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Foreign students get taste of Turkey Day

(11/25/97 10:00am)

This Thursday, roasted turkey, stuffing and other traditional foods will grace the tables of many American families. For international students and faculty members who cannot go home for the holiday, however, Thanksgiving can be a lonely time. The Office of International Programs tries to give everyone a home for the holidays, with a continuing tradition of matching international students and scholars with American hosts. The program has succeeded in matching about 20 members of the University community with hosts in previous years. This year, an even larger pool of students and faculty members has requested hosts. According to OIP international student advisor Shalini Bhutani, "feelings of loneliness and homesickness are especially common at this time of year, when most of the Penn community is focused on family related activities." But for international students, sharing the festive dinner can accomplish more than relieving loneliness. The experience affords the opportunity to gain firsthand knowledge of American culture. "Many students and scholars rarely have a chance to be part of the larger community and many return to their home countries without having made any American friends," Bhutani said. First-year Wharton doctoral student Ken Sugimoto explained that sharing food provides an inside look into cultural life, and gives foreign students a chance to learn aspects of "the history and way of life of America." Bhutani also said she hopes "we can help to break down some stereotypes on both sides, while encouraging friendships." Opportunities such as these can provide long-lasting memories of stays in America. OIP Associate Director Ann Kuhlman noted that international students in the United States frequently report these experiences as being among the highlights of their stays. On the other side, hosts have their own reasons for opening their homes. Dee Stenton, an administrative assistant at the Dental School, said she feels that every international visitor should "be given the experience of spending Thanksgiving with a typical, dysfunctional American family." "A chance meeting can turn into a lifetime friendship," Stenton added, reflecting on her experience of hosting a Spanish high school student for several months. Adonna Mackley, a resource coordinator for Penn Abroad, recently traveled in Scotland and knew the feelings of emptiness that spending a national holiday alone in a foreign country could cause. "It would've been nice to get to know a Scottish family," she recalled. This program is one of many originating from the OIP office that aim to make international staff and students feel more at home. Orientations, day trips and a support group are also offered. Nevertheless, Kuhlman stressed that welcoming the international population is a goal shared by many in the University. "Much of what makes the international scholar feel welcome is done at the departmental level or, for some students, in the residences," she said.

English prof shares love of Shakespeare

(11/18/97 10:00am)

With her sweet and grandmotherly nature, English Professor Phyllis Rackin may not seem like an award-winning scholar of Shakespeare and other Renaissance drama. In recognition befitting her stature, the spring 1997 edition of Shakespeare in the Classroom recently named Rackin one of the top 25 "master teachers of Shakespeare in the U.S., Britain and Canada for the past 125 years." The list was compiled by polling various literary authorities around the world. In her typically modest fashion, Rackin, who has taught General Honors and graduate-level courses since the early 1960s, chalked up the award to the mere "luck of the draw." The beginnings of Rackin's career are distinctly low-key. Needing to fulfill a teaching requirement, she one day ran into the English undergraduate chairperson, who nonchalantly asked, "How much do you know about a man named Shakespeare?" The not-so-innocent question resulted in Rackin spending her winter break holed up with dozens of texts, plays and studies to prepare herself to teach. The labor continued throughout the semester as Rackin "stayed barely a week ahead of the students." By that time, Rackin realized that teaching Shakespeare was "something she loved doing." She was fortunately "invited to keep doing it." Rackin's avowed goal as an educator is to free Shakespeare from the somber connotations his name evokes. "The plays were written to be performed and must be studied in that context," she explained. Her teaching eventually spurred a desire to write, which was temporarily satiated in her 1990 book Stages of History. The book deals with the philosophical issues of history and explores the question, "What happens when you put history on the stage?" Her next foray into writing was prompted by a friend and Women's Studies scholar. After initially thinking that "there was nothing of interest for Women's Studies," Rackin eventually asked, "Well, why not?" The fruition of her ensuing study was the recently published Engendering a Nation: A Feminist Account of Shakespeare's English Histories, which she co-authored. Rackin also found time in the early 1990s to serve as president of the Shakespeare Association of North America. "It consisted of endless meetings," she mused. Referring to her book and other accomplishments, English Professor and longtime colleague Rebecca Bushnell called Rackin "an important feminist voice in the University." English Undergraduate Chairperson Elisa New added, "I admire Phyllis Rackin lavishly." During her several decades at the University, Rackin has seen undergraduate teaching "improve enormously." She has undoubtedly played a vital role in that improvement. Teaching for so long has allowed Rackin to keep her "fingers on the pulse of time" by serving as a mentor to diverse generations. Along with her many years at the University has come both experience and praise. More important than any award, however, is her family -- and more specifically her grandson. "He's just adorable," she gleefully proclaimed.

Gimbel Gym climbing wall to rock outdoor enthusiasts

(11/12/97 10:00am)

In an effort to increase interest in rock climbing, the Outing Club managed to bring a bouldering wall to the University. It's 40 feet long. It's 10 feet high. And it's coming to Gimbel Gymnasium. Through the efforts of the Outing Club, members of the University community will soon have the luxury of spending their free time working out on a new bouldering wall. The wall, scheduled to be built by early next semester, will enable anyone from novices to jocks to get a feel for the fast-growing sport of rock climbing, a sport Outing Club Vice President John Boschetti describes as "addicting." The wall's plywood face will be textured to simulate actual rocks and fitted with movable "holds" to accommodate various levels of difficulty. Most of the wall will overhang anywhere between 10 and 30 degrees past vertical. Recreation Director Mike Diorka called the project "exciting" and "novel." His department pledged $5,000 towards the effort, which also received $2,000 from the Student Activities Council and $1,000 from the Outing Club. Boschetti, an Engineering sophomore, initiated the project because he felt he and other Outing Club members should have a benefit enjoyed by most other college outing clubs -- their very own on-campus bouldering wall. Currently, University students with an interest in climbing have to travel about a half-hour to Cherry Hill, N.J., and pay $10 for the use of the rock gym there. Boschetti and the club originally planned for a smaller wall paid for and used only by the club. All the group needed was a location -- and funds. The club's idea caught the attention of Diorka and snowballed from there. But success came only after dealing with a thick web of bureaucratic red tape and what seemed like endless money hassles. Since his first appearance before the Tangible Change Committee last semester, Boschetti has had to meet with both members of the Risk Management Department and University lawyers. Although SAC Chairperson and Wharton senior Steve Schorr felt the wall should be funded solely by Recreation, he conceded that there was "a need for more equipment" and that "students should enjoy" a new wall. Boschetti believes the approval is proof positive of the sport's growing popularity. "When [students] hear about free climbing, they're like, 'Where? When?' They're automatically interested," he said. During the long struggle to get the project approved, Boschetti and the other club members remained upbeat. "We've faced about 20 obstacles but we just went all balls out," he said. According to Ben Smith, an Engineering senior and the Outing Club's president, the club's avowed purpose is to "get out of the city as much as possible." He also said the club is an excellent resource for those hoping to meet people with similar interests. Smith hopes the adventure does not end with the wall's Gimbel premiere. "I see this as a first step toward building interest," he said. Boschetti also sees an eventual rock climbing boom -- "in 10 years from now, it'll be huge," he said. For more on the outing club see

Black 'Israelities' sing to God

(10/20/97 9:00am)

A group of African-American "Israelites" melodiously serenaded God yesterday at the corner of Broad and South streets. The group, members of the First Tabernacle, hosted the 37th anniversary concert of the Beth-El A Cappella Choir, much to the delight of a frollicking, 200-person audience. The varied program consisted of a rhythm-and-blues a cappella group, a soprano solo and a spoken word performance, in addition to the church's a cappella choir. Music was the order of the day for the majority African-American congregation that danced, clapped, sang and gave several standing ovations throughout the performance. The stylistic blend of gospel and the "temple tradition stemming from the Levites of old," according to Rabbi Curtis Caldwell, made for an intoxicating sound. Jacob Carey, fondly known as "Brother J.C.," conducted the choir with both skill and showmanship, prompting one observer to note the "very creative style and focus on dramatics." While the choir regaled the enthused audience for two sets, the other a cappella group -- known as the Sons of Abraham -- brought down the house with their impassioned songs, forcing even the most stoic of viewers to bop along. To begin the festivities, choir superintendent Gloria Wooten told the crowd the day would be "spiritually uplifting." Indeed, the recital was purposefully religious, with the lyrics encouraging trust in God and joy in his service. Among the songs included in the performance were "Stretch Out on His Word," "I'm Happy in the Service of the Lord" and "Everything is Moving by the Power of God." Aside from the music, church member Mary Jones captivated the crowd with a poem, in which she challenged, "Lord, why did you make me black?" Galloping through assorted connotations of the color black, Jones alluded to the "griminess of dirt" and racial discrimination. But the work concluded with God's upbeat reply to Jones' query, in which he describes blackness as the "likeness of me, the midnight sky and the black stallion." The performance of Gail Denson, a soprano currently pursuing her doctorate in music at the University of Michigan, also received applause from both the audience and Caldwell. "She is an inspiration to young people who hope to pursue a career in singing," he said. Caldwell concluded the event by inviting first-timers back to the church to hear "some of the best a cappella [music]." He also expressed the hope that the choir would gain wider exposure as an art form due to its Avenue of the Arts location. The Tabernacle is descended theologically from the Church of God -- a century-old movement that believes in a return to the Israelite customs from which Christianity was born.

English prof talks on Pearl Buck

(10/10/97 9:00am)

Mixing wry anecdotes with fascinating insight, English Professor Peter Conn delivered an entertaining and informative talk in the Annenberg School last night on his new book. In his address to members of the Penn Mid-Atlantic Seminar for the Study of Women and Society, Conn, who authored the award-winning Pearl S. Buck: A Cultural Biography, called for restoring Buck's fiction and politics to a central position in 20th century societal history. History Professor Drew Faust, who organized the event, dubbed the second seminar this semester "particularly exciting because of the insightful and articulate participants." Opening his talk, Conn posed the perplexing query, "How does somebody who occupied as much space as Pearl Buck occupied, more or less disappear?" What followed was essentially a thorough biographical answer to that question. Buck grew up in China as the child of evangelical Christian missionaries, Conn noted. And while her ever popular Good Earth is still read religiously by high schoolers, the remainder of the incredibly vast canon -- consisting of more than 70 novels -- has long been ignored. Conn added that Buck has contributed astoundingly to the betterment of American society. She was a lifetime member of the NAACP and was so active in civil rights causes that the FBI was prompted to compile a docket of more than 300 pages on her. She also advocated gender equality and founded the nation's first international, interracial adoption agency, Welcome House, Conn added. Despite all these achievements, Conn said the importance of Buck's legacy lay in the fact that "she invented China for two generations of Americans." Nevertheless, Buck faded from both critical and historical favor. Conn identified the disastrous combination of overly mediocre books and unpopular views as the cause of Buck's decline in stature. "Eventually you become known as 'the woman who writes bad books,'" he said. Following Conn's remarks, English Professor Nancy Bentley and Princeton University History Professor Sue Naquin shared their criticisms. Naquin, an expert in Chinese studies, discussed Buck as a hybrid of Asian and American cultures. Bentley, meanwhile, focused on her own personal status as a member of the "post-Buck" generation. The seminar -- which was established a decade ago by the University's Women's Studies Program -- concluded with a question-and-answer session, in which the 20 audience members raised a number of issues. The Penn Mid-Atlantic Seminar for the Study of Women and Society will meet again in December to discuss "Women's Health in African Society."