About the Program
Once every three years a group of students from the University of Puget Sound ventures out into the world for nine months of rigorous academic and personal inquiry. Visiting eight Asian nations, the group engages in a vast multicultural experience that forces them to confront novel systems of culture, economics, politics, religion, and philosophy. Asian classrooms and hands-on education extend the limits of the regular curriculum taking place on campus in the U.S.
The Pacific Rim/Asia Study-Travel Program (PRAST Program) emerged as an important component of the Asian Studies Program in the early 1970s. The PRAST Program exists to promote the liberal educational mission of the University of Puget Sound, to extend curricular opportunities for significant encounters with Asian life and thought, and to advance the co-curricular objectives of the University. Beyond these institutional pursuits the Program fosters important personal experiences of participants in the group of study-travelers: involvement in a significant community, the cultivation of qualities of tolerance and sound judgment, and a heightened sense of cultural diversity.
The PRAST Program serves students especially in the development of intellectual autonomy, for learning occurs both inside classroom walls and in the various cultural settings of the enroute curriculum. Students must tie together work on campus before the study-travel year and their academic program during the year in Asia, permitting special understanding of relationships between diverse fields of knowledge. The Asian Studies 370 independent research project course, which runs throughout the entire study-travel itinerary, allows each student a chance to focus on a topic of special interest in the discipline of the Director. Students regularly have opportunities to reflect upon their own values as they identify universals and particulars and invariably confront American cultural provincialism.
Like the objectives of the University's overall academic program, the objectives of the PRAST Program are both cognitive and affective. Throughout the orientation and the study-travel year, the Program is an academic and a personal experience for every student. Less focused or motivated students have returned from previous trips intellectually motivated and vastly more responsible and mature. Modular units of study and the constant alternation of reflective study and field work force students to be intellectually autonomous and personally responsible. Individual struggles with problems of competing value systems and behavioral expectations, as well as with communication, health, and transportation, challenge students to recognize and clarify their own values. In developing countries students directly experience critical political and economic problems while at the same time making foreign friends. In this situation "comparative values" (a rubric in the Puget Sound core curriculum) has special meaning, and PRAST Program students back on campus as graduates or continuing students have no small impact on their peers' multicultural perceptions.
The rigors of international travel and the length of time spent in Asia force students to function as a community. PRAST Program students learn to handle challenges both in the classroom and elsewhere, to get along with each other, and to face new situations head-on. They experience a full range of feelings, including frustration when things do not go as expected and euphoria when things meet or surpass idealized notions of Asian life and thought. Working out such feelings and everything in between is itself a valuable process of maturation that contributes to qualities of self-esteem and leadership.
The PRAST Program involves students in a three-stage pattern of development designed to meet the objectives outlined above. First, prior to the year in Asia students meet each other formally in classes serving as prerequisites and informally in an orientation program. Weekly orientation sessions, in which students discuss common readings, share results of co-curricular research on different countries included in the travel plan, and examine cultural barriers anticipated in Asia, create a type of community. Each member of the group is required to take three prerequisite courses before the year abroad, consisting of any three courses exclusive of foreign-language courses and Asian Studies 489 (or equivalent), listed under the Asian Studies Program. As part of this non-credit orientation program, students also participate in field trips and group activities designed to promote skills in group dynamics and trust building. Students learn to respect each other, to work with each other, and--perhaps most important--to trust each other. Their ability to take full advantage of multicultural opportunities in Asia depends heavily on their willingness to share expertise and look out for each other.
Second, in the year in Asia, the students have first-hand exposure to numerous cultures, including the Republic of Korea, Nepal, Vietnam, Japan, India, the People's Republic of China, and other sites chosen in conjunction with the expertise of the Director. PRAST Program students usually achieve a more nuanced understanding of Asian cultures than do other students in the University. Moreover, the careful meshing of itinerary and course work fulfills overall academic objectives of the University, and the challenges of the moveable classroom and changing faculty within a general context of novelty meet co-curricular objectives.
Third, upon their return to campus or their moving on to post-graduate activity, PRAST Program students remain friends and stay in communication with each other and the University. The Asian Studies Director and PRAST Program Director organize appropriate reunions of former groups, using events such as Asia Week, Homecoming, or Commencement as opportunities for reassembly. Former students are important mentors for upcoming participants in the Program, and prospective applicants or selected students can enrich their multicultural awareness well before the next program in Asia.