral level and/or employment in many arenas.
Other languages offered through DFLC have included Arabic, ancient Greek, Italian, Latin, and Nez Perce.
Nation’s first language laboratory
Located in historic Thompson Hall on the Pullman campus, the Language Learning Resource Center is perhaps the oldest such facility in the country yet it offers state-of-the-art technology and multimedia learning systems.
According to The Handbook of Research for Educational Communications Technology, the first “phonetics laboratory” was installed at Washington State College in 1911-12 as a dedicated facility for foreign language study, modeled after the first-known “laboratory arrangement of phonographic equipment” at the University of Grenoble in France.
“American Frank C. Chalfant, who studied there in the summer of 1909, appears to have been the one who brought the idea back to this country. Pictures of this installation in use show students listening via networked earphones. This lab also had a phonograph recording machine so that students could compare their pronunciation with the native-speaker models…. Near the time that Chalfant established his phonetics laboratory, the U.S. Military and Naval Academy set aside rooms for listening to foreign-language records.”
Today, foreign language courses emphasize learning within a cultural context. Taught on the Pullman, Tri-Cities, Vancouver, and Global campuses, they focus on development of speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills.
DFLC students, faculty, and staff actively participate in initiatives that contribute to cultural intelligence and intercultural competence University-wide. The department coordinates study-abroad opportunities at hundreds of institutions around the world.
Primary areas of study
- Chinese 中文
- French Français
- German Deutsch
- Japanese 日本語
- Russian Русский язык
- Spanish Español
- Spanish for Veterinarians
- Film Studies
- General Studies (international)
- Bachelor of Arts
- Chinese (general)
- French (general & teaching)
- Spanish (general & teaching)
- General Studies (international)
- Professional Second Major (Spanish, French, German options; Japanese option pending)
- Pending: Japanese (general)
- Master of Arts (emphasis in Spanish)
- French or Francophone Area Studies
- Film Studies
- German Area Studies
- Latin American Area Studies
Core faculty: 23 full time, 6 part time
Graduate students: 8
Undergraduate teaching hours: 11,214+ (AY 2013)
—By J. Adrian Aumen