Over the past three weeks, I have done almost no work on my research project. Though it was always in the back of my mind, I was relieved to have the opportunity to take some time off after working on my project for 10 weeks of my precious, far too short summer. As stated in my last post, during my time off I was able to something I’ve never done before: go to the west coast.
The first stop on my west coast journey was in St. George, Utah, a city surrounded by mountains and inhabited by Mormons. My family and I went to St. George to see my uncle in a series of musicals, including “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “Peter Pan” and “Tarzan”. As expected, my uncle was amazing. But what I wasn’t quite prepared for is how beautiful the scenery would be. We were surrounded by mountains of red rock as far as the eye could see – good for climbing, hiking and even jumping off of. My days in Utah were filled with breathtaking views of different national or state parks, and my nights were filled with breathtaking performances.
From Utah, my family took a quick one day trip to Las Vegas, Nevada. Though most people enjoy Las Vegas because of the gambling and the night life, I was plenty happy to just sit by the pool and soak up the sun after walking for miles on miles every day in Utah. Because we were only there for one day and night, I wouldn’t really say I got to experience all that Las Vegas had to offer. However, I was able to leave the city with all of the money that I showed up with, so I’d call it a success.
In Las Vegas, my family and I went our separate ways – they flew home, and I flew to San Fransisco, California to visit my boyfriend and his family. As this was my first time in California, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. However, I can tell you for sure that it was not what I had pictured! There were beautiful trees and grassy hills all over the town in which my boyfriend lives, no sand or palm trees to be seen, and, most shocking of all, the city of San Fransisco was absolutely FREEZING. Going from 100-degree weather in Utah to 60-degree weather in San Fransisco was quite a shock, but it was a beautiful city nonetheless. We explored all around the city, my boyfriend’s home town, and, most importantly, the many wineries in Napa.
Over the past three weeks, I have visited three new states, and had countless unforgettable experiences. Now, with just a week left before classes start, it is time for me to get ready to get back into research mode. Once classes begin, so too does the rest of my research (as well as campus jobs, grad school applications and more). I am truly lucky to have been able to spend the last few weeks of my summer exploring with the people that I care about, but it is now time for me to focus on myself, my school work and my research.
As the summer draws to a close, I’ve been thinking more about my successes, failures and overall experience with the Dietrich Honors Fellowship Program.
Overall, I think my biggest success this past summer was being able to narrow my topic down to a narrative that I was truly interested in. At the beginning of the summer, I was somewhat lost in what I wanted my final film to be about. I was pulling at various threads without getting any real leads. Now, I’m happy to say I have finalized my narrative: I will focus on how Pittsburgh serves as a microcosm to study the effects of technological innovations on the overall democratization of the music industry.
Some of my other successes were more personal goals of mine. For example, I learned that I was able to complete an independent study and create my own research syllabus for the summer. Another goal of mine was meeting and learning about key individuals in the field, such as Dr. Kathryn Metz of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, reading books by David Byrne and getting in contact with executives at record labels.
With that being said, I think I also hit a few bumps and fell short along the way. One aspect of my thesis that I definitely have to work on is aggregating and going through more sources, and faster. One of my weaknesses is getting bogged down in reading and over-analyzing each source instead of finding the information that’s pertinent to my research. However, I think this will become easier because I have a more set narrative in place to follow.
Another failure of mine would be the amount of writing and synthesis I have done. Moving forward, I definitely need to write more about my project and its progress. Beyond using this a tool to keep relevant parties informed of my work, it also helps me realize where the gaps in my research are, and where I need to focus on.
Moving forward, the next step for me will be working on the film. This includes creating a storyboard, finding a videographer and editor and beginning production on the film.
Overall, I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity given to me by Dietrich College through this fellowship. I would like to thank the fellows, the Dean’s Office staff, my advisers and the countless others who have supported me throughout the summer with my work. Thanks again!
It’s the end so I thought that I’d share an excerpt from one of my essays to show that this not truly an end. Things will keep spinning and churning.
Here’s the excerpt:
In 2012 the Mayan calendar ended. Some believed that the end of this calendar meant that the world would also end. One night in 2012, an electrical powering station exploded near where I live. The whole sky lit up and started flashing. People ran through the streets screaming that the world was ending. My father and I thought that the light outside was lightning, but it wasn’t storming. We went outside. I felt as if the sky was going to turn, revealing gears. There would be a clunking noise as our reality and the truth welded themselves together. I had this feeling that our world was a small piece of what truly existed. We were ants who didn’t know what being an ant meant.
Moving forward, I’ll be writing more, more and more! More poetry, more stories, more essays. Not only will my semester include lots of writing, it will also include lots of revision. And I’ll be considering how to put what I’ve written this summer into one manuscript.
I have to say that I really enjoyed this summer and the fellowship program. It was a great opportunity that I’m really grateful to have been accepted to. I liked being in Pittsburgh for the summer and meeting my fellow fellows. I think that I was able to look at my project in a different light because I was able to consider how students from different departments look at it.
The Fourth of July is usually the day that sets me into a panic that the summer is over. In reality, though, at this point the summer is still at its early stages; New York’s beach water has yet to warm by the stored sun, my August birthdate hasn’t reached my radar and my mother has yet to plan the last hurrah family vacation. On the Fourth of July, I remind myself to focus on the present days, that August is sprawled out somewhere far ahead.
But here we are: past the midway point of August, perhaps my favorite month (I mentioned the birthday part, right?), but also a month that feels like one long Sunday. As I soak up some of the final moments, I also reflect on all that I learned while working on my honors fellowship and how I can use the momentum to carry on in the midst of my challenging fall semester course load. Here are a few things that I came up with:
- Schedule in daily writing time. Even when I feel bogged down by homework assignments and exams, I need to schedule in my writing time as if it were a class I wouldn’t dare miss.
- Tune everything out. Find a quiet space where people won’t be coming in and out, power off my cell phone and tuck it away somewhere out of sight.
- Give a story a chance. I have so many ideas of what I want to write about that sometimes, in the very early stages, I have trouble sticking to a story. Write down those ideas, save them for later. But an idea is not yet a story, and I need to remember to stick it out before swapping out. Usually, once I get three to four pages in, I won’t want to switch anymore.
- Ask “What if?” If my characters feel stuck, asking some questions can help me figure out their next moves.
My original idea for my essays was to write about people who I’m close to, but who I don’t see in person. I reconsidered this idea and decided to write about a couple different topics instead. The topics include vegetarianism, inability to change/death, love, dream of change and doors. I wrote some of the essays as letters. They are addressed to you which makes it feel as if I’m addressing every person who reads them, connecting me to you. They’re also letters because they retain some of the ideas and emotions that they might have if I had remained with my original topic.
This is the essay on doors:
Closed doors barely stop the dogs that I know. They all kick at the doors until they pop out of their jambs. They don’t look at the doors. Their faces say: It’s only natural that the door would make way for me. Just like how closed doors don’t stop the kicking legs of dogs, they also don’t stop people from walking in on these two friends that I have.
These two friends don’t understand that a closed door is not a locked door. They see a closed door and they think they should proceed to make out. This means that people walk in all happy, see them completely involved and then back out feeling sad about their own singular natures. This same couple thinks that closed doors are soundproof doors, which means that those around this couple have invested their money in good headphones.
Some might say that doors are lies. A door that is a lie is a blank space that looks like what a person imagines a door to be. Every door is different for every person. Doors being lies would explain why the dogs get through so easily. It would also explain why people always walk in on that couple. No door exists for anyone to knock on.
Doors separate people with their false nature. But if doors are lies then dogs have more abilities than we know. It would mean that they can see what is and isn’t a lie. On the other hand, if doors aren’t lies and they’re not really doors then they could only be dirty cheats secretly cackling at our human woes. They hear a giggle and they say, “My oh my, wouldn’t it be lovely if everyone could hear this beautiful giggle?”
Then they release through the door what is an unnatural giggle. Everyone you know hears that giggle. Your life comes crashing down on you. You become known as The Giggler. People warn their children to stay away from you. Supermarkets stop selling tomatoes to you. You retreat into the woods to commune with cicadas.
As you sit on what remains of a tree that was cut down years ago, you shrink. You don’t notice at first. Leaves and bark are all that you can see. Then you notice that you’re getting smaller. The dirt is getting closer and closer to your face. When you sleep at night, you smell the dirt. You wonder if it will swallow you in a natural coffin. It eventually does, but you shrink a lot more before that happens.
While you’re shrinking you grow wings. Skin sloughs off your main body. Your new skin is shiny and tough. You’re very small now. The grass is taller than you. The noises of the night frighten you. It sounds like there are hyenas out there.
There are no hyenas. There are a couple of people telling jokes while they camp. A vague thought crosses your head about how hyenas sound like they’re crashing apart with laughter. You dig into the dirt. You want to escape those kinds of thoughts.
You dig deep enough that you can’t hear the hyena laughter anymore. Your awareness drifts until you’re no longer you. You’re the earth and the water flowing through the soil. Then you’re nothing but darkness over a never-ending night. Someone far away tells another person that it was never you who giggled. You never know. You sleep down where they will one day find dinosaur bones.
During these two weeks, I outlined and wrote one of my stories. I wasn’t sure at first what kind of problem I wanted to develop between the group of girls, but I knew that there should be some kind of problem. I decided that the leader of the group (Jezebel) wants to bully one of the other girls (Yan Lin). But she never comes out and says it. She starts to leave Yan Lin out of activities. Problems develop as Allison realizes what Jezebel is doing, while the other girls don’t understand. The other girls are beginning to dislike Yan Lin. In the face of these events, Yan Lin doesn’t doubt herself as some girls would. She rightly blames Jezebel, which causes her to confront Jezebel at the end of the story. Like in the beginning, they end up falling from high up. They’re both sent to the hospital.
Here is the first page of the story:
It started small like most things. The six of us stood before a grey stone wall. The wall wasn’t that tall, but to me it felt like it could have been the outside of a fortress. Jezebel climbed up first. She was our leader. Most of these girls had followed her since they were in middle school. I had joined their group last year straight out of Korea.
Jezebel reared up at the top of the wall, arms out. She turned toward us. The little silver studs in her ears glinted with the sunlight. She smiled at us, then jumped. The ribbon of her dyed red hair flew up then disappeared behind the wall. She called from the other side, “Who’s next?” Her voice was breathless with excitement.
I grabbed the wall at the same time that Junco did. She looked at me unblinking for a second. Her blue eyes had a ring of gold around the pupil. I froze until her unnerving gaze was focused on her hands sliding into the gaps between the gray blocks. She didn’t talk a lot. When she did, she said sentences that cut me to the bone. I wasn’t sure if it was intentional or if I was translating wrong.
We went up the wall together. At the top, I didn’t look, just immediately jumped off. I wanted to beat Junco down. The moment I was in the air felt longer than it should have, but was still short. The world went up while I went down. I stumbled. Dirt dusted my cheeks. My jaw clicked. My left ankle rolled. I held back the noise of pain.
Jezebel smiled at me. “How was it?”
I forced my mouth into a smile. I wanted Jezebel to be proud of me. “Great.” But only for a second. Tomorrow it would probably hurt worse.
Jezebel called over to the next girl, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your long hair.” I didn’t understand who Rapunzel was or what hair had to do with jumping, but I smiled. Jezebel was funny. She should have smiles after her words.
Junco turned to me. She said, “You stumbled.” I flinched at the comment. Jezebel probably hadn’t stumbled. Jezebel probably landed like she was a pillow. The girl beside me probably fell like a rock, but one of the hardest rocks you’d ever find. The ground would crack before she broke.
Allison and Martha grabbed hands at the top. They laughed as they jumped. The stumbled after they hit the ground, but it was silly stumbling. They put their arms out, reeled around each other like spinning dreidels.
Yan Lin was the last one. We looked at the empty wall. Jezebel said, “You get sick and die over there?”
We saw her hands on the top then her black bobbed head rising up. “No, I’m here.” When she was at the top, she straddled the wall. She looked down at us through her blocky glasses. Her mouth opened. She sucked in air. This side was farther from the ground than the other side. She wiped sweat off her cheek. “I can’t do it.”
“Yes, you can.” Jezebel put her hands on her hips. “You’re going to do it.”
“No, I really can’t.” She wrapped her arms around her middle and grabbed fistfuls of her shirt as if that would prevent her from falling. She blinked really fast.
We expected Jezebel to make a scene. Allison and Martha stopped their silliness. Junco’s back straightened as she stared at Jezebel’s face. I was quiet, scared that I was about to see what would happen to me one day when Jezebel realized that I didn’t fit in with her little group.
But Jezebel didn’t make a scene. She just said, “That so?” Then she turned away, pulling out her phone. “Junco, help her down.” Junco went over and helped Yan Lin down. Soon after, we forgot that frozen moment. I should have known then that Jezebel would never let it go, but I was so relieved. I felt as if it had been me up on that wall, being given a pardon.
At the end of every semester, I always ask myself, “What did I learn this semester?” This question is applicable to all aspects of my life – academic, personal, social, etc. And so, as I’m wrapping up my summer research, I asked myself the same question: What did I learn this summer?
- Finding the right work space: I’ve learned to accept that there are places where I’m very productive and places where I am not. This summer, I learned that I do my best work when I switch it up. I would spend some mornings at the library, some at Starbucks and some at cafés around CMU’s campus.
- It’s okay to ask for help. When I was about three weeks into my research, I started to experience a lot of self-doubt about my work. I went to multiple sources about this issue, and was given a lot of useful pieces of advice. I learned that it’s okay to have some self-doubt, but that it’s important to keep working.
- Take breaks! I also learned that I was more productive doing research when I took the weekends off to relax, spend time with friends and family and read for pleasure. I even picked up extra work shifts at the campus bookstore, which was more helpful than I could have imagined it would be. Researching alone all day can become fairly isolating, so it was nice to go somewhere in the afternoons where I could interact with people and take a break from focusing on French language policy.
- Music helps. I’ve always listened to music when I do school work, but found it to be extremely helpful in increasing my productivity over the summer. When I find the right playlist or album, I’m really able to focus on my readings and am more motivated to use my time effectively.
I’m really looking forward to applying what I’ve learned about how I work most productively to my academic work this coming fall. I’m also curious to see what rhythm I fall into once classes start up again.
In terms of what I accomplished in relation to my research this summer, I’ve been able to create a Language Policy and Planning timeline for France and Quebec, and now have a theoretical and historical basis for better understanding language policy and nationalism in these two contexts.
Moving forward, I will be reading public debate surrounding La Loi Toubon (1994-France) and La Charte de la Langue Française (1977- Quebec), and sending an online survey to participants in France and Quebec to better gauge contemporary opinion about the French language and its relation to identity. I hope to determine how multiculturalism and globalization are effecting the somewhat homogenous nature of of French and Quebec language legislation.
Thank you for reading, and I’m really looking forward to how my research will develop over the coming academic year!
Eleven Dietrich College Honors Fellows are poised to begin their senior year with a head start on piloting psychological studies, conducting field research and laying the groundwork for film and writing projects.
Over the past three months, the fellows have examined citizenship and belonging in South Korea, the impact of La Loi Toubon on French nationalism and coming of age as a Vietnamese American, among other topics.
Recently, they presented their works-in-progress to each other and faculty members including their advisers and fellowship program directors Jennifer Keating-Miller, Brian Junker and Joseph E. Devine.
“This summer’s group was particularly impressive,” said Devine, associate dean for undergraduate studies in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “While their topics were interestingly diverse, they displayed shared qualities of high enthusiasm, confidence and preparedness that served them well this summer and will surely continue to do so over the coming academic year.”
As I was writing this blog post, it occurred to me that I’m going to start school in a couple of weeks, meaning that I have two weeks to get my research study ready for the start of the academic year. This is where I would say that’s plenty of time to get my study ready, but to be honest, I won’t actually know if it’ll be enough time until the semester starts because anything can happen in these two weeks. I feel pretty prepared for whatever can come up though, so bring it, last two weeks!
Even if I don’t manage to get piloting done before school starts, I have still accomplished a lot over these past three months. I had to squeeze researching background literature, brainstorming a procedure, crafting questionnaires, writing a proposal and drafting the introduction section of my thesis paper all in one summer. Especially since I haven’t done any of this by myself before, I’m pretty impressed at what I’ve done. I’ve received a lot of guidance and help from my mentor, but I still got to exercise a lot of agency in what I wanted for my project. So, if anything, I can definitely look back at this summer fondly as the summer that I worked my butt off for work that I really enjoy!
Anyway, other than piloting and waiting for the IRB, my schedule regarding the fellowship has calmed down. I’ll be taking my first break and go back home about a week from now (I’ll still be working, but at least it’ll be in a relaxing environment). I’m definitely going to take advantage of this mini vacation because things are going to ramp up once I get back. That said, I love running studies, so despite my busy schedule in the fall, I’m also super looking forward to seeing my summer work flourish into a real study!
“There were questions, of course. But they were casual in nature; the kind you would ask while having a drink with someone; the kind he would ask you. In short, it was conversation.”
– Studs Terkel
As I continue to prepare to conduct interviews (which will likely begin around the same time as fall semester), I’ve been working with PRYSE Academy, which stands for Pittsburgh Refugee Youth Summer Enrichment. At PRYSE, we encourage the students to tell stories through a variety of media. The story doesn’t have to be their own, however, it usually ends up being their own, and it usually begins with “I like…” The PRYSE Academy students have given me some ideas about narrative inquiry before I’ve even begun the interviews.
The students, who are in middle and high school, love talking about themselves. Last week, we had educators teach a workshop on storytelling. Rather than giving each of the students lined paper, the students were given a large piece of white construction paper. The instructions were simple: At the top of the paper, write “I am…” and fill the rest of the paper with words, pictures, or drawings of your own. They were asked to answer the question, “Who are you?” through words and pictures creatively. As expected, many of them began with their name. The educators encouraged them to use adjectives to finish the sentence as well. However, very few chose to complete the sentence, “I am…” Rather, the students completed the question, “I like…”
Using a variety of craft supplies including markers, colored pencils, crayons, scissors, glue and glitter, the students made collages covered in soccer balls, music artists and food – posters of what they liked. When they are asked to talk about themselves and who they are, the first things that come to their minds are what they like and what they are passionate about.
From the combination of words and drawings on the students’ posters, the students were asked to share a narrative that showed a little bit about who they were. This was the most difficult part for the students, but their poster boards served as an outline for their narrative. One student had drawn himself playing soccer and basketball. He had his arms crossed unsure of what was being asked of him.
He said, “I don’t have a story to tell.”
I asked, “Why do you like soccer?”
He clasped his hands together, placed them under his chin and said, “I tried out for my middle school team and got in. That’s it.”
“Tell me more about the team. Do you like playing with your team?”
“Yes! We won our first game by 20 points! That felt great.”
“But then we lost our last game of the season…”
“But that’s not important, because I had fun.”
We had a story. We spent a little more time piecing together more details for the presentation. His narrative shows his peers his favorite sport as well as a glimpse into who he is – a team player. It took a bit of time for him to find the pieces of his story to tell.
The narrative process is not an easy one that will simply come to my interviewees. They won’t be middle and high school students; however, the Bhutanese-Nepali adults will also need time to piece together their own narratives. Narratology and narrative inquiry researchers agree that the interviewee should get the opportunity to express himself about the things that matter to him. This is often called “nondirection.” The interviewer should not always try to steer the interviewee into one direction. However, the interviewer should never lose control of the interview.
Just as I let the PRYSE Academy students navigate their own stories through creative processes on the topic of identity, it may be beneficial for my interviews to prepare example narratives on the topic of economic self-sufficiency, which will give them time to think about how to begin forming their narratives around this topic. This will hopefully keep what researchers call “specificity” in play during the interviews. For me, this means listening for what the interviewees want to talk about and ask follow-up questions about specifics when appropriate. Interviewing is a skill that I am working on and hope to develop through this research. I’m learning to do this with the students where they often make it very clear to us when something does or does not matter to them.