Asian Leadership Conference

April 20, 2010
by Nay Min Oo '12

On Saturday, February 20, four members of Hampden-Sydney International Club attended the Asian Leadership Conference held at Washington & Lee University, Lexington, VA.  The event was organized by the Pan-Asian Association for Cultural Exchange (PAACE) of Washington & Lee.  According to the event organizers the purpose of the conference was to provide a forum to students in Virginia to address issues related to leaders who identify as Asian.

Our trip was sponsored by International Club and Dean Mladen Cvijanovic, Assistant Dean of Students for Intercultural Affairs and New Student Orientation.  The students who attended the conference were (left to right) Nay Min Oo '12, Tan Le '10, Benjamin Brown '10,  and Mohit Shrestha '11.   Students from other Virginian colleges and universities included those from the host school, two Japanese students from Mary Baldwin College, three students from Sweet Briar College, two students from Virginia Military Institute, and a student from James Madison University.

The group left from the International House at 8 AM and arrived in Lexington around 10 AM. The welcome ceremony started with a lecture on leadership.  After the ceremony, the guests were served lunch, during which the keynote speaker, Cathy Bao Ben, spoke about how to handle the cultural gap between different ethnic groups.  A first-generation immigrant, she also is the author of The Chopsticks-Fork Principle: A Memoir and Manual, and has given many lectures at colleges and universities, including Mary Baldwin College and Virginia Tech. In her talk, Ms. Ben talked about her own cultural experience as the daughter of a Chinese immigrant family, and she urged us to keep our own unique cultural identity and to embrace the American culture at the same time.

After the lunch break, the conference attendees divided for three different panels.  The first panel was "The Influence of Chinese Porcelain on European and American Perceptions of China, 1500 - 1900."  The second was "Hidden Implications in the World of Asian American Nail Salons."  The other, which we attended, was "Attitudes towards Democracy in Taiwan" by Professor Sanborn of Virginia Military Institute.  He explained the history and progress of democracy in Taiwan.  He believes that Taiwan has established itself as a mature democracy after two peaceful consecutive transfers of power.  However, he is concerned that the island's population could become divided by the extremely polarized sentiments towards reconciliation with mainland China.

The second round of panels consisted of a presentation on "South Asia and its Religions in Children's Literature" by Professor Haskett of Washington & Lee.  Another was on the identity politics of Taiwan by Michael Girardi of VMI.  We went to the presentation on contemporary Japanese art by Professor Ramirez of W & L.  Starting with the pre-historic Japanese arts, her presentation focused mainly on how western arts have influenced Japanese contemporary arts such as Yayoi Kusama's conceptual arts and Mariko Mori's photography.  As I had taken Professor Dubroff's Japanese Samurai Culture class, I was, at the end of the presentation, able to discuss  with her the recent trends in Japanese theatre.

After the panel sessions, the guests were entertained by The Clockwork Dolls, a pirate band from Maryland that "creates music that serves not only as a source for recreation but as a means of narration."  They creatively combined "traditional classical music with the epic sounds of contemporary musical scores and modern electronica."  For forty-five minutes, we were immersed in a world of nomadic pirates, fierce gunfights, and boundless seas.

The trip was a meaningful and fruitful experience for us and the International Club.  From the lectures at the conference, we learned about the diverse cultures of Asia and were determined to promote more cultural diversity and awareness back at H-SC.  Moreover, with the valuable networking opportunity from the conference, we were able to build friendships with students from other schools.