Oct 23, 2023

East Asia Day brings the world to Columbus high school students

On an idyllic autumn day, the East Asian Studies Center brought the flavors, scents and sounds of the region to campus. More than 150 high school students from six school districts gathered at Ohio State for a day of education, connection and fun with a focus on cross-cultural learning and engagement.

Arriving by bus in the morning, students were greeted by a team from the Office of International Affairs and oriented to a day packed with short talks from Ohio State professors and experts on topics ranging from languages to tea. The lilt of voices chatting in English, Japanese, Chinese and Korean filled Haggerty Hall as students made their way between lectures, and teachers from different districts connected with each other, too.

One group of students settled in for a live tea demonstration with Ruth Lu, a certified ceremonial tea presenter who holds a PhD in International Higher Education from Ohio State. Lu has perfected a traditional 15-step tea preparation and serving technique using 10 specialized teawares artfully arranged on a raised bamboo tray, each with a distinct purpose.

She began by pouring hot water into a purple clay teapot, handcrafted in her father’s Chinese hometown of Yixing, Jiangsu. The porous clay maintains temperature well, and repeated use over many years results in a patina that “shines like jade.” Beginning with a pour to “awaken the tea leaves,” Lu demonstrated each step in succession and shared translations of the Chinese terms used for each. From a long pour that overfilled the pot (“the waterfall is coming from the mountains”) to pouring tea into cups that hold only a few sips (“the dragon is coming out of the sea”), Lu executed each move with an elegant flourish. As Lu poured, the pungent yet delicate scent of red tea filled the lecture hall. Smiling, she called two students up to partake from the small ceramic cups she offered. “What does it taste like?” she asked one young man. “Tea!” he offered with enthusiasm.  

In Lu’s words, the ceremony is all about kung fu, a term which means any practice that requires patience, energy and time to complete. It allows family and friends to slow down and bond over a cup of tea. “I believe in people-to-people exchanges and people-to-people cultural understandings,” Lu said. “I believe what is really beautiful about rituals and traditions is that they bring people together.”

After the ceremony, students split off for more talks from Mark Bender, professor of Chinese and chair of the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, and Melissa Curley, associate professor of comparative studies. Curley’s presentation explored traditional Shinto beliefs and stories and how they’ve persisted in contemporary Japanese pop culture. She shared how the Shinto concept of “kami,” an in-dwelling spirit that can translate variously to deities, spirits or demons, appears in the popular Pokémon franchise. Pokémon features “pocket monster” companions that reference beings from traditional myths such as “Tengu” (“heavenly dog”) and “Tsukumogami” (tools or objects that have acquired a spirit after 99 years of use).

After lectures and lunch, students toured campus and learned more about what it’s like to be a student at Ohio State. “This event was a great way for high school students to experience what studying about East Asia may be like at the college level,” said Chris White, assistant director of the East Asian Studies Center. “We hope to encourage students to continue in their study of Chinese, Japanese and Korean languages and hope they will consider studying these languages and cultures in the future. I was thrilled to see the interest from students as they were engaged in the talks they attended and were excited to visit Ohio State’s campus.”