Note: This is a student project from a course affiliated with the Ethnography of the University Initiative. EUI supports faculty development of courses in which students conduct original research on their university, and encourages students to think about colleges and universities in relation to their communities and within larger national and global contexts.

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Title:The Shifting Commodity of Language: Chinese and Japanese Language Learning at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Author(s):Lenz, Rachel C.
Contributor(s):Alms, Kasey; Carmody, Patrick; Kung, Brian
Subject(s):neoliberal youth
flexible capital
ANTH499 S08
Abstract:Through this project we sought to discover to what degree students’ motives for studying Chinese and Japanese reflect the changing global status of China and Japan: essentially, whether or not Chinese is replacing Japanese as the business language of choice for students, and theorized that Japanese was largely left to those interested in entertainment. We were also interested to if these students viewed language acquisition as an advantage in the global labor market and what factors outside this potential market value may have motivated them to choose one language over the other. We investigated these questions by interviewing four non-heritage, advanced students of Japanese and four non-heritage, advanced students of Chinese as well as reflecting on our own observations and experiences within the department of East Asian Languages and Cultures. (PAR) We found that by and large our results reflected our initial hypothesis: Chinese students in particular were highly aware of the advantage and commodity they gained in their future careers by learning Chinese and began their studies with that goal in mind, while Japanese students tended to be more focused on personal growth and passion for Japanese popular culture and entertainment mediums and any decision to use the language in their career developed over the course of their studies. Students of both disciplines plan to live and work in America, but all are aware that knowing an East Asian language allows them to compete and participate in a global economy.
Issue Date:2008
Course / Semester:Anth 499, East Asian Youth and Global Futures, Prof. Nancy Abelmann and Prof. Karen Kelsky: East Asian youth have experienced perhaps the world’s most compressed development as well as the world’s most aggressive globalization policies. This course examines how youth in East Asia (China/s, Japan, and the Koreas) are making their way in our globalizing world, focusing in particular on the transformations in work, education, recreation, gender, and sexuality brought about by neoliberal economic restructuring in the region. Topics studied include the insecure job market for young people, consumerism, globalized pop culture phenomena such as Pokemon, the Korean wave, and Internet gaming, emergent LGBT communities, etc. Students are encouraged to focus their research projects on aspects of the U. of I. student life that reflect the experiences of East Asian youth in a global market. The U of I offers a fascinating window on East Asian youth because of the many college (and pre-college) students who make their way here – as well as the movement of “Amercian” youth to East Asia. Through participation in the Ethnography of the University Initiative (EUI), students will conduct local field research that reveals the global processes at issue. The course syllabus is available at:
Publication Status:unpublished
Date Available in IDEALS:2008-06-05

This item appears in the following Collection(s)

  • Globalization and the University
    This collection examines the influence of globalization on the university and the university's place in a burgeoning world market for higher education.
  • Student Learning
    This collection examines student learning both in and beyond the classroom.

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