Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What's Fascinating About SEA?

"How could you spend five weeks studying South East Asia," I've been asked since I've been home.

It's a good question, really.

Those ten (or eleven, depending on how you count them; different post) seemingly insignificant countries on the way other side of the earth wouldn't appear to affect us much here in the US.

In order for me to make sense of it all myself, I deconstructed everything I learned at the National Endowment of the Humanities' Institute (on Oahu). Oh, we had experts--speakers flown in from Indonesia, from Wake Forest and other east coast universities, from California, from the midwest. We were learning about things as they were happening. It was crazy.

Then, I reorganized all that information according to discipline, and analyzed it for a so...what? Where does it all lead?

Here's what you might find interesting:

The islands and mainlands are diverse in many more ways than they are unified: by geography, outside influence (including that of South and East Asia, Europe, and the US), religion, political authority, culture, and the 1,000 languages among them.

Japan bombed Pearl Harbor for access to SEA's rubber, oil, tin, iron; and to prevent US access to it.

The concepts of time (minutes, hours, days) and printing emerged with Buddhism in the region.

Indonesia is the world's fourth largest country. (And is the largest per-capita Facebook-using nation!)

While globally, the birthrate is declining, in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, it is spiking.

This region shares the same issues as the US: our relationships with China, terrorism, trade, the environment). Our citizens also strive for human, labor, and women's rights.

It comes down to the dollar; 6 of the 10 or 11 nations rank in the top half of world economies, some of which have catapulted themselves from the bottom within the last several years.

Is it clear--the economic power here?

That's one of the places all this goes.

I found the bottom line with SEA film scholar Wimal Dissanayake, a bright, lovely man, who said pointedly: "While SEA is a rapidly expanding region, it is severely understudied."

This area is sure to keep rising, in wealth, in population growth, with technology.


Do you know how the US will be affected by that?

By trade, sure.

But also in our higher education systems. We'll be competing for the earth's top potential innovators. Within the next 20 to 40 years, our classrooms are likely to be filled with the greatest thinkers on the planet.

And, since 4 out of 5 foreign scholars end up staying in the US when they complete their programs, we'll be competing for jobs, too.

What do you think? Is that good or bad?

Will more and more university slots go to Jakartans, ManileƱos, taking up seats from Americans who "deserve" them?

Or will the ambition of these academics add to our melting pot, spawn our creativity, help us stay a super power?


Shannon O'Donnell said...

Hi, Jennie! I have MISSED you! I haven't been online much this summer, so I am behind on all my visits and commenting. It looks like you had a great time and learned TONS. :-)

Kjersten said...

It's great to see someone posting about SEA. Thanks, Jennie!