By Kevin Sprague (UCLA 2018)
UCLA International Institute, June 20, 2018 — Some students arrive at UCLA with a clear goal and specific career trajectory in mind. Others arrive undeclared, decide to switch majors or pursue post-graduation career paths that differ completely from their fields of study. For Tatiana Sulovska, being accepted into the UCLA International Institute’s East Asian Studies M.A. Program was a chance to pursue her passion for Japanese history.
“I was an exchange student at a law program in China when it dawned on me with finality that I wanted to study Japanese history,” explains Sulovska, who studied abroad at the East China University of Political Science and Law and applied to UCLA while in the process of finishing her J.D. at Hofstra Law in New York. She completed her M.A. in East Asian Studies in 2017 and is now a Ph.D. candidate in the department of history at UCLA.
Honing language skills for research
Sulovska’s realization that she ought to focus on Japanese history full time followed years of Japanese self-study and an enduring interest in Japanese film, history and literature. “I really love 1960s and 70s cinema, referred to as the ‘Japanese New Wave’,” she says. “I also enjoy underground manga from that period, for instance, [that of] Hayashi Seiichi.” Sulovska’s current research draws on film, literature, and art from this era to examine political dissent as a facet of cultural production.
“Entering the M.A. program without formal training in the field, I needed to absorb a full four-years’ worth of college level Japanese in just two years,” Sulovska relates. This was made possible in part through two Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships for two-month summer intensive Japanese language programs: one in Yokohama, Japan, and the other on campus at UCLA.
In addition to the FLAS grants — which promote training in modern foreign languages and related area or international studies — from the Asia Pacific Center, Sulovska received a Sasakawa Fellowship from the Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies, which supports graduate students who are pursuing advanced degrees in Japanese Studies.
As an M.A. student, Sulovska also participated in the Urban Humanities Initiative, a full-year interdisciplinary graduate course that brought together students of architecture, urban planning and the humanities to study the cultural, historical and architectural dynamics of Tokyo. “Part of the program included a research project in collaboration with Waseda University, so we spent a week in Tokyo working with students from the architecture department there,” she noted.
In the coming year, Sulovska will attend a 10-month immersive Japanese language course in Yokohama, which will give her the skills required to complete her Ph.D. “To work with precision, you need to be able to distinguish nuance and complexity,” Sulovska explained. “To conduct research as a historian, I need to be able to independently analyze primary sources. Being in the Japan field, working with sources in the Japanese language is simply an indispensable part of the work,” she said.
Yokohama, Japan, with Mount Fuji in the distance. (Photo courtesy of Pixabay.)
Falling in love with your field
Sulovska encourages students who might have a burgeoning interest in a language or culture, as she once had, to expand their horizons and explore these passions by attending on-campus events like film screenings, book talks and lectures by visiting scholars.
“I love attending events sponsored by the Terasaki Center, the Asia Pacific Center, the Asian languages and cultures department and, naturally, the department of history,” Sulovska shares. “It’s great to be able to see what academics from other universities are working on, not only in North America, but also in Japan, and elsewhere,” she adds.
“I frequently describe my decision to study Japanese history as falling in love,” remarks Sulovska. “I simply have no doubt about what I want to do for the rest of my life. I'm very grateful for the programs which provided funding for me to pursue this dream,” she relates. Her advice to other students interested in studying unique languages or regions is to seek support through FLAS and/or other area-specific grants.
“If you can document your goals and interest in the area, if you can link your passion to your career objectives and are really looking to dedicate yourself to studying another language, then applying for grants like FLAS can help you succeed,” she concludes.