Month: May 2016

May: The Ultimate Frenemy

Hoffmaier blog post 1My relationship with May (the month, not the person – whoever they are) is complicated. It always starts off ugly, with final papers and revisions and projects stacked so high that a toppling would surely be catastrophic. Each time I doubt my ability to dig myself out but each time I miraculously do. I force my way into the late spring sunshine, covered in paper cuts and a little delirious and most importantly free.

That giddy freedom lasts about two seconds before the mid-May melancholy hits. I’ve often wondered how common this stage is, because it’s mandatory for me. It falls somewhere among rushed packing and waving school friends goodbye and awkwardly reinserting myself back into my hometown. This year, the summer I decided to embark on the Dietrich Honors Fellowship, the melancholy hit me especially hard for several reasons I can pinpoint. For one, I recently had to bid farewell to a few good friends. One graduated, while another handful will be living two neighborhoods away next year — crazily, our last year — instead of two doors down the hall. I also feel like I’ve had half my time stolen by boxes and storage lockers and moving trucks.

Usually, my feelings toward May brighten up toward week three. How could they not? The weather’s beautiful; I relax into my old family dynamic and into the strange new freedom; I get psyched for this internship and that vacation and the possibilities seem limitless.

But May is ending, and I’m still floating in limbo. Since I’m based in Pittsburgh for roughly the first half of the summer, I opted not to spend 10 hours on a bus for only a weekend at home. Much as I loathe those bus rides, I can’t remember the last time I didn’t spend Memorial Day with my family. It’s weird. Plus, I’m between leases right now, so I feel like a glorified squatter, exchanging groceries and gratitude for friends’ couches and spare rooms. How I’ve survived this long without A.C. or WiFi, I have no idea. Tomorrow, I move for real into my first grown-up apartment, with utilities not included and everything. It’ll be hectic, no doubt. I expect not owning a mattress is quickly going to become an issue. But it also feels like a turning point in my summer; honestly, it feels like the start.

About two weeks have passed since I turned in my last assignment and officially began the fellowship. That time has been a blur of finishing up old projects (among them a short film and a 35,000-word novella), venturing into never-before-touched corners of the city, researching potential volunteer opportunities and sitting with dear friends in the shadiest, lushest spots of grass I can find. I’ve been taking on my thesis work in bite-size pieces, gradually picking up momentum. I read two and a half adviser-recommended novels. I bought a new journal and filled a dozen pages with brainstorming. I’ve even gone on a few online dates (all for research purposes, of course) with queer people from an amazing range of backgrounds: a half-black bisexual musician; a small town non-binary programmer; and even a recent immigrant from Iran, where homosexuality is punishable by death.

My mind is buzzing with stories worth telling. I feel like I could bang out a draft or two yesterday, but I’m restraining myself. I need to whittle down my ever-growing list of ideas, develop three-dimensional characters beyond the foundation of their intersectional identities (many of which have rarely seen the light of mainstream media) and find a compelling web of connections between them. It’s early days, but even the bare bones of these stories are crazy exciting to me.

As May bleeds into June, I am so ready to be consumed by this project. I’ve just got to circumvent the summer haze, exacerbated by the terrifying fact that I’m setting my own schedule here. I’ve done a lot of living these past couple weeks, but for the life of me I couldn’t tell you what happened last Tuesday. I know it’s going to be a challenge, but hey, if I wasn’t up for a challenge, I would never have signed on for this summer. So let me at it.

For the Thoughts:

Hoffmaier blog post 2

Why are the rocks imprisoned? Have they misbehaved?

For the Smiles:

Hoffmaier blog post 1


Adapting to Change

Devine 1

I’m a girl who likes routine. So the prospect of starting my own research for the summer was exciting but also daunting. Over the past summers, I’ve always been given a plan or some sort of instruction for my jobs; now it’s up to me, with the help of my adviser, to instruct myself.

After speaking with my adviser, we were able to choose three topics to research over the next coming months. I will start with exploring the relationship between language policy and nationalism to contextualize two case studies I plan to research.

I originally planned on using one case study (the French Toubon Law of 1994) to further explore the relationship between language policy and nationalism. La Loi Toubon was passed to regulate the usage of French in public spaces and commercial areas (such as on the radio, on television, etc.). This was largely in response to the increasing usage of English in French society, and was consequently installed to protect French national unity and centralize French power.

After speaking with my adviser, we decided to analyze and research another piece of legislation to further analyze the relationship between language policy and nationalism in a different context. In the 1970s in Quebec, the Charter of the French Language declared French to be the official language of Quebec (a province in Canada). I hope to study the history of French involvement in Quebec, and how French speakers in Quebec use their language as a way to create a unique national identity.

I am really eager to continue my research, and am looking forward to adapting to this change of pace for the upcoming summer.

Part 1: Background Research for Daaaaaays

So for the past week that I’ve been back on campus, I’ve been trying to eat everything Au Bon Pain has to offer… and starting to work on my fellowship of course.

Wu - Au Bon Pain.jpeg

(Not sponsored by Au Bon Pain)

First thing to do on the summer fellowship checklist: more background research. I did search for some preliminary background literature when writing up my application, but now that I don’t have a hard deadline, I can take more time to go into all of the background research out there.

There are three topics I have been looking up for my project (in the context of romantic relationships): authenticity, willingness to sacrifice and affectionate touch. While my research project focuses on all three topics together, I have to see what researchers have contributed in each of these topics separately. Looking up past literature basically involves me reading a ton of articles and taking notes on their main points. This is as tedious as it sounds (especially when you get a 75-page PDF, while the average article length is 10 pages), but hey, I certainly learn a lot.

“Authenticity” generally means the degree to which you express your true self in what you do. Researchers have found that the more authentic you are, the more satisfied you are in your relationships because you are more open to others about who you are and are not afraid of hiding anything. On the other hand, people low in authenticity, who would rather hide their true selves from others and/or may not acknowledge who they truly are, are often dissatisfied in their relationships. This is because they feel stressed and conflicted that they are not showing others who they really are and are scared about others finding out about their true selves. That being said, forcing yourself to be authentic isn’t good either because even the manner in which you’re authentic has to be authentic, not just because someone told you so or you should feel like you should be authentic. I could go on about authenticity for days, but only so much can be said in one blog post.

Willingness to sacrifice is how willing you are to forego your own self-interests for your someone else’s interest. People do this all the time: from something as small as going to a restaurant your partner likes that you may not like to something as substantial as moving across the country for your partner’s job. (The term sacrifice makes it seem like a much bigger deal than what it can be, so on questionnaires, most researchers just say how willing you are to make a “change.”) While the more willing you are to sacrifice, the more satisfied you are in your relationship, the same is true in the other direction: higher satisfaction in your relationship can lead to being more willing to sacrifice for your partner. Willingness to sacrifice also contributes to a higher level of commitment, which also feeds back into relationship satisfaction. People can differ in why one is willing to sacrifice. You could sacrifice because you really want the best for your partner, or you only make sacrifices because that’s what people in relationships are supposed to do. This has to do with authenticity because authentically making a sacrifice can either be super good or super bad for the relationship. If you don’t really want to make a sacrifice but you do anyway, it can lead to inauthenticity. Hopefully I’ll be able to learn more about the relationship between authenticity and willingness to sacrifice in my research project.

Affectionate touch is exactly what it sounds like: touching others in a way that show you love and care for them. Touch has been shown to be not only great for relationships but also great for your health. Touch can reduce stress psychologically and physiologically, establish intimacy, increase trust, improve security, promote interdependence and closeness, etc. The Relationships Lab I work in has been doing work with affectionate touch for the past few years, and we’ve found that just imagining touch is good enough to reduce stress, promote security and encourage exploration (trying new things). In relation to authenticity and willingness to sacrifice, because touch can increase closeness, this may increase people’s awareness of their partner’s needs and increase motivation to attend to those needs. Being more attentive to partner’s needs can lead to a higher level of willingness to sacrifice and also to more authenticity because the person feels genuine about sacrificing for their partner. Again, hopefully I can see the specifics of this process in my thesis project.

So now that I have researched what have been done in the past (and will continue–researching past literature never ends), I now have to see how I can use this past information to guide me with the current research. As a sort of preview, the next thing I have to do is gather and create materials for my actual study!

On a completely different note, I found a cool article on attachment styles and pets, which has nothing to do with authenticity, sacrifice or touch, but it somehow popped up in my search results. This article is particularly interesting because you normally only hear about attachment styles with respect to other people, so it’s interesting how this concept applies to people’s relationships with their pets. Also, I have always wanted pets and never got to have any (my ideal pets are a Pembroke Welsh corgi and a Russian blue cat, but I will take care of anything), so any mention of a pet will get my immediate attention. Anyway, if just studying people gets boring, I know that I can study pets and people instead.

And that’s all, folks

It feels a little strange to say, but my thesis — a comparison of the political and militant arms of Hezbollah and the Provisional Irish Republican Army — is pretty much done.

Oh, there are a few edits left. My footnotes are still in disarray, so those need neatening up, and I’m sure there are typos that still need to be rooted out. But by Friday, those last little issues will be gone, and I’ll have my adviser, Dr. Clarke, sign the final copy, and I’ll drop it off at the Dean’s office. And I’ll be done.

This thesis has been a huge part of my academic experience as an upperclassman at Carnegie Mellon. In the fall of my junior year, I took my first class with Dr. Clarke, where I first began to develop my interest in militant groups. By the spring, I was almost 4,000 miles away in Granada, Spain and trying to plan a substantial self-guided research paper and pick which militant groups I wanted to focus on. That summer — my last summer as an undergrad, really — was spent with my nose in a pile of books and articles as I tried to absorb as much as I could about Hezbollah and the Provisional Irish Republican Army as quickly as I could. I ended the summer with a 20-page rough draft I was pretty proud of. I was about to launch into my fall semester, which I would be spending in Washington, D.C. working at a foreign policy think tank. I thought I’d finish the draft while I was there, and enter my spring semester of senior year with only edits left to do.

Boy, was I wrong about that last part! Over the fall semester, I got virtually nothing of substance done on my thesis.

My D.C. semester was wonderfully challenging. I loved the think tank where I worked, I made some really good friends and I learned a lot. And I could say that all the goings-on of Washington prevented me from working on my thesis, and there would be some truth in that. It was a jam-packed semester. But the real reason I got nothing of consequence done was that I kind of hated my thesis for a while there.

I’m told this is a natural part of the production of any academic work. Maybe it’s like having a kid? For the first part of the baby’s life, you and the kid are thick as thieves. But then the kid hits adolescence and suddenly everything is more difficult because the little bugger just will not stop rolling her eyes at you. Okay, maybe that’s not the smoothest metaphor, but I honestly struggled to feel connected to and invested in my work that semester. I thought my thesis was no good, but since I didn’t really have the time to fix it, that didn’t galvanize me to make it better; it just made me really anxious about having a piece that wasn’t much good be the crowning achievement of my college career.

So I spent my fall semester ignoring my thesis. And then I got back to campus in the spring and continued to ignore it. Because I was sure that my aversion to rereading it and working on it must have been based in some true lack of quality, some egregious hole in my argument that I had registered subconsciously but hadn’t seen yet. But eventually I got to the point where it was due to Dr. Clarke in a week with major edits, and I hadn’t cracked the file open in months.

I printed off a fresh copy, braced myself and sat down with a cup of coffee and a red pen. And there were problems, definite problems – I didn’t really define my research question or thesis statement as clearly as I should have, my Hezbollah section was longer than the PIRA section by a full four pages and I didn’t have a real conclusion as yet. But none of those problems were insurmountable. And so I began to fix them, in that draft and then in the next. And now I’m basically done.

I don’t know if my long dormant months were a necessary part of the creative process, like a caterpillar forming a chrysalis and then popping out a butterfly, or something. It certainly didn’t feel that way to me. It mostly felt like frustration, topped with a liberal dusting of self-doubt. But when I managed to get over myself and settle down to work, I managed to produce a paper that I’m proud of.

The two most important things I learned from this thesis are these: that any creative process, whether it’s for the academic or professional world, will have its fits and starts, and, when in doubt, it’s best to just grit your teeth and get it done. Hopefully, I’ll remember that the next time I feel overwhelmed by a project.

Working on this thesis has been an exciting challenge for me this past year. I’m so grateful for the support that I received from the Dietrich Honors Fellowship staff, especially Dr. Jennifer Keating-Miller, as well as my advisor, Dr. Clarke. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m excited to present my work at Meeting of the Minds on May 4th.

Gendered Migration of Chosonjok Women

DianaYuh_201x201I came to the United States at the age of 11, when I was given up for transnational adoption by my family in South Korea.

I met my adoptive parents for the first time when I landed in Chicago O’Hare International Airport. The middle-aged couple, who were first-generation immigrants from South Korea, lived in a small town in Indiana. They welcomed me into their home, and the adoption process was finalized within one month of my arrival. My name was officially removed from my biological family registry, and the strangers that I had met at the airport became my legal parents. Everything had happened so quickly — and before I even had a chance to process what had happened, it all fell apart.

My adoptive parents, who had never had any children of their own, thought of the adoption as a business transaction. They expected to be monetarily compensated for the adoption, and demanded a large sum of money from my biological family. When they realized that my biological family was unable to pay, they kicked me out of their home. After being in the United States for only three months, I was abandoned by my adoptive parents, and left without a home, family or legal status.

I spent the next three years as an undocumented immigrant in the United States. These three years were definitely one of the most challenging periods in my life. At first, I had nowhere to go, and no one to ask for help. I was unable to attend school due to my undocumented status, and I thought I would never be able to go to college. Eventually, I was fortunate enough to meet a new family who took me in under their roof. They gave me a place to stay, and genuinely cared for me and supported me. With their help, I was able to fight a long and difficult legal battle against my adoptive parents, and finally gain lawful permanent residency.

Sometimes I wonder what life would have been like if I had not come to the United States, but I find it impossible to imagine myself in an alternate narrative. My background as a transnational adoptee and an undocumented immigrant is a fundamental part of my personal identity. My interest in studying the migration narratives of others stems directly from my desire to understand my own experiences as an immigrant. Exploring the topics of migration, citizenship, and belonging provides a way for me to process and come to terms with my own struggles in search of belonging and national identity.

Learn more about my project.

Affectionate Touch, Sacrifices and Relationships

DelanceyWu_201x201If you play the saxophone, you have to play jazz at some point, and I’ve been playing the tenor saxophone for 11 years. I like playing jazz because I get to improvise, or play a solo that hasn’t been prepared or written beforehand. The gist of improv is that you can make up whatever you want as long as you play in the right musical key and for your allotted amount of time. Despite this freedom, learning how to improvise was really hard for me at first. When I started to learn, the background music would go by way too quickly, and I would concentrate so hard on playing the correct notes that my solo time would end before I could figure out what to play.

This is the importance of having a good teacher. I would have been absolutely lost if it hadn’t been for my saxophone teacher from middle and high school. She taught me first to just play the chord notes of the current key, so when I had to be in the key of C, I would play the notes C, E, and G. Start with quarter notes, build up to eighth notes and then start adding other notes in the key in between the chord notes. To know when to change keys and chords, just listen to the other instruments for when they change. I wish I could say that was all the help I needed, but learning how to improv well was a long process. Even with the chord notes and the other instruments guiding me, I still struggled with inventing a satisfying melody within the time that was given to me.

The last piece of advice my teacher gave me was that even if I didn’t like what I was playing, I should just keep going. At the time, I didn’t take this advice well. How could I continue if I was playing so poorly? As I practiced more though, it became easier to get over the mistakes, to improve and to create interesting melodies.

Eventually, improvising became less of a chore and more of a fun challenge. It was an exciting, spontaneous way to create art, something so different than the prepared work I had to do for school, where you knew what you were submitting. Not knowing what the final product of improvising is scary, but that’s also the whole point: to create something on the spot, yet still have it sound effortless and full of life.

The process of learning how to improvise provided some insight for how I can generally improve in what I do. Just have a good foundation in the basics, get the help you need from others and build up from there. Even if what you’re making is not perfect or what you like, keep on moving until you’re satisfied with your creation.

Learn more about my project.

Collected Fiction

NaomiSternstein_201x201I’ve had to introduce myself many times over the past few years. Whether one-on-one in a meeting across a wooden table, or sitting barefoot on the floor in a circle, or before a presentation to faces in a lecture room, it often goes the same way: name, major, where you’re from and then the usual icebreaker that makes you nervous as you wait your turn, mulling over the most clever way to relay your favorite ice cream flavor. (It’s anything with rainbow sprinkles, by the way.)

So, let me introduce myself: My name is Naomi Sternstein and I am a double major in creative writing and chemical engineering from Great Neck, New York. I have two sisters, one older and one younger, and I easily call them my best friends. My sisters, my mother, my grandmother and I each wear a necklace with a charm in the shape of a slice of triple-layered frosted cake dangling from the chain. This is partly for good luck, partly so we can think of one another going about her day wearing the very same necklace and partly so we can always have a slice of cake on our necks.

When I am asked what I study at school, I switch the order of my answer around depending on my mood or the day I’m having – creative writing, chemical engineering; engineering and writing. It’s a mouthful, but it typically generates the same response. Sometimes people are almost concerned, and jokingly create a plan for my future involving ways I can combine the two, usually adulterating each major along the way. I smile, but remind myself that they already fit together in the ways I see and do. I have always been at once a writer and an engineer, both strains of creating, mixed with all of my other passions.

From before I could remember and until well into high school, one of my parents would read to me before I went to bed. I’ve always loved the way select words would fit together to form each sentence, similar to the way one molecule can react with another molecule to create something new. I would create my own sentences and miniature stories in my head. The summer after 10th grade, at the encouragement of my chemistry teacher, I participated in a program to introduce girls to engineering. In small groups, we designed, wired and built a toy and learning tool for a special needs child whom we met; that summer, I decided I was going to be an engineer.

I’ve always felt a part of many different worlds, comfortable placing myself someplace new and foreign and making it another home. I grew up learning two languages, English and Hebrew. I sang songs in both languages, listened to stories in both languages and loved two countries. Later my love for languages grew out and up like vines, grabbing at Italian and then Korean. I found that with each new dialogue I could understand a different culture, a different way of seeing the world. My dad would count the languages that we spoke on his hands: English, Hebrew, Italian, ballet, tap, math, piano, engineering. In my life now, it has been the same. I have become a part of many special communities, from creative writing to engineering, many of them with overlapping parts that have created new wholes.

These are all languages have made my world a little bigger, and brought people a littler closer to me. They’ve let me see friends to joke around with in a room saturated with Midwestern men at a chemical plant in Kansas. They’ve let me hear and tell stories that might have otherwise been buried away, left without translations. When I introduce myself to you, these words that may seem like simple nouns and adjectives begin to piece together the larger story of who I am.

Learn more about my project.

Coming of Age as a Vietnamese American

karen-nguyen_201x201I am from Carol Stream, Illinois — a town actually named after the founder’s daughter, Carol Stream. After Carol fell into a coma due to a severe car accident, her father thought she would never wake up and decided to name the town after her. Miraculously, she did wake up, but found it weird that a town was named after her, so she moved to Phoenix, Arizona. I tell you this not just because I think it’s funny that even the namesake of the town refuses to live in said town, but also because I think it embodies the humble and strange spirit of the place where I grew up.

My town is small, but diverse, with people of many cultures speaking a variety of languages. I grew up speaking Vietnamese at home. I even attended school on Saturdays to learn how to read and write in Vietnamese. It was nightmarish at the time, but now, I’m beyond grateful I did it, since it’s become such a huge part of myself.

I’ve never felt trapped by my small Midwestern town, though my experiences may sound a bit lackluster to many. A big night on the town was eating a soft-serve ice cream cone while sitting on the curb of a Dairy Queen parking lot. It was either that or loitering around the local shopping mall. I often chose ice cream. But still, even to this day, whenever I pass by a Dairy Queen, I can’t help but feel a jolt of nostalgia. Memories of summers without responsibilities come surging back. Tiny adventures are the best, and though slice of life stories may seem boring to others, I find them absolutely beautiful.

Learn more about my project.

Using Self-Affirmation to Increase Willingness to Give Social Support in Males

SophiaMakal_201x201I am a member of a family of five. Do you have any idea how expensive plane tickets are for five people? Too expensive. Because of this, my family drives everywhere. For example, we often drive to visit our family in Texas — the car ride times in at around 22 hours (thanks, in part, to many bathroom breaks and almost always some directional mishaps)!

Though now I have access to just about anything I could ever want through my cell phone, when I was a kid, there weren’t many entertainment opportunities on these long trips. In order to avoid fighting with my siblings, I often ended up keeping to myself and would spend hours reflecting on my life, my feelings, the world around me and so much more. Childhood me would have agreed with those of you who think this sounds more boring than watching paint dry. However, I now recognize that it exposed me to one of my biggest passions in life: trying to understand myself, and, as I grew older, other people.

One might wonder why I didn’t spend these car rides doing some stationary activity, like reading. Well, to be frank, I do not like to read — with one exception. Kurt Vonnegut, author of the famous novel “Slaughterhouse Five,” has an arsenal of novels that I am admittedly addicted to. Though his never-ending satire and wit definitely give him points in my book, I can pinpoint the passage that made Vonnegut the exception to my “no reading rule.” In his incredibly underrated novel “Cat’s Cradle,” Vonnegut delivers a poem that struck a chord with me regarding my passion for understanding:

“Tiger got to hunt,
bird got to fly;
Man got to sit and wonder, ‘Why, why, why?’
Tiger got to sleep,
bird got to land;
Man got to tell himself he understand.”

Six stanzas is all it took Vonnegut to explain what it has taken me 20 years to figure out — all we can do, as people, is try to understand the world around us. Some people want to understand science, some people want to understand math. Others, whom I am eternally indebted to, want to understand how to put different foods together to make them taste good. Personally, I want to understand other people.

I jump at any chance I get to further my understanding of what goes on in the minds of those around me, whether in the classroom or through firsthand experience. In my time at Carnegie Mellon, I have had many opportunities to do just this, and I am absolutely delighted by the prospect of conducting my own research on a topic that I have been passionate about since my days as a young child just trying to pass some time in the car.

Learn more about my project.

Physical and Psychological Causal Inference in Adults

You Bin Maeng_201x201I am originally from Korea and came to the United States alone to study at the age of 10. I started my school life at a boarding school in a small town in California and moved onto high school in a different, yet still small, town in California. After high school, I did not choose to attend college; I took a gap year, a story I would like to share.

After graduation, I decided to take a year off to explore my career options as an aspiring psychologist. I started my year of work at the Seoul Mental Health Center and the Community Center for Elders to get a sense of those living with different life conditions. Helping people fight mental disorders or aiding seniors who had built the world I live in entered me into a world of experiences different from mine. People suffering from illnesses shared that they just sought extra care and love, and reassurance that they were an important part of this world. Likewise, the elders wanted nothing more than to be remembered and appreciated, and feared becoming “unimportant” in society.

When I was making the decision to take a gap year, many people insisted that I thoroughly think over my decision. They were worried that it the gap in my academics would be hard to recover from. And it worried me a bit, too. Yet I embarked on this unconventional journey because I was certain it would let me look beyond the books. Indeed, my year volunteering led me to attain a unique perspective on psychology. While others learn about gerontology through books, I am able to personally reflect on the grandfather who told me stories about his past. If encountered the word “schizophrenia,” I could refer back to the woman who had trouble differentiating the world she was in and the “real” world, but who had gradually recovered with consistent care and support.

All of my high school years and even before, I spent my life dug into books. I wanted to know how it would feel to just enter into the world. My gap year was a truly worthwhile experience, and I gained priceless knowledge. To utilize the extensive set of resources and tools to professionally and more profoundly help those in need, I felt like it was time for me to put my head back into the books, so I enrolled in Carnegie Mellon University the following year.

At Carnegie Mellon, I have gained valuable research experience working as a research assistant in the Infant Cognition Laboratory. I am very grateful to have been given this opportunity to carry on my research interests, which will bring an innovative insight on psychological causal reasoning of adults.

Learn more about my project.