Personal Statement, Draft #1
*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.
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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