Turning Japanese

Christopher George Wink, 20, has traveled all around the globe from Mexico to Africa. Born in New York and raised in Newton, N.J., Wink can now add Japan to his list of international excursions. Wink,

Christopher George Wink, 20, has traveled all around the globe from Mexico to Africa. Born in New York and raised in Newton, N.J., Wink can now add Japan to his list of international excursions.

Wink, a junior political science and journalism double major who writes for “The Temple News”, is documenting his Tokyo experience on a new NBC online series, “Junior Year Abroad.”

J.Y.A., which, for unidentifed reasons NBC postponed a week to launch Sept. 13, will chronicle the lives of 10 U.S. residents who are studying abroad in various countries around the planet that span five continents – Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and South America.

Wink said NBC giving him the opportunity to document his educational journey is priceless. “With my interest in journalism, J.Y.A. is an amazing opportunity. There is a lot of writing and reporting involved in the show, and I can’t put a price on the value of this exposure and chance to work with NBC,” he said in an e-mail to “The Temple News.”

Ryan Noggle, a producer at NBC Universal who helped create J.Y.A., said the online series is intended to promote studying overseas and expand cultural awareness.

“Our purpose of the show is to educate, especially Americans, about other cultures,” said Noggle, who studied abroad in France in 1998. The NBC producer said one of the main reasons NBC selected Wink for J.Y.A. is because the Temple junior impressed the media outlet with his personal documentary footage he filmed from his time abroad in Ghana, West Africa, last summer. “We’re very excited to have Chris [Wink],” Noggle said.

NBC aims to use J.Y.A. to capitalize on the emerging online market. In fact, NBC10.com predicts that the series “will soon become the definitive online destination for anyone with a penchant for global travel and a voracious appetite for adventure.”

NAFSA: Association of International Educators, the world’s largest group of international education professionals, has mixed feelings about J.Y.A. On one hand, NAFSA is encouraged by NBC’s move to create the online program, but NAFSA also has concerns that J.Y.A. could possibly give people an unfavorable view toward studying abroad.

Ursula Oaks, NAFSA’s press relations director, said she hopes J.Y.A. lives up to NAFSA’s expectations because it could affect students’ decision on whether or not they will study abroad.

“There’s a large amount of interest in studying abroad, yet very few students do so,” Oaks said, citing an “Open Doors” report
and NAFSA polling statistics that show 1 percent of American undergraduates study abroad even though more than 75 percent of Americans believe studying on foreign soil is important. “We want to raise that percentage a lot.”

Noggle responded directly to NAFSA’s concerns in a letter, which the association posted on its Web site, nafsa.org.
In the letter, Noggle stresses that J.Y.A. is an “unscripted documentary” intended to convince students they “must” take at least one semester to study abroad.

“J.Y.A. is neither a contest nor a Real World-style ‘unscripted drama,’ as MTV delicately tags it,” Noggle wrote. “Episodes will be honest exhibitions of life overseas, as experienced
by the cast. Viewers will live vicariously through the cast, learning about native food, dance, style, customs, travel and ways of life of the host country.”

Noggle reiterated that message in a telephone interview with “The Temple News”: “With J.Y.A. we hope to accomplish global awareness,” he said. Noggle also said he shares NAFSA’s desire to persuade considerably more undergraduates to study abroad.

Noggle dismissed any notions that the online series will be “a party show overseas” and said all higher education institutions in the United States should support it. “Every school in America,” Noggle said, “has to be behind this show because it’s very positive.”

Temple International Programs, the department that administers the university’s study abroad programs, is aware of Wink’s involvement in J.Y.A. Michael Dever, the business manager of International Programs, although concerned that NBC’s online series could end up being a reality-TV party show, said he looks forward to seeing how it turns out.

“It’s hard to have a strong opinion on something that hasn’t existed,” Dever said. Dever, however, noted that many students abroad have documented their experiences online and said he encourages that.

“We’ve had students who have been involved with blogs,” he said. “We always want students to be clear and honest about their experiences – that includes the good and the bad.”

Temple has made aggressive attempts to persuade students to study abroad since the new millennium. According to Dever, about 880 Temple students enrolled abroad during the 2005-06 academic year – an 86 percent increase over the last five years.

In central Tokyo, Wink was immediately awestricken by the population density of Japan’s capital city.

“Tokyo is startlingly large and active,” Wink said in an e-mail during his first week in Japan. “While Philadelphia has its pockets of really active lifestyle, it appears there are no empty streets here. I grew up outside of New York City, and I have lived two years in Philly, but neither has this sort of crowd.”

Wink is one of the 10 college students who will video record “Webisodes” of his adventures in a foreign country and maintain a blog, which will be accessible on the J.Y.A. Web site, www.nbc10.com/jya.

Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman can be reached at sabdurr@gmail.com.

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