Asian awareness benefits campus

Column by Zachary Willis. E-mail

The world is changing fast, and not always to our advantage. As new centers of power become more apparent and begin to challenge America’s ability to influence the world, how can we as students cope?

I mean, the world is pretty big and there’s a lot that happens in the world every day. Awareness is the key, so let’s look at which region of the world is having more and more influence in our lives as students.

With the start of the second ArtsAsia Festival on UK’s campus, the expansion of the Japan Studies program into an official major, the Confucius Institute grand opening and the Chinese Studies program preparing a full-fledged major, it’s pretty obvious Asia has a more visible presence at UK than ever before.

It’s not just at UK. Japan has long been the second-strongest economy in the global arena, but has been recently usurped.

The usurper? China. That’s right: Asia’s largest country, the one with the world’s largest population, is now the second-largest global economy. Even in a global recession, China continues to grow. The Beijing Consensus, a term for recommended economic policies for developing countries, is quickly gaining favor relative to the Washington Consensus.

That’s not all. President Obama visited India during a religious festival to discuss several key policy issues and a reaffirmation of the India-U.S. relationship.

Man, it seems like Asia’s taking over the spotlight, doesn’t it? The world is a big place, and Asia is looking like it will be the key region in the not-far-off future.

It started with Japan after World War II. Its economy had meteoric growth that tapered off into an economic recession. Now China has had three decades of fantastic economic growth. India has also benefitted from awesome economic growth. Eventually, the smaller countries in Asia will begin to emerge as major players.

This isn’t to say Asia has no problems. The Taiwan-China relationship is especially tricky concerning the U.S.

Myanmar (a.k.a. Burma) is rife with political corruption, conflict and human rights violations. The India-Pakistan relationship is cool at best, but prone to heated disputes. Far-ranging social problems with Japan and the rest of Asia still exist over wartime activities, and the Pacific islands are often beset by natural disasters well beyond their ability to cope.

Awareness of Asia and the events going on is crucial to Kentucky interests. Not only is UK becoming a more involved institution in global education, but Kentucky itself has strong ties to Japanese businesses, namely Toyota. What happens in Pakistan can have a direct effect on our troops in Afghanistan.

The main point is this: Because the world is shifting towards a more integrated place, one cannot afford to stay focused on what’s just around one’s self. You have to pay attention so you know where the opportunities are. If you do pay attention, you can find yourself in a whole new world, both fantastic and mundane.

Have you ever been on a public transportation system where the attendants literally push patrons onto trains, effectively making them sardines?

Or what about discovering that you can find one of the most recognizable American brands, Coca-Cola, in the most remote area you’ve ever been too? I’ve experienced both, and let me tell you, it’s pretty wild.

Do you want to experience something awesome?

You should go abroad. Not only will you experience something fantastic and life-changing, you’ll also learn more about yourself. UK helps provide you with that opportunity.

Can’t go abroad just yet?  Well, keep informed. You never know if there’s a job opportunity that perfectly matches your skillset or an internship begging for someone like yourself. And even if you can’t get out and experience the wide world, you’ll know what’s going on. After all, isn’t knowing half the battle?