by Kelly Rogge
Gregg Primo Ventello has had a love for the Japanese culture since he was a child.
“I had a friend whose mother was an ESL teacher for adults,” he said. “She often had Japanese students at her house cooking, and the food was so good, but it was very different from what I ate at home (Italian). Food was my introduction, but as I got older, I became interested in Japanese history and literature as well.”
Ventello, a professor in the English Department at Kansas City Kansas Community College, will have even more time to learn about the Japanese culture. He has been selected for a Fulbright Award to Japan.
The presidentially-appointed J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, along with the Japan-United States Educational Commission, chose the longtime KCKCC faculty member to serve as a lecturer at the University of Ryukyus in Okinawa, Japan, for the 2014-2015 academic year.
As a lecturer, Ventello will be teaching African American literature, gender studies and American culture.
The 10-month appointment starts in September and ends in July 2015. Once his appointment ends, he will return to KCKCC to resume his regular duties for the 2015-2016 school year.
“I am really excited to be going back,” he said. “I think the food is what I am looking forward to most. Food is important to Japanese culture. In my background, food is integral to every family gathering. It doesn’t matter who you are; people commune over good food and drink. It is the easiest way to get to know someone, to assimilate.”
Ventello is one of approximately 1,100 faculty and professionals from the United States who will travel abroad through the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program in 2014-2015. The program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase the mutual understanding between the people of the United States and those from other countries.
The application process, which started in February 2013, included a project statement and letters of recommendations. It then had to go through three reviews – technical, disciplinary and regional, before being accepted.
This is not the first time Ventello has lived and worked in Japan. Shortly after graduate school, he lived on the northern most Japanese island of Hokkaido for one year. When he returned to the United States, he finished his dissertation at the University of Kansas and in 2000, began his tenure at KCKCC.
In 2012, Ventello returned to Japan with his wife and two children for a visit. It was when they got back to the United States that his family expressed interest in going back to Japan, but this time, for a longer visit.
“The Fulbright Award seemed like it fit perfectly,” he said. “Both of my children are excited to return. It will be an adventure for the whole family.”
While in Japan, Ventello said his children, 7 and 11, will either go to an international school or public school. The main difference is that at an international school, there is more instruction in English. Classes in a public school setting would be taught entirely in Japanese.
“My wife and I both taught in public schools (in Japan), and it would be an invaluable experience,” he said. “Once we decide where the kids will go to school, then we will find a place to live nearby.”
Ventello said what he hopes to bring back with him to KCKCC is the idea of communitarianism or the emphasis on community above the individual.
“It is a very different concept than what we have learned here in the U.S.,” he said. “What I want to emphasize is what each culture can learn from the other and the benefit of placing the community ahead of the individual. I want to see how certain sacrifices benefit us all.”