Asian Studies Fellows

Zachary Petrea

Asian Studies Fellow Interview: Zachary Petrea (2019-20)

Zachary Petrea is Professor of English and Co-Chair of the International Education Committee at Heartland Community College in Normal, Illinois. He successfully applied for a 2019-20 Asian Studies Course Development Grant for INTL 102 Introduction to East Asian Culture and Society, which was subsequently taught in Fall 2021.

As Heartland’s Study Abroad Coordinator, Zachary also works closely with the Illinois Consortium for International Studies and Programs. His application was part of a long-term plan to expand internationalization efforts at Heartland.

Sanae Ferrier is Adjunct Instructor of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, and also serves on the International Education Committee. As a Japanese language instructor, she was an ideal and highly experienced co-instructor for Introduction to East Asian Culture and Society. Sanae led day-to-day instruction for the course, while Zachary oversaw writing assignments for their students’ midterm presentations and final research projects.

Together, they have been central to the steady expansion of international opportunities at Heartland. For this interview, Zachary (ZP) and Sanae (SF) explained how their efforts feel especially important in a rural college setting, where students’ global learning options are often less forthcoming than in urban institutions.

Please tell us a little about your new course, Introduction to East Asian Culture and Society

 ZP: The course is an introduction to East Asian culture and society. Having previously implemented an Introduction to Global Studies course, it is the second interdisciplinary course to be offered as part of Heartland’s Global Studies Program. It’s the only course at the college that focuses specifically on non-western locations and themes.

SF: The course focuses on the culture, history, society and religion of China, Japan and Korea, and how they influence the relationships between these countries and the world. Since I am Japanese, I could contribute knowledge of Japanese culture, society and history that I have learned and experienced throughout my life. I wanted to focus on factors and events that have shaped the modern world.

What difference has your Course Development Grant made to the development of your course?

 ZP: After the college had committed a lot of time to develop Introduction to Global Studies and new study abroad offerings, the grant allowed Sanae and myself to refocus our time to develop a second course. East Asia has had an inordinate influence on the world’s history, religion, art, architecture and other areas, including for students attending a college that’s basically located in the middle of a corn field in Illinois. We’ve had a very exciting two years of international efforts at Heartland, and the grant has been integral to highlighting how this is an important and productive use of college resources.

SF: First, thank you very much for the grant! Teaching the course was a terrific opportunity to bring awareness to distinct cultures and values. Most of the students in this class also study Japanese, and they approached this course as an opportunity to develop deeper understanding of what they were already learning by studying a foreign language.

What was it like implementing your course in our current environment?

 SF: Overall, I think the course went well, despite having to offer it via online learning. The students’ responses were positive. Unfortunately, we could not discuss the topics in a live classroom. But we used a discussion board online to allow the students to see how their classmates were reacting to the readings and presentations.

 ZP: The course was intended to be highly interactive, with guest lectures and experiential opportunities featuring music, food and art. We had strong enrollment initially, but after the pandemic hit everything was moved online and we were unable to offer some of these features. However, we retained enough students to continue teaching and still managed to include asynchronous guest lectures. It proved to be a pretty much unmitigated success despite our circumstances, and we hope to offer it again on campus next year.

How will your course broadly enhance East Asia and Global Studies curriculum at your college?

 ZP: Being the first course to cater to student interest in focused international studies beyond just a generic history of the non-western world, its success will give momentum to the development of courses focused elsewhere. There are plans to develop third and fourth courses for our Global Studies sequence, likely focused on Africa and South America. The grant made that possible.

SF: That’s right, we’ve been working to create an international studies curriculum for some time at Heartland. The goal is to tie this course in with several others, culminating in a study abroad program in Japan.

Why is it important for students at your college to have opportunities to develop competencies in East Asia Studies, Global Learning, and other forms of international exchange?

 ZP: Community college students often don’t have opportunities to travel abroad. It’s far less common than for students at four-year institutions. Courses like this give students a desire to broaden their perspectives and consider traveling abroad.

SF: East Asia has had an enormous influence on global trade, culture and religion for thousands of years. To become good global citizens, it’s important for students to have a better understanding of the forces shaping the world around them. With this course, we can help students understand why and how China, Korea and Japan have such an important influence on our own lives and culture.

Student Interview

Madison Leigh Jording is a first-generation college student completing an AA Degree in Japanese Language at Heartland in 2020-21. She will transfer to Illinois State University in 2021, where she plans to study Political Science and minor in East Asian Studies and Communications. Madison loves learning about different cultures and promoting diversity, and intends to pursue a career in public relations.

Why did you decide to take this course and what have been the benefits of doing so?

I took this course as an elective and I’m so glad I did. It ties in directly with my current major, as well as my expected minor at Illinois State!

Over the course of the semester we slowly worked on a research paper and project. It was very much student-focused in that we were allowed to pick a topic or issue that was personally interesting. I chose the issue of human trafficking in East and Southeast Asia as it is something that I personally think not enough people are talking about. The research process was also beneficial in that we received feedback at every step. I thought it was an excellent way to flesh out the project throughout the semester while building upon our critical thinking and writing skills.

Why do you think it is important for students at your college to be given more opportunities to develop competencies in East Asia Studies, Global Learning and international exchange?

We all live in a rapidly changing world and we are becoming increasingly involved in world affairs thanks to technology. Many of us even interact with people from across the globe without even knowing via social media. Although I haven’t had the opportunity to travel abroad due to financial reasons, I have made many friends in other countries. When talking with them, it makes it very apparent there is often a lack of knowledge and therefore a lack of sensitivity to cultures that are different from our own. It’s disheartening to hear of the ways that they have been disrespected, even if it was unintentional.

In order to take down the cultural and language barriers, it is crucial to foster acceptance and understanding of things we may otherwise be unfamiliar or even uncomfortable with, regardless of what we personally believe. Asian culture is often seen as drastically different from that of the United States, making it an excellent culture to learn from. If one can begin to understand the lives of people much different from themselves, perhaps it would be easier to understand the lives, cultures, and ideas of the people who aren’t so different from us. After all, we are all human despite our differences.

What impact will this course have your ongoing learning and career trajectory?

Prior to this course, I was rather unsure where my degree in Japanese would take me. Over the course of the semester I learned that there are so many more opportunities than I could have ever imagined. It inspired me to further my education and expand on what I have learned thus far.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience in this course?

I cannot say enough good things about the professors and guest speakers who were involved in this course. They are dedicated to their students and are so kind. I feel so fortunate to be able to learn from Professor Ferrier again and I couldn’t think of anyone more qualified to lead this class at Heartland. Professor Petrea provided excellent feedback on assignments, going so far as making individual videos going over the submissions. This class was so much more than I could’ve ever asked for in an online class. Even though this is my last semester at Heartland, I’m excited to see what this will blossom into!

All interviews conducted December 2020.