So, this is the statement I used for my Brown PhD application. It was enough to get me into their unfunded MA, not the funded PhD program. #sigh.
How did you feel the first time you saw the Declaration of Independence in person? I almost cried, and I should have mentioned I am not even American.
I was brought up in a grass roots family in Hong Kong. My father never finished grade school and my mother never finished junior high. Growing up, I have not always been the straight-A student that I later became because I did not know I could be better. I was stamped an average student, and I almost believed I was to be average for the rest of my life, until my parents spent every dime in their retirement fund to give me a chance to see the world.
I cherished the opportunity to start with a clean slate in the United States. I was a late bloomer and was already 18 by the time I arrived. I knew I had to go deeper and work harder to make the best of the experience. I picked a college with a minimal Hong Kong student population to explore what the real America is like. At The University of Iowa, I realized it is okay to want to make a difference in the world instead of becoming the next investment banker. I learned it was okay to challenge your teachers with all due respect. I made friends with locals, anchored for the school radio station, and was voted the school’s chapter president of the Society of Professional Journalists. I took classes like public speaking and American foreign policy that hardly appealed to any traditional Asian student. I went to weekly speech therapy given by a speech pathology grad student to overcome my language barrier. I was loved by my professors despite our occasional ideological differences. I was living the American dream even though I came from the least American background.
At first, I was only interested in journalism, but I came to appreciate the American culture and its rich history during my 3.5-year stay and added political science as my second major. Sometimes what was taught in class could not satisfy my curiosity, so I often looked up trivia unheard of even to many Americans, e.g. Woodrow Wilson was the only president with a Ph.D..
A teacher of mine once called me a “vacuum of knowledge”, and I took it as a compliment. I took classes every summer because I wanted to learn as much as possible. The summer of 2006 was the best time of my life. I took part in The Fund for American Studies’ Institute on Political Journalism in Washington D.C., where I went to Georgetown University at night and interned at the Voice of America in the day. In addition to enjoying meeting with students, politicians and diplomats from around the world, I attended think-tanks talks in my leisure time and found my second-home at the Smithsonian. My heart skipped when the Declaration of Independence was only a sheet of bulletproof glass away from me at the National Archives Building’s rotunda. While I was admiring the wisdom and vision of the Founding Fathers, I asked myself how come my country, despite its 4000 years of history and its collectivist culture, was still haunted by greed and the hunger of powerful individuals.
I left the U.S. and returned to Hong Kong after graduating with my B.A. in 2007 because as much as I loved America, I still loved my home. I first worked as a journalist, then an English tutor and wrote several books and columns on English learning. I enjoyed reporting. As an efficient person, meeting daily deadlines was exciting and gave me a daily sense of accomplishment. I learned to keep my emotions in check and to be an objective bystander, which I believe will benefit my future research.
Teaching high school students was a rewarding experience that took me by surprise. At the beginning, I only saw it as a job with stable hours. I slowly came to love sharing what I know and encouraging others. Many teachers are good at telling students to do what they say, but I tell them to do what I do. I always reminded myself to set a good example because youngsters looked up to me. It motivated me to graduate with the second highest GPA in my M.A. class of 150. Last semester, a student of mine was asked to write about a person she admired for her exam (not graded by me), and she wrote about how Nick Lau, the alias I used for fun, was her role model.
I have always had this urge to pursue a doctorate simply because I love knowledge and want to find ways to better the world. I took up a public relations managerial role and switched to teaching part- time upon my M.A. graduation. I am good at it, but the more I immerse myself in PR, the more I realize education, on both the giving and receiving ends, is truly my calling. I was lucky to have met inspiring professors in college and in grad school, and I want to inspire others on a higher level just like they did with me. As long as I help to educate people who will make positive contributions to the world, I can feel I played a small role in their service to community.
Given my interest in the United States, it is natural that American Studies is my ideal area to pursue. This fascinating country has such a short history but managed to impact the world so much. People in the East joke about how “American imperialists” are ruining the world. I see it as a natural course of evolution. American culture finds its acceptance overseas because of the merits embedded in it. To me, it is freedom, creativity, and non-conformity. Apple Inc., a perfect ambassador in my opinion, sums it up in its 1997 “Crazy Ones” ad, “The ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” I want to find out what channeled the spread of Americanism to the East in the later part of the 20th/early 21st century and what role technology and pop culture played in it.
Apart from its impeccable reputation, Brown University’s American Studies Ph.D. program draws me in because of its interdisciplinary nature. I believe academic disciplines are interrelated, which is why I chose to double major when I was an undergrad in the first place. Having the competency in English, history and media studies will make me a better American Studies researcher because each culture is a combination and reflection on those elements. I am delighted to find that many of the faculty members have studied Asian Americans. On one hand, they can give me valuable guidance in my research on the cultural exchange between America and the East. On the other hand, I hope my language proficiency and life experience in Asia can assist them with their researches. As a rather techno-savvy generation Y-er, I’d also like to work with Professor Steven Lubar for he has done work on digital humanities and has close ties with the Smithsonian Institute.
I may not possess the most extensive research experience because both my bachelor’s and master’s were professionally-oriented, but it does not make me any less competent as a Ph.D student because I like to get to the bottom of things, and I am always curious about the world. I am currently writing a novel set against the backdrop of Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase. I have researched about the period to make my story believable even though chances for publication are small.
It is my hope that I can one day become one of the crazy ones to change the world by researching the influence of American culture on the people of Greater-China and teaching a new generation of crazy ones.