Study Abroad: Study Abroad Profile: Jason Kunen '13
Jason Kunen, who is majoring in philosophy, spent his spring studying at the University of Hawaiʻi. He brought back many lessons about the spiritual and meditative life inspired by a beautiful landscape and a deeply philosophical culture.
Why did you choose Hawaiʻi?
My primary reason for choosing to study in Hawaiʻi is due to the fact that the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa specializes in East-West philosophy. As a philosophy major focusing on Eastern thought, it was an excellent opportunity to further my study and practice these traditions. Hawaiʻi’s geographic situation is similar to its cultural and philosophical one, that is, it is situated as a medium between the Eastern and Western worlds. Although elements of Western thought undeniably permeate the culture, the various Eastern traditions are deeply rooted in the minds and hearts of the people. In deciding on a place to study, I realized that the opportunity to study in a place where East and West coexist on multiple levels would truly be a blessing.
What did you learn outside of the classroom?
During my time in Hawaii, I trained in the martial art known as Wing Chun kung-fu. My previous experience in martial arts allowed me to grasp the foundations of the art quickly. I had never studied kung-fu before, however, and I was delighted to study a new martial art that had striking similarities to the styles I practice. The people in that group there became my brothers and sisters in training, which I was quite grateful for.
What is the most surprising thing that happened to you there?
In early March, I was invited by my Japanese philosophy professor to participate as a discussant in an undergraduate philosophy conference. My job was to respond and ask questions of the author of a philosophy essay. The conference was held outside with breath-taking misty mountains as the backdrop. When it was time for the author [I was assigned to as] a discussant, to present, it came to our attention that he was not there. The conference facilitator then called me up to present both the author’s paper and to respond to it. I accepted the challenge and...surpassed everyone’s expectations of a brief presentation and spoke for half an hour. The situation in general, from being invited to participate to having to present a paper not my own, was a complete surprise. Yet it was also, perhaps, one of the best experiences during my time there.
What did you bring back?
Among souvenirs, martial arts knowledge, and sand from the beach, I brought back inspiration and ideas for my senior philosophy thesis. One of my classes was titled, "Philosophy for Children," which centers on the idea of creating an intellectually safe environment in the classroom so that inquiry will naturally arise allowing children to tap into their natural philosophical abilities. I not only attended this class but visited public schools in Hawaiʻi that incorporated this methodology into their classrooms. I visited kindergarten, [middle school] and high school classes that utilized this type of learning environment and was amazed when I observed them. I believe that this will be the next profound evolution in both our education, and a major factor in the shift towards a more enlightened society. My thesis, I decided, would be a bridge connecting the philosophy for children methodology with the philosophical insight of Haverford College’s very own Dr. Ashok Gangadean, whose work centers on engaging in deep philosophical dialogue in order to open up a global perspective and dilate one’s mind.