I embarked on my CWF project with the thought to compare and contrast the differences between the “East” and “West,” in terms of their attitudes on life, love, and identity. The questions I initially thought to answer revolved around this framework: why is there such a dichotomy between these “worlds”? What to do when we are “caught in the middle” of these two influences?
After a few weeks of reading some contemporary literature, a little history, and several museum visits, I started believing that there were more similarities than differences between the two “spheres.” Drawing on my personal experiences to kick-start the reflection journey, I realized that there were quite a number of similar themes that I found throughout my inquiry. Reflecting on topics of social pressures and standards, family dynamics and expectations, I started recognizing that these challenges come in different forms in different cultures. Ultimately, however, they exist.
At the end, I suppose the overarching question I was trying to answer through my project was “what is the universality in the human experience”? In thinking about this question, I had to be careful to not overgeneralize and make broad sweeping statements. It took a bit for me to better refine the specific topic areas and questions to guide the project. Since I began my reflections primarily based on personal experience, I had to consistently ask myself which parts of these experiences were more “universal” and tease out the broader ideas that I was trying to explore. After deciding on the topic, I had to further distill the essence of what I am trying to say about those specific topics, and what is it that I want to convey through text and which parts of the nuances can I leave for the art to communicate.
What I wish was different
Ironically though, one of the few things that was a challenge from the start is the fact that I am not exactly artistically-gifted. I definitely feel that I had a vision for each art piece that I wanted to produce, but thinking of how to execute those ideas was another matter completely. From conceptualizing the art pieces without using cliched symbolism to creating variation in the art medium and the ordering of the pieces as they fit into the overall flow of the journal, it was a huge learning curve for someone who usually only deals with writing and the occasional photography.
Another thing I would change if I had the change to re-do the project is creating a realistic work plan! Due to the nature of the humanities field being, as I’ve said, “open-ended,” our exploration tends to be an evolving framework that requires us to revise and fine-tune several times over before finding a more definitive direction. As much as I tried to give myself ample time to think about the topics in my project, most of the ideas changed over the course of the weeks, which pushed back the project duration.
To be honest, this has been a project I’ve been wanting to do for some time but never got to because “school work” and career planning/preparation never permitted me the time to do so. Since my entire project is founded in personal reflection, there was no doubt that the project left a huge impact on my personal growth. I thought a lot about my identity (how I saw myself, how I think I was shaped by others around me), my relationship with my family (the dynamics within my family, the specific relationships between me and each family member, how do I reconcile the traditional family expectations with the “modern” ways of thinking/lifestyles that I have been exposed to).
Weeks of reflection and thinking critically, as well as creatively, proved to be a good opportunity and space for me to take a step back and contemplate on my life journey so far. I feel that I didn’t “have time” to slow down and internalize my experiences and growth since the start of high school because it was non-stop work, work, work. So I’m really grateful to have the chance to think about “what matters in life” not just in the abstract sense, but really in a very grounded way.
Undertaking the Gould Creative Works Fellowship made me realize that meaningful summer experiences do not necessarily have to be career-oriented; experiences that invite personal growth is just as worthwhile and fruitful.