PYRA – UI annual K-pop music fest to promote cultural diversity

K-pop is not just about “Gangnam Style.”

The University of Iowa Korean Undergraduates Student Association (KUSA) hosted the 2014 Korea Pop Music Festival, PYRA, at the IMU Main Lounge on March 30. Students, both Korean and non-Korean, showed an audience of 300 people Korean pop music and dances. They hoped the UI community to know more about Korean culture.


Review: 2014 UI K-pop music fest


It is hard for me to appreciate “Gangnam Style“, and I have no clue why it has become such a global hit. But this didn’t prevent me from enjoying tonight’s Korean students’ K-pop music festival.

The University of Iowa Korean Undergraduates Student Association (KUSA) hosted the 2014 Korea Pop Music Festival, PYRA at the IMU Main Lounge. It was pretty well attended — there was about 300 people in the audience.

Without knowing any Korean, I still was moved by some unique music. I marveled at some great voices and enjoyed the visually stimulating dance — far better than Gangnam Style.

According to the organizer, PYRA means in Korean, “Blooming like a beautiful flower.” On the stage, I saw not only Korean students, but also Chinese American and African American dancers and singers. In the audience,  domestic and international students were well mixed.

The purpose of the event, as the president of KUSA said, was to promote campus diversity, and to introduce K-pop music to U.S. students and international students from other countries.

A video story on this event will come out soon. Stay tuned.

UI student organization promotes tolerance on campus

Derogatory and discriminating remarks on Asian students, particularly Asian international students, flared up on Twitter last fall. To raise awareness of the racism toward Asian students on campus, and to promote understanding between international and domestic students,  University of Iowa Asian American Coalition invited California-based blogger Phil Yu, aka Angry Asian Man, to give a speech on his experience of 13 years running the blog, writing offensive things he observes and encounters in life and media. Yu said it is important for Asians to stand up and speak out when being offended and unfairly treated.

Racism Hurts

This past week was particularly hard for me — the theme of the whole week was racism.

Last Saturday night, I went to cover an event trying to raise the awareness of racism toward Asian students on campus. It was the day when the Kunming knife attack happened in China.

Last Thursday, I interviewed Sam Horne Van who works at the UI Assessment. He shared findings of the 2013 Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) survey on the international student experiences. One of the key findings is that international students feel significantly less respected on campus and less belonging to campus than domestic students, which is similar at other universities. Discrimination against Asian students on campus is not just pieces of tweets against random people; it happens on a much larger scale.

Last night, a Chinese student told me that at a staff party, her drunk boss said, “I hate Asians” in front of her. He said he hated those Asians who drive luxury cars and those who laughed in the library. I asked her, “Did you feel angry?” She said she didn’t because he was drunk, and she knew that he was not talking about her. “He was talking about OTHER people,” she said. She left her work later because of all of the unhappy experiences  with people there and of the drunk statement that her boss made. I then asked, “Why didn’t you speak up?” She said that she didn’t think speaking up would make any difference because her boss wouldn’t change his mind anyway. Plus, she didn’t want to cause any trouble. I got really emotional, arguing with her that if none of us brought this issue up, nothing is going to be improved. It’s OTHERS today, but it could be YOU and ME tomorrow.

Chinese students didn’t growing up exposing to diverse races. Some wouldn’t realize when they are being discriminated against based on nationality or even look. Even if they do, they don’t know how to deal with it. The fact that we have been taught not to stand up and and speak out for whatever happens makes things worse — it seems no harm has been done on the surface. When hate speeches and racist tweets against Asian students are floating around and the university doesn’t take a firm stand, I as an international student feel unsupported.

By the way, scholars have defined discrimination based on culture and nationality as neo-racism:

“Neo-racism rationalises the subordination of people of colour on the basis of culture, which is of course acquired through acculturation within an ethnic group, while traditional racism rationalises it fundamentally in terms of biology. Neo-racism is still racism in that it functions to maintain racial hierarchies of oppression.” (JENNY J. LEE & CHARLES RICE, “Welcome to America? International student perceptions of discrimination,” Higher Education (2007) 53: 381–409)

University of Iowa Career Center offers international students job hunt strategies

Job hunting is daunting for everyone, however, it can be more frustrating for international students — on top of a bleak job market, their foreign national status leave them fewer job opportunities in this country. University of Iowa Pomerantz Career Center provided internship and job search strategies for international students in a recent workshop.


Documentary screening on Chinese citizen journalists on Feb. 20


Poster for “High Tech, Low Life” (Source: IMDb)

Basically you would not be able to learn what real life is like in China from Chinese students at the University of Iowa — there are many extremely different Chinas.

On Thursday, Feb. 20, you will see one of the alternative portraits of China through a documentary screening held at the UI main library.

High Tech, Low Life” is directed by filmmaker Stephen Maing. It’s about journeys of two of China’s first citizen reporters. The film follows them as they travel the country, underreporting sensitive news and social issues, which could endanger their lives.

Media censorship in China is not a new topic. However, I found something interesting from the trailer — equipping themselves with cell phones, tablets and laptops, the two people reported sensitive issues throughout China with the risk of political persecution. Besides, the places documented in the movie is the part of China that I am not familiar with.

When I was exchange student at the University of Central Arkansas, my journalism professor stressed numerous times that there was no such thing called,”citizen journalists.” This statement has sticked in my head along with his think southern accent ever since.

No matter whether these two people are professional enough to be considered journalists, as a journalism student from China, I admire their courage a great deal.

I plan to go to the film screening, hoping to know better about a China remotely far from my own experience that I need to know.


Film showing: “High Tech, Low Life”

Time: Thursday, Feb. 20, 7 p.m.
Location: Shambaugh Auditorium, the UI Main Library

Discussion with “High Tech, Low Life” director and showing of a UI student documentary on Chinese students’ experiences at the university

Time: Feb. 21 | 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Location: Room 105, Adler Journalism Building

U.S.-China student workshop to address campus issues

Poster for the "Global Leadership Starts Here" Workshop. A U.S.-China student workshop on the undergraguate experience at the University of Iowa.

Poster for the “Global Leadership Starts Here” Workshop. (Courtesy of the UI international Programs)

When University of Iowa senior Can Zhang stepped into his dorm in Stanley Hall three years ago, he disappointedly found that his roommate was also Chinese — he had hoped to share a room with an American student.

Zhang, who is now vice president of the UI Chinese Students and Scholars Association, said he knows that many Chinese students were eager to make friends with American when they started school at the UI like himself. However, due to the language barrier and cultural hurdles, many found it hard to get involved with their American peers, which made their confidence fall.

Then they automatically stick together with Chinese, and that is how a circle of Chinese is formed, Zhang added.

Zhang said he had wanted to share his thoughts with domestic students, and to learn what Americans think of Chinese students. Soon he will get a chance to do so in a student workshop on the undergraduate experience at the UI – Global Leadership Starts Here (GLSH).

GLSH is a bottom-up initiative aiming to foster conversation and connection among domestic students and Chinese students on campus. On Feb.22, during this daylong workshop of presentations and discussions, 50 invited UI undergraduates — 25 international and 25 domestic — will collaborate with faculty, staff, graduate student speakers and facilitators, defining key issues and tensions arising on campus and coming up with constructive ideas.

The past few years have witnessed a dramatic growth of the undergraduate population from the People’s Republic of China on the UI campus. In Fall 2007, only 68 of the 2,153 international students were from Mainland China, however, six years later, the Chinese undergraduate population has grown into 1,673, according to the UI International Students and Scholars Statistics.

Chart of University of Iowa eight year year enrollment trends: chinese undergraduate students

While the diversity enriches the university, the sudden influx of Chinese undergraduates is not without problems.

Jeffrey Ding, a UI sophomore majoring in political science, said there is a significant disconnection between U.S. and Chinese students,  particularly in classes at the Tipple College of Business, where a large proportion of students are from China.

“It’s a subtle division — international students usually sit by each other, domestic students sit by each other,” Ding said. “It’s not like explicit, like racism, like segregation, but there is that separation.”

Ding said he had noticed racist tweets against Asian students on campus flare last fall, which he believes came from a minority of people. Meanwhile, he doesn’t think it is a one-way issue.

“Yes, there are gaps; yes, the university is not dealing with it perfectly; yes, students don’t act perfectly in every instance,” said Ding, who moved to Iowa City from Shanghai when he was three. “Like international students are sometimes racist; international students sometimes don’t take enough time to learn about American culture…”

However, Ding said he views the workshop as an opportunity for more interaction between American and Chinese students, which is eventually going to help shape an essential foreign relationship in the future world.

University of Iowa Center for Teaching Director Jean Florman, who is on the steering committee of the GLSH workshop, said that the university was not prepared for the sudden influx of Chines students, thus, problems have emerged at various levels.

Florman hopes sensitive issues would be brought up during the discussions.

“We’re an academic institution where hard issues should be examined in every class,” Florman said. “Not about this issue necessarily, but that’s why we’re here — is to look at difficult subjects — difficult in terms of intellectually difficult, but also wrestling with social implications of what we’re doing.”

Florman said she hopes the workshop to be a starting point of promoting diversity and global understanding on campus –she is expecting more tangible outcomes in the long run.

“We are hoping that [the student participants] plan something, they articulate something that will change their lives around these issues, perhaps change the life of the university,” Florman said.

Meanwhile, Florman noted it would be important to make sure that central administrators and faculty members know what is achieved on the workshop day and what students expect from the university to enhance the international atmosphere on campus.

The GLSH workshop is organized by the UI Center for Asian and Pacific Studies. The UI Office of the Vice President for Student Life, Center for Teaching,  International ProgramsHonors at Iowa, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Tippie College of Business, School of Journalism and Mass Communication and Department of Communication Studies also get involved in planning.


Global Leadership Starts Here: A U.S.- China Student Workshop on the Undergraduate Experience at Iowa

Time: Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014 | 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Location: Adler Journalism Building, University of Iowa campus

This workshop is free and open to UI students, faculty and the general public. Contact Dongwang Liu at if you wish to attend as an observer.