Curing Academic Homesickness at UIUC

By: Vismaya Jayakumar, Master of Urban Planning 

Along with igniting tremendous trauma in millions of people around the world, COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted various inequities in access to health, education, food, mobility and more. The impact of the pandemic on vulnerable populations has brought to light several previously overlooked issues. One of the most vulnerable groups is international students, yet their issues are often overlooked by decision-makers.

Over the last several years, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has proudly housed thousands of international students (with an average growth rate of 4.6%). International students currently make up more than 22% of the student body at the university (more here), bringing new cultural ideas and prosperity. Amidst the chaos of the pandemic, travel bans, airport closures, rising unemployment rates, overseas money transfer struggles, ICE’s alarming notices, racism and xenophobia, and a feeling of isolation in a foreign country, one other issue the pandemic has underscored is the alienation of international students in academia resulting in, what I call, Academic Homesickness.

A photo of the COVID-19 walk in testing sites at Illinois

COVID-19 testing site at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Source: Chicago Tribune (https://www.chicagotribune.com/coronavirus/ct-covid-19-fall-enrollment-illinois-colleges-20200909-goq66touoregdetibhwc5ikiha-story.html)

Coming from a particular educational context, having read a different set of scholarship all through our educational careers, in our initial semesters here, many of us sit and stare at an assigned reading for a class and wonder how different it is. While this variance in perspectives undoubtedly adds to our knowledge, it also reduces opportunities for us to effectively bring our own ideas with confidence. In parallel, we who travelled thousands of miles looking for better education, some for a better life, often find ourselves in a complex state of cultural and educational bereavement. We are either constantly thinking about ways of giving back to the people and place we come from, or feeling guilty about not thinking of home enough. Including familiar scholarship can open up avenues for us international students to chase our dreams in a foreign place while still feeling at home.

Many of us move to the United States after two to three decades of living and studying in our home countries. With that deep-rooted influence, often times we try to bring our global perspectives to classrooms, be it social sciences, business, engineering, public health or art. We ponder on the relevance of previously learned things, and failing to connect them to our work here, we give up and give in to merely meeting graduation requirements. As an Indian student studying Urban Planning here, I believe the COVID-19 pandemic has only highlighted this disconnect in times of quarantine separation from our families, especially for us South Asians who may feel that they have little to no relevance in the academic setting.

With over 15% of the international student population being South Asian, and many of them being doctoral students and researchers, the Illinois Dissertations on South Asia at the International Area Studies library showcases the important past work of our fellow South Asians, and provides the rest of us with much needed inspiration. This collection of more than 140 dissertations and theses has been organized by country and topic for ease and convenience.

Beyond just the South Asian dissertation collection, the International and Area Studies (IAS) Library has an extensive focus on African Studies, East Asian Studies, European Studies, Global Studies, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Middle East and North African Studies, Russian East European and Eurasian Studies. More broadly, IAS provides monographs, articles, research journals, and digital content in various languages to support research. Due to the pandemic, many library resources including popular materials and other e-books and digital content are available online. For materials not available electronically, hard copies can be made available upon request (more here). Apart from the wide-ranging collection, the IAS library offers personalized orientation sessions for International students, both in-person and online research consultations, bibliographic training sessions, citation verification requests, one-on-one instruction sessions with subject specialists, and. Click here for more information on research consultation services and to contact subject specialists.

The pandemic and current political crises have heightened a sense of dislocation and isolation for many international students. The university is a microcosm of the real-world and with such diverse collections at our fingertips through the Library’s collections, we have tools to bridge intellectual distances, and foster innovative global research. This access cannot only remedy this feeling of academic homesickness, but also give us the confidence to go out and make real change.

Here is the IAS’s Illinois Dissertations on South Asia – Remedy to Academic Homesickness at the U of I.

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“Meri Gully Mai” – Indian Hip Hop

By Kamini Chavda

Still from the film Gully Boy. © Times of India

With the highest box office collection in India this year, Gully Boy, a Bollywood blockbuster, brings to light the emerging Hip-Hop culture in South Asia. The film has had an overwhelming response, not only in India but also all across the world, gathering positive reviews from audiences as well as critics. The film stars Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt in the lead roles and is directed by Zoya Akhtar.

Rap and Hip-Hop are a relatively new phenomenon in India, and they have gained attention in the past decade. Roger David, popularly known as Bohemia or Raja, introduced rap in Bollywood with title tracks like Chandni Chowk to China, 8 x 10 Tasveer and Desi Boyz around 2011. With this, the Hip-Hop scene started growing in India with rappers and crews forming all across the country. Examples include 2 ShadeZ, Desi Beam, Mumbai’s Finest, Bombay Bassment, etc. Their emergence is largely credited to the popular artist Yo Yo Honey Singh. A native Punjabi, Honey Singh changed the idea of Hip-Hop and Rap in the Indian film industry. After several popular and top-grossing singles and film tracks, a new trend was established in Bollywood with many producers wanting rap artists for their song production. Some of Honey Singh’s hits include International Villager, High Heels, Brown Rang, and tracks from films the Cocktail and Mastan. Honey Singh has won several awards for his music and continues to be the largest contributor to the Hip-Hop genre in Bollywood.

Indian Hip-Hop gained popularity in India’s largest suburban cities like Mumbai and Delhi, especially in the slum areas, creating big names like Divine, Naezy, Akash King and Emiway, who now have music videos with millions of views on YouTube.

Gully Boy is based on the story of the two famous rappers, Naezy and Divine. Naved Shaikh, known as Naezy, comes from Mumbai’s largest slum, Dharavi. Inspired in his childhood by Sean Paul, he started recreating American rap in English. His videos quickly gained popularity because they were not the traditional kind of music people in slums would listen to. He later decided to rap in his own language, Hindi, writing about the daily lives of Mumbaikars and their struggles. His first music video, Aafat!, was created using his iPad and gained millions of views on YouTube. Vivian Fernandez, known as Divine, also comes from Mumbai. Inspired by 50 Cent in his childhood, he started rapping in Hindi with support from his close friends. He is part of the crew Mumbai’s Finest creating music that is authentic to his own life experiences. Naezy and Divine’s breakthrough came in 2015 with the hit song “Meri Gully Mein.” The song caught the attention of film director Zoya Akhtar and inspired her to make a movie about Mumbai rap scene.

Gully Boy loosely portrays the lives and struggles of Naezy and Divine. Ranveer Singh plays the role of Murad Ahmed, an aspiring rap artist. He struggles trying to break through as a musician while facing financial difficulties, turmoil with family and a struggle to find acceptance. Alia Bhatt, who play the role of his long-time girlfriend, Safeena, supports him to achieve his goal. Siddhant Chaturvedi plays the role of MC Sher, a local rapper who discovers Murad’s talent and pushes him to pursue a career in music. Some of the popular songs from this film are “Meri Gully Mein” (recreated for the film), “Apna Time Aayega” and “Sher Aaya Sher.” The music was released under the label of Zee Music Company.

Most of these rappers use social media to share their music with the world. YouTube is a popular platform for these emerging artists, and a lot of their music can be found on their YouTube channels. There has also been a negative response from some of the Hip-Hop followers with the recent commercialization of this music genre in India. Overall, with more than 2,000 rappers creating music in various Indian languages like Punjabi, Marathi, Bengali, Bhojpuri, Khasi, etc., Hip-Hip is perceived to have a positive future in India.

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Celebrate the NEA Big Read with Us!

This past weekend was the kick-off for the NEA Big Read* of Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake. Between the tasty samosas and snacks, the vibrant exhibit, the invigorating keynote address, and the friendly crowed comprising campus and local community members, the kick-off event provided a glimpse of what all is to come over the course of the next six weeks.

Dr. Koeli Goel gives remarks at the kick-off event at the Spurlock Museum for the NEA Big Read on Jhumpa Lahiri's "The Namesake".

Dr. Koeli Goel gives remarks at the kick-off event at the Spurlock Museum for the NEA Big Read on Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Namesake”. Photo credit: Dr. Koeli Goel

The International and Area Studies Library is one of collaborating institutions working to provide 35 programs through February and into March to celebrate The Namesake and themes such as South Asia, diaspora, culture, immigration, and identity. Other partnering organizations include the Spurlock Museum, the Champaign Public Library, the Urbana Free Library, the Art Theater, the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities, the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, and more.

While all of the programs are free and open to the public (and all are worth attending) we would like to highlight the events being planned by the International and Area Studies Library so that our devoted readers and fans can come out and support us. So mark your calendars for the following exciting events:

Thanks to the generous support of the Dean of the Libraries, John Wilkin, and Mr. Pappu Patel of Bombay Market we are able to provide free refreshments at all of the events happening in the International and Area Studies Library. Events happening at other locations will have food and drinks available for purchase.

In addition to all of these wonderful events, there will also be two ongoing exhibits in the library throughout the month of February. Check out the first exhibit in the Marshall Gallery on the first floor of the Main Library building and then come up to IASL on the third floor to check out a second exhibit.

Please note that you do not have to have read the book in order to participate in any or all of these events. If you do want your own copy of the book, the International and Area Studies Library still has a few free copies to give away. If you have any questions or feedback about the programs, please feel free to be in touch with South Asian Studies & Global Popular Culture Librarian Mara Thacker (mthacker@illinois.edu), who is organizing the programs for IASL. Finally, if you are participating or following along on social media please tag us with #CUBigRead !

Happy reading!

NEA Big Read logo*NEA Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest.

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Preview of Graduate Assistant Digital Projects: Indonesia and Timor-Leste

This cart of in the IAS library holds books that GAs Laura and Mariah are using to complete research for their digital projects.

This year’s IAS graduate assistants, Laura Rocco and Mariah Schaefer, are both developing online research tools for area studies topics. These projects will be completed over the next several months and presented at the library in February. Laura and Mariah describe their projects below:

Laura – Balai Pustaka: a snapshot of publishing in Indonesia

Balai Pustaka (BP) is a state-run publisher in Indonesia that provides a unique understanding of print publishing, censorship, language development, and Dutch colonialism in Indonesia. Founded as the Commissie voor de Inlandsche School en Volkslectuur (the Commission for People’s Education and Reading) in 1908 and renamed Balai Pustaka in 1917, BP changed hands in WWII when the Japanese occupied Indonesia, and again in 1949 when Indonesia gained independence from the Dutch. Balai Pustaka publications range from the earliest Indonesian novels in the 1920s to the later textbook and educational materials of the post-colonial period.

An online research portal for materials related to Balai Pustaka will be published through the International and Area Studies Library using the Omeka platform. This tool will connect reference sources about BP, sources about Indonesian publishing, and historical context about the Dutch colonial and post-colonial periods with information about Balai Pustaka holdings at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The University Library holds more than 150 titles from this publisher from the post-colonial period (1951-), which can be of great value to researchers studying the political, social, and cultural histories of Indonesia.

Mariah – Research Guide to Timor-Leste (East Timor)

Timor-Leste is one of the youngest countries in the world, having officially gained independence in 2002. It was a Portuguese colony from the 1510s until Portugal withdrew in 1975. Indonesia invaded the country later that same year and stayed in power until 1999, when the majority of East Timorese voted for independence and the United Nations stepped in to help with the transition. Timor-Leste is home to 1.3 million people, who speak many local languages (Portuguese and Tetum are the official languages, and Indonesian and English are the working languages). Because the country is young, Timor-Leste is still building its national library and archives.

A “Research Guide to Timor-Leste (East Timor)” is in production and will join the other library guides by the International and Area Studies Library early in the spring semester. Not a lot of libraries have guides about Timor-Leste, so this tool aims to be really useful for researchers. The research guide will provide a variety of resources related to the country’s history, languages, cultural heritage, and government.

The time, date, and location of these presentations will be listed on the IAS calendar in early Spring, at which time these sites will also be published. Any questions can be directed to Laura Rocco or Mariah Schaefer.

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Happy Halloween! Celebrate with Horror Manga

On Wednesday, October 31st, Billy Tringali – a graduate student in the School of Information Sciences – will present a guest lecture as part of the IAS Library’s Halloween Spooktacular.

Read on for an interview with Tringali about his presentation on manga horror master Junji Ito:

comic panel

A Junji Ito panel

Can you describe what attendees can expect from your lecture?

The work of manga artist Junji Ito can most easily be defined as a hybrid between the cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft and the body horror of Cronenberg’s The Fly. His work is terrifying, disgusting, and occasionally darkly comedic.

This short lecture will focus on how Ito expertly fuses together his writing and artistic style to create a deeply nihilistic world, crafting an overarching argument in his short stories about the inability for world to be change in a positive way.

It sounds very dark and upsetting – but I promise it will be fun!

comic panel

A Junji Ito panel

How did you become interested in Junji Ito?

I first found out about Ito through his wildly popular The Enigma of Amigara Fault. It’s a fantastic short story about the addictive nature of finding your place in the world, and how much we are willing to bend and twist ourselves to fit into the boxes society presents us with.

Ito, of course, interprets this literally [see following image].

comic panel

A Junji Ito panel

In starting my research into Ito I was shocked to find that there has not been much written about such a genius author, which really doubled-down my desire to analyze his work!

The Enigma of Amigara Fault is actually so popular on the internet it was referenced in the children’s show Steven Universe!

Gif from Steven Universe – https://imgur.com/gallery/ZxhhXR7

What draws you to this genre, and what are your related research interests?

I’ve been a big fan of anime and manga since I was in about 8th grade. It’s a medium that can be used to create such deep, inspiring stories, and I really don’t think it’s looked upon or elevated in scholarship the way it can be. With the growth of comics’ studies, I’m hoping anime and manga studies will begin to pick up more steam in the academe!

This interest also led me to found the The Journal of Anime and Manga Studies, an open access journal I was able to build with help from the University Library’s Scholarly Communication and Publishing department. The journal will be launched this spring!

comic panel

A Junji Ito panel

What are some interesting things that have come up in this research?

There is so much room for growth!

Anime and manga studies has been approached from so many different angles by so many different scholars, but there is still a massive amount of work that can (and should!) be done in this field.

I encourage anyone interested in studying anime and manga to simply dive in!

comic panel

A Junji Ito panel

You recently presented about this work at a conference – what is it like to be scholar of popular culture?

Every important piece of media, at one point, has been popular culture.

All of Shakespeare’s plays. Every Sherlock Holmes novel. It’s all been popular culture. Even literary classics like Dante’s Inferno could be seen as self-insert fanfictions.

The only difference is time.

Scholars of popular culture are on the front lines of public engagement, and I feel that analyzing popular culture is a great way to introduce students to theories, histories, and methodologies while also elevating the brilliant work happening all around us today.

Billy Tringali will present his lecture on Junji Ito at 3 pm Wednesday, October 31st at the International and Area Studies Library. Happy Halloween!

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