Personal Statement, Draft #3
*Submitted in application for the Rhodes Scholarship.
I arrived in Zengcheng with four other foreigners selected
for the tutoring program. We were meeting with local high school students
in this rural village in southern China, to teach new words and encourage
their English studies. In those muddy streets, as forty-five curious
faces met my floundering Chinese, I wondered where all my knowledge
had gone. We had planned to teach food names, selling plastic fruit
like vendors of vocabulary, and the students would practice their spoken
English. Crowded around me, high school girls in dark navy pantsuits
took turns standing near the front, where shyness gave way to curiosity,
and eager questions inquired about the prices of bananas and oranges.
To encourage dialogue, I played a game. "This is an apple, what
else here is like an apple?" When I came to the strawberry, the
reply was quick.
Startled, I followed the gaze of my respondent to a square
of red Styrofoam, labeled in blue ink, "beef."
"No, beef's not a fruit, it's a cow."
"Right," she grinned, "cow eat strawberry."
Several small heads nodded approvingly.
Here, I faltered. I felt the disparity between the category
grouping I had assumed and the one she has made; I grouped by individual
characteristics of color and shape, while she linked objects based on
relationships. Displaced, I searched for grounding. Why did this seem
so different? My curiosity, however, was lost among theirs. While these
students wanted to touch my hair, I wanted to know how they could use
English taught by teachers whose English was almost unintelligible to
me. I wondered how they could pick up new words from me and use them
in conversation so quickly. Obviously their sense of categorization
was very different from my own. How different were their concepts of
communication, memory, competition and learning? I felt as if this moment
was a corrective lens for my nearsightedness, and all that had been
distant and blurred was now moving into focus. On that afternoon, I
could see that it woulc be impossible for me to continue to study psychology
without including culture.
Experiences like this during my semester at the Chinese
University of Hong Kong have broadened my concerns, while narrowing
my intent. At the University, I took "The Psychology of the Chinese
People" from Dr. Michael Harris Bond, president of the International
Association of Cross Cultural Psychology. I discovered how psychological
material yet untouched could prove crucial, as Western nations encourage
developing countries to contribute to the international community. Perhaps
the West is failing to fulfill its potential, by relying on only aAmerican
perspectives regarding education and development, instead of employing
more culturally relevant models. Driven by the faces of Zengcheng, along
with Professor Bond's encouragement, I began my honors thesis research,
my own investigation of cultural psychology.
A central instrument in my thesis study is the Chinese
Personality Assessment Inventory, developed by psychologists at the
Chinese University of Hong Kong in 1995. In this inventory, researchers
found six total Chinese personality factors, in comparison to the widely-accepted
American Five Factor Model. Although most of these Chinese factors directly
correspond to those in the American model, one new factor appeared,
called Chines Tradition, which includes the concepts of face (honor)
and shame. In Chinese society, deviant behavior is often subjected to
public chastisement, which causes people to be unwilling to commit themselves
when confronting elements of uncertainty. Such behavior is clearly a
barrier to creative accomplishment, which relies on uninhibited expression
as a basic tenet. Thus, the presence of a high level of this tradition
factor may suppress behavior otherwise leading to greater expressed
creativity. Given the possible link between a culture's specific behavioral
rules and the resulting creative output, I chose to investigate creativity
among Chinese and Maerican college students, accounting for the indigenous
Chinese personality factor of tradition. This research model allows
me to study the role of culture in shaping not only the individual creator,
but also the personality and cultural determinants on the creative product.
The implications for this type of research are two-fold.
It produces knowledge capable of unique contributions to the study of
universal learning and development. In addition, that knowledge suggests
action, the possibility of real impact on evolving nations. Clearly
Great Britain and Oxford University possess the global background and
immense academic resources necessary for this alliance of scholarship
and application. A international community of scholars within a historically
diverse national community, Oxford's premier psychology program is ideally
suited for cross-cultural study with impact. Wolfson College Professor
Peter Bryant is currently cunducting important developmental research,
investigating linguistic and perceptual processes of learning in children
across cultures. His work then goes on to suggest teaching and curriculum
options to best make use of this knowledge. Bryant's most recent analysis,
reatured in the chapted Learning About the Orthography: A Cross-Lunguistic
Approach (Paris 1998), discusses early reading progress, including extensive
study of Chinese children in Hong Kong. His comparison between specific
characteristics of language and the grammatical aspect of learning to
read has implications for both universal human development and the distinct
expression of that development in specific cultural environments. In
pursuing the Master of Science by Research degree in Expreimental Psychology
under professor Bryant, I fulfill the natural extension of the work
I have begun while opening another realm for diversity and knowledge
In the village of Zengcheng, the faces of potential were
as real as the smog and dirt. As with most developing nations, educational
opportunities are crucial for the People's Republic of China if its
total society is to reach the nation's fast approaching global
position. To study creativity and learning in a particualr society is
to understand the driving force behind advancement, and the most basic
root of problem solving. As I envision a world finding strength in its
diversity, I know psychology can contribuet practical knowledge towards
solving problems, thus allowing nations and cultures to help themselves
and ultimately create their own solutions.
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E-mail Dr. Bob Marrs with any questions, comments or suggestions.