NEW ENGLISH PROFESSOR BRINGS ADDED BONUS - JAPANESE
When California-born Assoc. Prof. John Myhill arrived at the Department of English in 1995 to lecture on linguistics, the University never realized that this appointment would lead to the addition of Japanese culture and language to the University's offerings.
> The English professor's wife is Yoshimi Miayke, a doctoral student who last academic year was conscripted to lecture on "Women in Japanese Culture" for the General Studies Department, the first such course at the University. This academic semester will offer another first, again with Miayke as instructor - Japanese Language.
"I found the students here very interested in Japanese women," she said recently when asked about Israelis' interest in the Far East. "Many still had mysticized ideas that Japanese women were submissive and still wore the kimono every day."
"Some students had recently been to Japan," she continued, "so I also received an update on the latest pop-culture, as I have been away from Japan for several years. I have found that Israeli students are very well traveled and independent. In the course, I tried moving them toward a more balanced idea of Japan."
She also admitted that balance was needed on the other side, citing the fears expressed by her family in Japan when she informed them of her move to Israel. "They only knew of Israel from the media, and therefore believed that the whole country was always at war. My parents were really frightened for my safety. Now they have learned much more about Israel from me, and my mother even came to help me when my sabra daughter was born this year."
When Miayke arrived in Israel with her husband and daughter No. 1, she began to learn Hebrew at the University's ulpan. "At first I thought the way the language was taught was far too relaxed," she recalls. "I was used to a more structured way of learning language. But gradually I recognized the method used and found it wonderful and I learned a lot."
Asked about living in Israel, Miayke replied, "I have traveled extensively and had so many experiences that Israel was not too much of a culture shock." Before coming to Israel, Miayke had spent time in the United States, after receiving a Rotary International Fellowship in 1987 that took her to the Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Michigan. She later became a lecturer in the Japanese Program of the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures and then a teaching assistant. Prior to that, she had done two years of anthropological research in Indonesia. Miayke has a B.A. in Indonesian Studies from the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies and an M.A. in Social Anthropology from Tokyo Metropolitan University.
The religion was also not completely strange to her. "The Japanese pick up bits from all religion," she stated. "I was brought up with Confucius, as my grandparents came from Korea. When I first arrived in America, I visited all places of religion and found that I enjoyed the Conservative [Jewish] synagogue. I was made very welcome and learned about the religion and traditions." She then added thoughtfully, "Here [in Israel] I find that we are living in a Jewish culture, but we are not making an effort to follow the religious aspects. I felt I was more Jewish in America."
The General Studies Department will offer Miayke's Japanese language course. "Unfortunately the course will be given only for 3 hours a week. To teach the language, I really need at least 5 hours, but I know you have to start somewhere."
Miayke explained that her dream is for the course to expand and develop, and that she not remain the only teacher of Japanese at the University. "I would like to be able to build a relationship between Haifa University and a Japanese university, and that way study the anthropological and psychological aspects. My course will focus on spoken Japanese first and learning the cultural pronunciation which I feel is a mirror of Japanese culture."
Myhill had met his Japanese wife at Michigan, where he was an associate professor of linguistics. Unlike Miayke, he at least had a familiarity with Hebrew from childhood. When he came to Haifa though, he called learning the language the most difficult problem he had as a new immigrant. Thanks to a grant he received from the Rashi Foundation, he is at the present time doing research on lexical semantics in the Bible.
Myhill teaches semantics as well as sociolinguistics. His courses analyze English, Arabic, and Hebrew, including such aspects as formal and informal language, political language, male and female interaction. He said that cultural differences caused him to change the topics discussed in his class. "As political correctness is not an issue here, I have found it has led to easier discussions. For example, students are not as hysterical about women's issues, and using the word girl, for example, means nothing. Also the majority of Americans I taught were monolingual. Here English is the second or even the third language of students, so naturally I had to change my American way of teaching."