Personal Statement, Draft #1

Jana Haritatos

*Bold text indicates notes made by the author.

It was that first humid afternoon in Zengcheng when I began to believe in my own vision. I had arrived with four other foreigners on the tutoring program, selected to meet with elementary students in this rural village in southern China, to teach new words and encourage their English studies. In those muddy streets, forty five curious faces before mine and my Chinese floundering, allI could think was how limited my life before this had been. These children lived in a world so distant from my own, I wondered, should I try to find some American wisdom to bestow on them? While they wanted to touch my hair, I wanted to know how these students could use English taught from teachers whose English I couldn't understand, picking up new words from me and using them in conversation less than ten minutes later. All my psychology knowledge strained as I wondered what drove their minds. Did they perceive memory and learning the way I had been taught? How different were their concepts of communication, competition, friendship and conflict? I felt as if this moment was corrective lenses for my nearsightedness, and all that had been distant, hazy and blurred was now suddenly in focus. On that afternoon, I could see that if I was to continue to study psychology, I must include the study of culture.

Since that time, spending last semester at the Chinese University of Hong Kong as an international term student, my interests have both broadened, and come together. Majoring in psychology and Asian studies, I now find that these two can fit together in the rhelm of cross-cultural psychology. Until then, my interests seemed varied-International club, English as a Second Language conversation partner, mixed with a broad background in, and love for, psychology. Before going abroad, I felt scattered in my academic pursuits, devouring the knowledge, yet uncertain of the goal I was heading towards. Since returning to the United States, my vision has grown and a path lies before me. Living in Hong Kong, and having the opportunity to travel frequently to mainland China, I gained a completely different, non-western perspective on all aspects of everyday living. It was fascinating to notice that the very basics of our world are so fundamentally influenced by the culture that we are living in. I have begun to explore this connection through my current honors thesis reearch, dealing with personality and creativity among Chinese and American students. This study sprang from my time at the Chinese University, where I took a class called The Psychology of the Chinese People, from Dr. Michael Harris Bond, of the Chinese University psychology department and president-elect of the International Association of Cross Cultural Psychology. Through this expreience in Professor Bond's cross-cultural psychology class, I discovered that I am extremely interested in the cultural aspect of psychology, the ways in which certain "human universals" can often be quite culture-specific and indeed should be investigated from more than one perspective in order to gaina more comprehensive understanding.

I am alsointerested in the subtleties of intercultural differences as well as the striking contrasts. While "The West" refers to a grouping used functionally as a single entity, it is comprised of hundresd of distinct parts, each fundamentally unique in vital ways. There is a tendency in cross-cultural research to conceptualize psychology in very bipolar terms, with the division sharply between data from non-Western societies and data from America. Just as the East cannot be represented by China alone, so Western society should not be characterized solely by the United States. Indeed population and economic prominence may distinguish these countries, however cultures fall along an infinitely diverse continuum, and thus, so must the study of cross-cultural psychology. In a communications study comparing American, Hong Kong Chinese and Finnish differences in their comfort with silence (Wiemann, Giles, and Harwood, 1986), the resulting range showed Americans the most uncomfortable with silenc in conversation, Finns very comfortable, and Chinese somewhere in between. Had the study been only between representatives of the East and West, Chinese and Americans, the results would be purely diametric, that Chinese are comfortable with silence and Westerners are not. The inclusion of a wide range of societies and cultures into the study of human beings is a principle fundamental to its validity and effectiveness. I believe such a principle is absolutely crucial for modern psychology, if it is to relate to the world of the twenty-first century, and to be relevant to all people.

Something… "I have become a better cross-cultural psychologist because I live in a foreign culture." I am greatly curious about the field of cultural psychology and feel that, as Dr. Bond stated, spending some amount of time living and learning in another culture is not only helpful, but perhaps essential in gaining a better understanding about this area of study, as well as for living in our multi-cultural world in the twenty-first centur. P.S. Adler, a well-known personality theorist, believed that "the dynamics of cross-cultural experience at the personal level represents the process of positive disintegration. Such experiences can occur whenever new environments of experience and perception are encountered… the individual gains new experiential knowledge by coming to understand the roots of his or her own ethnocentrism and by gaining new perspectives and outlooks on the nature of culture." In my studies abroad, I have experiences a "positive disintegration," the loss of one's normal sense of understanding, allows for perspectives that had not been present before. It is this positive disintegration that I so ardently believe in, for my won academic pursuits, for psychology as a science and for any understanding of our world and an individual's place in it.

Future… another study like HK will add to and alter my perceptions and goals as much, and in every way as valuable. Something I definitely want.


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