It’s that time of the year again: Finals, followed by Commencement (goodbye, seniors, I will miss you…) and SUMMER! I have one more final project to work on, so this is a good time to jolt down some quick reflections on the semester and a few words about my summer plans.
This week is atypical of my finals’ weeks at Pomona so far since I don’t have any traditional in-class finals this week, but have done my take-home final and completed my papers/final projects for most of my classes. I’m happy to get some time this week to approach some professors to learn more about their fields and listen to some of their advice, do some light reading before I have to return all the library books, enjoy Claremont, go to some more lectures, finalize my summer itinerary and travel logistics, as well as hang out a little with my senior friends who are graduating in just a few days and my non-senior friends.
At Pomona, we get two Reading Days on the Thursday and Friday prior to finals’ week. This semester, I actually spent both Reading Days reading. Although I didn’t count how many hours I spent exactly, I would estimate it to be more than 18 hours, which probably is a fair amount of time to go through more than 20 academic sources (including six books from the consortial library). About what? Barbie and American Girl!
It was for one of my final papers, a research paper for a politics seminar called “Idea of America” with Prof. John Seery. The instructions were fairly open-ended, “You are to investigate at some length an ‘idea’ or aspect of America. The designs of your project, the scope and nature of your background research, are entirely yours to choose. You are being given a wide latitude, virtually free license, in which to choose and to explore your topic. On the other side of this sheet of paper is a quick listing of numerous possible ‘ideas’—but this list is by no means exhaustive or definitive, so feel free to make your own contribution to the ongoing (and often elusive) project of defining America or an aspect thereof. You are to arrive upon your own position and approach to the topic; indeed, one of the implicit tasks of the project will be to make the topic telling and important.”
Among the list that Prof. Seery provided, something caught my attention immediately: Barbie. A memorable part of my childhood which I haven’t thought about much for the last 10 years or so, Barbie is certainly worth some critical exploration and reflection. I decided to add the American Girl part of the project because both doll products are owned by Mattel yet take very different approaches: Barbie is a teenager vs. American Girls are girls, Barbie involves hyper-sexuality, versus American Girls are not sexualized; Barbie aims to satiate America’s obsession with beauty, while American Girl aims to teach American girls U.S. history through play.
I was fascinated by the sheer multitude of academic sources on this topic, and became quite obsessed in my own research. One of the challenging parts with “free license” is that it takes a while to find my thesis when there is such a wealth of existing scholarship. My dilemma was that without finding a thesis, I did not want to “officially” start an outline or draft, but time-wise, I do not have the luxury of months and years, as real scholars studying Barbie and American Girl do — yes, I could easily imagine someone dedicating years and years, and perhaps an entire career, looking at this aspect of American pop culture. For this reason, I set deadlines for myself so that I could stop at a reasonable time to synthesize my findings and find that thesis, despite my obsession that propelled me to keep reading on and on.
Luckily, I also have two other final projects that grant a great extent of free license and creativity this semester. For my Spanish final project for SPAN107 (“Identity Matters in Latin American Literature” with Prof. Grace Dávila), I decided to write a short play that is about a female author and her process of writing a short story, so kind of “meta” in this sense. It was my first time writing a play in Spanish, and the process was extremely fun! Definitely encountered many challenges: for instance, it feels really frustrating when you sound kind of childish in a foreign language when you are 20 years old. But I really enjoyed the process of thinking about specific word choices and playing with words and phrases that wouldn’t work in any other language. Another really rewarding and fun-filled final project that inspired me to continue doing creative writing in Spanish.
Another final project that I am still working on is for my World Theatre History class with Prof. Art Horowitz. I am writing more plays! As this is still very much a work in progress, I won’t reflect too much on this just yet 🙂
My comparative politics final took a very different form: a 24-hour take-home final. Yes, we got the prompts on Thursday night and the two essays were due the next day by midnight. For me, this definitely involved full concentration for many hours: to study for it, I went over my notes and textbook (especially the highlighted parts), and on the night that the prompts came out, I did my outline (fun fact: I hated outlines in high school, but grew to find it very helpful in college for some reason that still cannot comprehend fully) and went to bed. The next day involved a lot of thinking, finding evidence, refining my arguments and counterarguments, writing and proofreading the two papers. Physically and mentally, it was rather exhausting, but it felt great to submit it as well in the end.
In general, I am grateful for another rewarding semester at Pomona. My course load, which consisted of two politics seminars, one Spanish seminar, and one theatre seminar (yes, they are all seminars) involved a lot of reading (rough estimate = 700 pages on weekends each week), thinking, and writing. As in previous semesters, I am still very fond of attending all kinds of lectures and events on campus and participating in extracurricular activities such as Claremont Journal of Law and Public Policy and KSPC.
In addition, I enjoy grabbing one-on-one meals with friends at the various 5C dining halls. One question that is particularly popular around this time of the year, as you would expect, is “so… what are you doing this summer?“ Indeed, it’s almost surreal to think that summer is starting in five days from today for me, although in college, everyone’s “summer” starts on different dates depending on his/her final exams, papers, or project.
Well, my summer plans for 2016 take a while to explain. After flying back to Beijing from Claremont and dealing with the inevitable jet lag for a couple of days, I will be starting a policy internship in Hong Kong, researching Hong Kong’s upcoming legislative elections.
Next, I will be doing independent academic research in Spain (more jet lag involved in the roundtrip, but it’s most definitely worth it)—many thanks to Pomona College’s Iberian Grant for making the trip possible! College, I think, is one of the few times in life when we can get funded to do something that we are truly passionate about. For me, as a foodie who is curious about the relationship between regional and national cuisines and a region/country’s identity — cultural, historical, social, political — I decided to explore the evolution of food in Spain. For this project, I will be in Barcelona, San Sebastián and Cádiz for 20 days.
During the last five weeks of my summer, I will be… surprise surprise: doing more research :). I will be researching about East Asian politics, especially peace treaties, with Prof. Tom Le, who specializes in East Asia at Pomona’s politics department. The three research projects are of entirely varied nature, however, which will be very helpful for me to learn more about different topics in some depth and breadth, working with other people and stepping outside of my comfort zone.
Anyways, thanks for reading through my quick reflections (need to get back to my final project for theatre now). It’s been great “talking” with you on “Voices” for another year. Have a great summer, and see you all soon!