Once every three years a group of students from the University of Puget Sound travels to Asia for nine months of rigorous academic work and experiential learning. Visiting eight or more Asian nations, the group engages in a vast multicultural experience that compels them to engage with different systems of culture, economics, politics, religion, and philosophy. Academic work, Asian classrooms and experiential education in Asian cultural contexts extend the limits of the conventional curriculum.
The Pacific Rim Study Abroad Program (PacRim Program) promotes the liberal educational mission of the University of Puget Sound, extending the curriculum to incorporate substantive encounters with Asian life and culture. PacRim also serves as a forum for students’ personal development through involvement in a strong community, the cultivation of tolerance and independence, and improved intercultural competence. The program is built around the following learning objectives:
- Student acquisition of intercultural competence through guided immersion throughout the PacRim experience.
- An experientially cultivated awareness and understanding of local, cultural life-ways, and regional socio-cultural, political, and economic variation.
- An ongoing, critical awareness of the influence of historic & contemporary power and wealth inequalities on peoples and regions.
- Development of deep understandings about Asian cultures and practices, as well as lasting connections with people in Asia from diverse cultural backgrounds.
The PacRim Program promotes the development of intellectual autonomy, challenging students both in the classroom and in experiential contexts throughout Asia. Students are expected to connect work done on campus prior to departure with their academic program in Asia, promoting a deep understanding of relationships between diverse fields of inquiry. The Asian Studies 370 independent research project course, for which students collect data throughout the year abroad, allows each student a chance to focus on a topic of special interest in Asian Studies and potentially their major department as well. Students are encouraged to confront ethnocentrism and pursue intercultural understandings through autonomous engagements, critical reflection, and abstraction of broader principles regarding cultural difference.
Like the objectives of the university's overall academic program, the objectives of the PacRim Program are both academic and personal. The alternation of reflective study and fieldwork compels 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. Throughout the journey, students develop a critical awareness of the influence of historic and contemporary power and wealth inequalities on peoples and regions. The rigors of international travel and the length of time spent in Asia compel students to function as a community. PacRim Program students learn to handle challenges in and out of the classroom, to get along with one another, and to face new situations with confidence, while handling cultural difference with openness and maturity.
PacRim Program Stages
The PacRim Program is built on a three-stage system 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, help to develop a sense of community. Each PacRim student is required to take three prerequisite courses before the year abroad. These can be any three courses listed under the Asian Studies Program exclusive of foreign-language courses and Asian Studies 489 (or equivalent). As part of the non-credit orientation program, students also participate in field trips and group activities designed to promote trust, intercultural sensitivity, and a strong sense of community.
Second, in the year in Asia, the students have first-hand exposure to numerous cultural groups, frequently including the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam, Japan, India, the People's Republic of China, and other sites chosen in conjunction with the expertise of the Faculty Directors. PacRim students are encouraged through mentoring by the Program’s Directors to seek out productive, local engagements in Asia, to build relationships with local people, and to develop increased intercultural competence and a nuanced understandings of Asian cultures. The integration of coursework with local engagements helps to connect ideas from the classroom with the cultural space students occupy in experiential ways that mobilize course ideas and encourage autonomous experimentation and exploration, reflection, and integration.
Third, on their return to campus or moving on to post-graduate activity, PacRim Program students retain their strong community and stay in communication with each other and the University. The Asian Studies Director and PacRim Program Directors organize reunions of former groups, using events such as Homecoming, Commencement, and campus celebrations of Asian festivals and holidays as opportunities for reassembly. Former students are important mentors for program participants, and frequently participate in all stages of the PacRim Program.