From Vietnamese Top-40 music hits to a feature-length video on Chinese folktales, Tanya Low collected a number of unusual educational tools during her recent trip to Taiwan and Japan.
Low, who lives in Tonganoxie and teaches high school in Topeka, received a $5,000 stipend earlier this year from the Rockefeller Fellowship program to finance intensive study overseas. She was among 101 teachers selected from a field of 520 applicants who submitted proposals designed to increase both their knowledge of a language and its culture and to widen the breadth of their teaching skills.
Low said her goal was to find materials she could use to update the curriculum and better assist students in learning the subject matter. She also collected the names of production companies that develop educational videos.
During the trip, July 4 to Aug. 19, Low and her 17-year-old son, Tom, visited schools and teen-ager hangouts to learn more about the lifestyles of Asian young people. They also attempted to mingle with people and absorb the culture rather than get caught up in tourist attractions.
"WE LIVED in hostels and I tried to vary the activities each day," she said. "For example, we might go to a museum in the morning and then visit a market area at night. Or we'd go shopping in Japanese department stores and then we'd go into the mountains."
Low said she bought a video camera and tried to film as much as possible television, people on the streets, architecture, museums and anything else she encountered. She also filmed interviews with people she met. She plans to work with a video teacher at Highland Park High School to edit the tapes for use in the classroom.
"This is kind of a video age," she said. "They read about these things and if they have something they can also see, it really helps."
THROUGH her interactions with young people in Taiwan and Japan, Low observed that they seem less self-conscious in public and frequently expressed genuine enjoyment and infectious enthusiasm in their activities. She said people in the United States sometimes seem to have trouble finding a middle ground between passive observing and raucousness. Although the Asian teen-agers usually were quite open with their feelings, Low "noticed a great deal of reserve in other places."
Women's issues although they weren't acknowledged as such also were of great concern, said Low. She interviewed young people in the work force, who asked a number of questions about how Low, who has four children, could hold a job and still care for her children, how she found the time to travel, and if could she trust her husband to care for the children while she was away from home.
They also were fascinated with her family, said Low, whose husband, Jack, is Chinese-American. "They wanted to know how do my parents and his family react to our marriage, what our kids do and what are their plans."
Low teaches Chinese, East Asian studies, and English at Topeka High School, and Chinese at Highland Park High School in Topeka.