Personal Statement, Draft #3

Jana Haritatos

*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 and action.

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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