GCD Personal Goal – Reducing stigma around mental illness through art

My MYP Personal Project revolved mental illness, a term often broadly used and with a negative connotation. As a society, we have been influenced to think negatively of mental illness, using derogatory words and phrases like “retarded” or “crazy”, looking down and ostracizing those with disabilities, and labeling people as “abnormal” or simply “different”.

Yet the reality is that we are all affected by mental illness. Therefore, the only thing keeping us from reaching out and empathizing with those individuals is our ignorance. If by acknowledging this problem and informing people of the accurate facts, surely there can be a start in tearing down the barrier of stigma and discrimination.

Goal:

I henceforth set my goal to address the stigma and prejudice against mental illness by making an art series of drawings and paintings that challenge misconceptions and showcase the reality of individuals with mental illness. This challenged myself both as an artist to respectfully and clearly portray mental illnesses, and as a researcher and learner to fully understand the topic at hand. The goal was clearly an enormous achievement, so I intended to change perception of mental illness within my school community, where I have found to lack discussion about mental health between students, teachers, and parents.

Planning:

To plan for achieving my goal, I created an action plan to help manage my time and resources. I added the official dates and deadlines, such as the final exhibition, mentor meetings, and report deadline, to set the context of how I would have to schedule my time to complete my work. I then added personal deadlines and steps, such as the when I would finish the research or each step for the making of the product.

Action:

Over the course of several months, I completed research on mental illnesses, analyzed artworks I could emulate, and created my own paintings and drawings.

I sought inspiration from existing artworks based around mental illness. I analyzed artworks by breaking down the visual and conceptual components that made them successful, then piecing them to their purpose and intention. I took notes on the intentions, artistic styles, and main subject matters of artists like Shawn Coss. This information helped me better understand how mental illness can be portrayed visually and was used as a reference on how I could manipulate art to convey certain messages.

Afterwards, I thought creatively to generate new, original ideas for each of my artworks. For my ‘schizophrenia’ piece, I experimented with different color schemes and images, and also considered the use of media for different elements, such as the usage of oil paint for bright, loud colors.

After completing my paintings and drawings, I exhibited my work at the MYP Personal Project Exhibition, displaying my work across a large board and table alongside explanations of my work. I talked to curious elementary students, parents, teachers, and classmates. I was able to spark conversations with them as I explained my work and my goal, inviting them to explore their own experiences or knowledge around mental health.

Reflection:

The personal project provided me with opportunities to grow as a learner and also deepen my comprehension of the world. By choosing a topic with such significance today, I now better understand the perspectives of those who feel stigmatized. Having acknowledged that this issue requires tremendous understanding and willingness to do so, I am now more open-minded and principled. I have broadened my view of those who are discriminated against and am compelled  to advocate for them and their rights to equality. The project opened my eyes to the ways we interact with the people around us who we deem “different”, and will push me to interact with others with sensitivity and awareness.

The personal project, though long and demanding, has been an invaluable experience. It has allowed me to develop as a learner, as a researcher, and as an individual. I hope to use the skills (self-management, thinking, research, communication, and social) and strategies I have developed over the course of this project to help my future learning. Not only have I been able to explore a personal interest, but I have also been able to share my knowledge with my school community, allowing for a potential shift in thinking around mental illness, which will hopefully bring change in the acknowledgement of mental health in everyday life. Even by simply having discussions about these types of issues, we can hope to tackle these problems of inequality within our communities.

GCD Community Engagement – From the court to the table

The final seconds of the basketball game against our rival school tick down. The buzzer sounds, and we win the game. The crowd erupts into deafening cheers as the rest of the team runs on-court in celebration. I am not one of the athletes, instead I am the scorekeeper.

During my school years and to this day, I have consistently contributed to the athletic organization/leadership group at my school, dubbed the “Dragon (Athletic) Council”. As one of the first members when it was established when I was a 7th grader, I learnt to score for a number of sports, like volleyball, basketball, and soccer. Now, as I continue to do so in high school and am trusted to oversee games alone, I realize the responsibility I had to make sure games ran smoothly, whether it is in informing our activities director if the refs are late/missing, respectfully and calmly talk to coaches that may argue against our scorekeeping (e.g. claiming we made a mistake), or cleaning up water spills to avoid accidents and injuries on the court. As the club itself grew both in number and in prominence around the school, I also began working in more complex events, like organizing and hosting tournaments. Though these athletic events seem to always go on without a hitch, I realize now that it is largely attributed to us student-volunteers that they are able to do so.

Scoring for a basketball game on Saturday

Though there is nothing like the exhilaration of playing on the court, the gratification of my role as the invisible manager comes to a close second. My “behind the score-table” role may be unnoticed, but is both essential and what makes these events run seamlessly, from advertising home games, organizing inter-school tournaments, to designing spirit jerseys. I seek neither the applause of the audience nor the gratitude of coaches, instead, I strive to create positive memories for my community, so when he or she is wearing the tournament shirt I designed years later, they will smile remembering the day that I carefully orchestrated.

Being an athlete myself has helped me grow my leadership skills and build connections with other athletes within and outside of my school. Therefore, it is important for me to pay it forward by being an organizer who builds that supportive environment so other student-athletes will thrive. In cultivating school spirit, I hope every student who steps onto the court or field can experience a sense of pride and belonging through the cheer of a crowd that I have rallied to the sidelines. In this strong, collective community of athletes, spectators, and scorekeepers, I strive to foster a community in which we come together as one heart and one school.

GCD Intercultural Communication – Double Life

Nope, I’m not a spy. It’s not that kind of “double life”. Rather, it’s a double life of different cultures and languages. Although I was born in Taiwan, I moved to Japan in first grade and have lived there since for roughly 12 years. I fly back to Taiwan every summer and winter, visiting paternal grandparents in the Hsinchu, maternal grandparents in Yilan, old friends in Taipei. These visits range from 3-days to month-long, but afterwards my mother always claims that my Mandarin speaking abilities become “so much better”. (Taiwan’s official and main language is Mandarin, not Taiwanese or “Hokkien”.)

Often, I wonder if she means my Taiwanese accent or the words I am able to generate quicker than usual. Or perhaps, because of my time speaking English prominently in an international school, she’s implying that I had begun to lose my fluency in Mandarin? Just the same, my Japanese skills have notably changed over time, and learning the language itself has taught me to embrace the similar yet different Japanese and Taiwanese cultures through language.

Despite living in Japan for several years, I maintain mostly a conversational level of Japanese rather than complete fluency, partly as I now take up Spanish classes rather than Japanese classes in school. Nevertheless, because I am constantly surrounded by Japanese friends, classmates, and neighbors, I am still exposed to lots of spoken Japanese. Consequently, I try to build my Japanese language skills, even through simple things like asking for translations of phrases or words I don’t recognize when my friends use them, or trying to hold conversations in Japanese with neighbors. Gradually, that has lead me to acknowledge the importance of communication as a method of building stronger connections to the people around me.

From there I formed the realization that the Japanese language itself reflects Japanese culture, social norms, and people, which has helped me to better understand the how to communicate respectfully and appropriately to others. In Japanese, by learning to recognize the many different forms of politeness in the language that corresponds to the societal, high regard for respect, I also learned to change the way I talk to strangers, friends, and superiors. In Taiwanese, where the culture is more relaxed and candid, I shift into expressing myself more emotionally and freely.

As I embrace both Mandarin and Japanese as my mother tongue and acquired language respectively, I also start to recognize specific aspects of each that make them unique. I have grown to appreciate both the Japanese and Taiwanese cultures as they are, and overall developed a self-initiated willingness to truly understand and respect different cultures, especially through language. Certainly, my experience of living in Japan has not made me a native speaker nor “like” a Japanese person, and nor do I believe I can assume that role. Rather, I am a person that has embraced the language and culture here, and continues to pursue further understanding and communication through language acquisition and appreciation.

GCD Global Understanding – Phuket Trip Working with Burmese Children

For our 9th grade school expeditions trip (a week-long, away-from-home trip with the grade), I chose to travel to Phuket, Thailand. Our activities there consisted of interacting with the natural world, the sea, through snorkeling, and volunteering with the children of a nearby Burmese migrant community.

From some prior research in Individuals and Societies class, I had learnt that Thailand has millions of Burmese migrant workers who travel there in order to find work, usually manual labor, outside of Myanmar’s struggling economy and unstable political conditions. Because many workers include families who must bring their children with them, their children also live in Thailand. However, they are confined to the local Burmese migrant communities while their parents work. With run-down facilities unable to fully support them in ways like adequate space for health or educational materials and teachers, the children do not receive many opportunities. Phuket is one such common tourist island with a high number of migrant workers and therefore Burmese children who are often ignored or overlooked by those who visit.

Fun activities with the Burmese children

As I visited the Burmese migrant workers’ community, there was immediate recognition of my privilege. A relatively short van ride from our residence at the British International School Phuket removed us from the familiarity of air-conditioned room, beds, TVs, and more, to the open-air facilities where the children were taught with the limited supplies they received. It was in this realization that I fully acknowledged the privileges I have always had and never needed to consider in contrast to the underprivileged children who deserve as much as I do, but were born under different economic circumstances. Volunteering in such a short period with these children, I could only hope that I could bring some joy into their lives through increased interaction with people and communities outside of their migrant camps.

At the same time, I am forced to consider the ethical consequences of our visit to these children. Our trip was result of a strengthened bond between my school and the British International School Phuket made over time, largely thanks to the trip coordinator, Mr. S. However he has since retired, and I noticed that the Phuket trip has since been cancelled. Although I cannot deny the learning I gained from the trip, I cannot hold my own learning over the impact on the Burmese children. Children in particular are susceptible to neglect, and therefore often internalize anxieties and blame when people with whom they form attachments no longer show up. Thus I have my reservations regarding the ethicality of the trip. Having understood the potential negative consequences of our school’s trips suddenly stopping, I appreciate service learning trips but am more aware of all the consequences that could result from them.

Holding the mangrove saplings

Furthermore, we were also rather engaged with the environment in Phuket. One of our goals for the trip was to plant mangrove saplings in response to the deforestation of mangroves in Phuket, which greatly harms the local ecosystem. We each choose a few saplings and planted them in lots and lots of mud. At the time, it was both a fun and seemingly rewarding activity; who hasn’t gotten a little muddy since our ages were only in the single digits? And knowing that I was helping the environment to regain its mangroves? Even better!

Yet in hindsight I remember seeing many of the same saplings falling over as they were not planted correctly. Therefore I question the effectiveness of our planting of those mangroves, if people will only have to replant them later or they won’t take root and grow at all. The activity seemed to focus too much on the “message” behind it, rather than achieving its actual intended impact, again showcasing our privilege of carelessness in our actions. We were granted the freedom to do as we wanted and to never look back. This is clearly not the case for most people and most of all those who truly want to help the environment, which is to say should be all of us. Therefore, we should not be granted this privilege of negligence and instead held to our responsibility to do service and do it well.

Planting the mangroves

The trip has had a significant impact on me and the way I view service learning. No longer can I overlook the potential negative backlash of my actions when doing direct service, even if well-intended. My experience and consideration of the Burmese children is hence one of the reason I decided not to participate in the Cambodia trip. Although I could see the benefits of building new infrastructure for the Cambodian communities, I could also not help but see a repeat of the Burmese children wondering why the volunteers no longer showed up. As I do activities that directly influence the communities or environments with which I interact, I bring more consciousness on my behalf to my actions, taking into consideration of the power I hold to create change.

 

GCD Wellness – Varsity Sports

I’ve always been a sporty kid, whether it was playing futsal in elementary after-school activities, joining volleyball for the first time in middle school, or now, playing in multiple varsity sports across different seasons in the school year. Since entering high school, I have played in JV and Varsity Volleyball, Varsity Field Hockey, and played competitively for Badminton as well. Through sports, I have not only maintained  fitness throughout the year but also achieved the goals I’ve set for myself whilst developing mental strength alongside the exercise.

Physical Wellness

Playing three sports over the three seasons means that every week I devote up to 4 days of 7 to sports: 3 days of after school practice and 1 day of games. Sports are thus easily one of the ways I keep track of my physical health throughout the year, and through meeting its physical demands, I have certainly reaped the benefits of regular exercise: better performance in academics, stress relief, you name it. Yet, there is another aspect of physicality that sports offer me: a way to push myself to learn and grow as an athlete. This occurs in all sports that I play, but I have achieved much in field hockey in particular.

Having almost no prior experience to field hockey, joining the school team in 9th grade was a big step for me. As the team did not have enough players for two teams, I immediately joined the varsity team, which meant playing with teammates who were much more experienced and knowledgable. At the beginning of the season, I was afraid that I would limit my team and let them down, being so inexperienced next to them. Therefore, I set a few goals for myself during the season. Not only did I want to improve my technical skills, but I also wanted to understand field hockey and better contribute to the team. My goals were to:

  • improve and extend my range of skills: dribbling, passing, shooting
  • better understand my position (left forward – offense)
  • increase my personal fitness, particularly as to be able to keep up with the amount of running

Throughout that first season, I watched my seniors as they played in practice, taking note of their postures and techniques as they passed or dribbled, and later imitating them to incorporate those into my own skills. I also had a much more experienced friend playing alongside me, who had played for many years already, so I often asked her for advice and tips regarding certain skills, like push passes or drives which are more technically difficult skills. Throughout the season, I could tell that I was gradually improving, and that propelled only propelled me to work even harder.

In my first season of field hockey, I didn’t play full halves or games often, as I was switched out for other new players. But whilst my teammates sat off to the side or chatted amongst themselves, I realized that even whilst off the field, I could be learning. I watched the game as it progressed, looking at both my own team and the opponents to develop my understanding of where players stood and moved in their respective positions to cohesively work together, and how different formations (of different teams/schools) functioned and operated. This improved my understanding the dynamic of different positions working together, which has since helped me tremendously as I began to move into positions and the team changed to different formations in my 10th and 11th grade seasons.

I have played as a starter and regular season since 10th grade, which was only my second year playing field hockey. It is an accomplishment of which I am very proud and attribute to a quick learning of different skills and better understanding of field hockey result of my constant desire to improve. I believe that all athletes innately strive to improve, but some also know it consciously and that can become strong motivation for them to actively seek to improve their skills and develop as a player. Field hockey has shown me the development I am capable of as long as I stay motivated, and this motivation has transferred across sports into volleyball and badminton, where I also now strive to enhance my skills through regular practice.

Winning 4-2 in the All Stars game in 9th grade

Mental and Emotional Wellness

Sports have shown to benefit the mind, such as relieving stress or producing endorphins. But sports can also benefit from the athlete’s state of mind. Although the perception is often that sports only require physical strength, mental strength is actually incredibly essential. This is especially the case in volleyball, which is a very psychological game. Requiring so much faith and reliability from each player, its easy for a nervous mind to lead to hesitations that cause the ball to drop, or for a distressed mind to cause slip-ups in technique. Hence, it is important for the player to keep a strong mentality whilst playing.

I was extremely proud of joining the varsity volleyball team in 10th grade. It was a sign that all the extra practice I spent was paying off. Unconsciously, I also knew that it was a big step from the lower pressure, less intense days of playing in the JV team. At first, this showed in games and practice. I felt somewhat uncomfortable setting despite being a setter, mostly in fear that my fingers would slip and I would mess up for my team. To strengthen my mentality, I’ve developed some practices to help me regulate my emotions and mental state.

More confident in setting – 11th grade

Rather than the common “not allowing my mental state to affect my play”, I’ve focussed on strengthening my mentality so that my plays, particularly any mistakes, do not “get me down”. I do this by focussing on one point at a time, which is especially the case in volleyball, where one point is only 1 out of 25. This mindset allows me to rid of the negativity of a point lost by my mistake, and instead concentrate on the next point. I also develop personal signals to calm myself down in times of stress, such as tapping twice on the left of my chest as a reminder to myself to breathe and regain my composure. In 11th grade, I have since been complimented for both maintaining my composure in games and my ability to stay strong mentally throughout games.

GCD Work Experience – Teacher/Coach Assistant at Summer School

During the first two weeks of summer, I had the amazing opportunity of working as a teacher assistant (TA) for the summer program hosted by YIS. In the morning, I was a TA for “MS Critical Thinking and Time Management Skills” (referred to as “Critical Thinking”), which had two classes split by grade levels, two teachers/supervisors, and two TAs (Sam and myself). I was assigned to the younger class of 13 composed of 5th and 6th grade students. I also worked as an assistant coach in the afternoon for “MS/HS Volleyball Camp”, which had a group of 17 players from 6th to 10th grade.

I was very excited coming into the first session of Volleyball Camp. I had often been told that I frequently give advice to my teammates during the season’s practices, so I thought that I would do well in coaching the players too. However, even as a varsity volleyball player, I was slightly nervous and felt awkward offering help at first, largely because I was unfamiliar with many players since they were mostly from middle school. Yet, I was entrusted with various responsibilities, which gave me confidence and pride as an assistant coach; I really felt that I was “part of the team”. I was tasked things like:

  • setting up the nets before each session began, which taught me that punctuality was crucial,
  • leading the warm-up and some drills, which helped me gain confidence as I spoke with more authority each time,
  • working with players one-on-one to build certain skills, which showed me the significance of constructive feedback

By the second week, I felt much more confident as I could tell that I was able to help the players improve by giving them advice or suggestions, and encourage them to play with more confidence too.

However, although working as an assistant coach for Volleyball Camp was a fun and insightful experience, it was working in the classroom for Critical Thinking that I truly fell in love with. 

Going into the first day as a TA for Critical Thinking, I wasn’t sure what to expect of my role. I was afraid that I would not have much to contribute being only a high school student, and since the lessons were planned by the teachers, I didn’t know what I was meant to do. Yet when I arrived and talked to my supervisor, I was told that Sam and I would be planning  and running morning activities of 10-20 minutes for each of our classes for each of the following days of summer school. I was both surprised at the responsibility given to me and also nervous at running the activities by myself, but ultimately I wanted to make the classroom enjoyable for the students and also rise to the opportunity to experience leading a class.

As we began planning the activities, we quickly realized the not necessarily hard, but definitely time-consuming work it was. We did a lot of researching online for activities we could use, and though there was plenty to scour over, only some was suitable for the resources we had (which is to say pretty much none at all), the space of a classroom, the group’s age and size, and many other factors. I realized that adapting existing ideas was an essential skill, as we adjusted many activities that we found. Because my supervisor had given me the liberty of choosing each activity and running it by myself, I felt a huge sense of responsibility in making sure each one was successful.

Early on, I noticed that there was some divide between the students, generally between girls and boys, between forming friend groups, and the such. So my challenge was to encourage all the students to mix and feel like they could easily talk to each other. To do this, I planned several fun activities for the first few days that focussed on breaking the students out of their shells so they felt comfortable in the classroom and on helping the students get to know each other, like the spaghetti tower challenge. Later, I decided to add in more activities somewhat associated with critical thinking, like a celebrity guessing game involving asking the right questions.

Looking back, I’m elated that the morning activities went smoothly and the students appear to have enjoyed them very much. Now, I understand the significance of running these types of activities, particularly for younger ages. The activities helped not only let out some of the extra energy that all kids have so that they could better concentrate later, but they also set the mood for the rest of the lesson, which allowed the students to enjoy the class and associate the lesson with fun.

Murder Mystery: 60 min activity I planned and ran

Even from the first day, I had been amazed at the way my supervisor always had the full attention of the students, kept his composure even when students were a little wild, and easily adjusted his voice to entertain or his words to accommodate the EAL students. Assisting the teacher helped me understand that in order to teach, it was crucial to have strong interpersonal and communication skills be able to understand the how the student thinks and more importantly, feels. By being able to recognize confusion, I was able to reiterate instructions in simpler and easier-to-understand language to EAL students. By knowing which students had trouble focussing in class, I was more patient and helped to remind them to stay on task. By realizing that some student were simply a bit quieter than others, I could encourage them to share their ideas. Some students have different interests, some have different abilities and skills, some are more talkative. As a student myself, this is something I greatly respect. I know that I can also use these interpersonal skills to better work with others in any profession in the future.

The two weeks working as a TA was amazing. It gave me a lot of appreciation for all of my teachers, the time and effort that they put into helping us learn whilst making it fun as well. I had started seriously considering education as a potential future profession only a year or two ago, and after talking with my parents, I was leaning heavily towards secondary education, specifically high school or older. Working with the younger students for two weeks helped me realized that my patience and enthusiasm could also be a good fit to work with younger students, and now I am considering the field of primary education or younger secondary education as well.

GCD Advanced Academics, Artistic Expression – Harvard Secondary School Program

During the summer of 2017, after my sophomore year in high school (aka 10th grade), I travelled alone to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Why? To participate in a summer program that would not only teach me about some chosen subjects, but also help me develop independence and most of all, facilitate my love for learning and engage me fully in art.

The 7-week long program was called the Secondary School Program (SSP), hosted by Harvard University. I stayed in one of the freshmen dorms at Harvard during July and August, immersed in learning to live with many roommates and survive on my own, all while also taking on two full college credit courses. I will recount my academic growth at college level across one course and my artistic exploration in another course.

Summer at Harvard 2017 – Dorm-mates group photo

Advanced Academics: Introduction to Psychology

My first course was Introduction to Psychology. Many have asked why I took Psychology as a course, seeing as I do not take it as an IB course now. Though I might answer slightly differently each time, ultimately, it comes down to my personal interests. I’ve always loved the field of psychology, learning about human behavior: why we do what we do, how the mind functions to make thought and actions, and what happens when there are abnormalities in our brain? Coming into the course, I only had some background knowledge in this field. I had previously completed a MYP Personal Project about mental illnesses, but focussed on the stigma and discrimination against specific disorders rather than delving into why they exist and how they impact the individual. I thought the introductory course would be a perfect opportunity to learn about several aspects of psychology and challenge to me truly understand the human mind through study.

All courses were open to high school students, undergraduates, and graduate students, so very high standards were expected of even us sophomores. We were assigned readings every week and had long 3-hour lectures twice a week. Due to the large class, the professor was not strict on attendance or the readings, but believed that we would only struggle were we to skip lectures or skip readings. We only had two large assessments: a midterm and a final.

Before midterm – lecture notes

From the beginning of the program to the midterm, I found myself loving the independence of the program, enjoying the social life it provided me to meet so many new people and freedom to explore my interests in my own time. However, I found myself beginning to slip up on my academic standards that I had so often prided myself upon. I had been rather disorganized, falling behind on the readings and losing focus in lectures which led to messy, incoherent notes. When I took the midterm, I was rather reckless, moving through each question quickly, and despite rechecking my work, I was unable to discern between topics I was confident with and topics I needed to rethink. This gave me multiple careless mistakes, and in the end, I received a B. Because the grades were curved between both the SSP students and the college students, I knew that it was not a bad score. However, I was still disappointed with myself due to the low percentage score and because I knew that my own standards were much higher.

After midterm – lecture notes

Now, after my midterm, I began to notice and change several aspects of my studying and concentration habits. During lectures, I focussed on taking detailed and structured notes, picking out only essential words to write down, and paid attention to both the information communicated verbally and on the presentation the professor created. This increased efficiency and effectivity allowed me to later move between the assigned reading and my lecture notes to find similarities, therefore reinforcing what I had learnt in the lecture. I often found myself adding more details to my lecture notes to make sure I understand the topic completely. In order to prioritize my success, I also found myself sitting by myself in lectures, away from my roommates and friends who also took the course. This allowed me to concentrate much better. Furthermore, I began to ask my professor questions. There’s no doubt that information is always available online or in texts, but one of the greatest resources I had at Harvard University were the professors. Through asking more questions, I found answers to my questions from a professor who gave his own input and perspective, allowing me to understand this subject from a highly academic and insightful perspective.

Another skill I improved was reading. Reading seems easy in appearance, but I realized that I was reading the textbook word-for-word and was highlighting all of the vocabulary words that the textbook indicated, which didn’t necessarily mean that I was understanding or encoding each word into my memory. Instead, I found myself even skimming through the chapters, but thoroughly reading the important sections. I separated the useless information and the useful by whether it explained any process, vocabulary, or anything of the like. I was able to truly understand most of the vocabulary this way.

During my final, I was much more confident. I went through each question slowly, but definitely more surely, reading and rereading each question carefully to fully understand the question. I left the lecture room feeling relieved but also happy that I had done my best. In the end, I received a fairly high percentage score, and earned myself a A- in a college credit course.

The 7 weeks of this program were needless-to-say, challenging. Have I risen to the challenge? Yes, I believe so. My motivation throughout this program, and maybe for all academics, has been that if anyone can do it, why not have it be me? In this mindset, I give myself the pressure and high expectations I need to encourage myself to succeed. Despite some sacrifices, I have, in my perspective, completed a very intellectual, engaging, and enriching summer, which has left me with a even greater thirst for knowledge and learning. I have challenged myself academically in this college-level course and attained great results. More than this, I feel that this program has better prepared me for college in the future, having learnt time management and experiencing college-level academics. As a student, I feel excited to find myself as a college student in the future and can’t wait to take more challenging but amazing courses!

Artistic Expression: Graphic Storytelling

Graphic Storytelling – class photo

(2) My second course allowed me to explore a new medium as an artist; it was called “Graphic Storytelling: Comic Book Art and Narrative”. To summarize the lengthy course name, it was a course about the function, power, and impact of graphic novels and comics, often known as “sequential art” (dubbed by Will Eisner). Again, people seem to always ponder why I took this course, as I do not take IB Art either. Graphic novels and comics have always been a personal love of mine, borne when my bookworm self scoured the library in search of a new book to read and discovered the magical shelf that held the graphic novels I would come to read and love. This course wasn’t exactly a history lesson or a just a lecture about the theory though. From the first day, we began drawing whilst learning the theory. The purpose of the course was both to understand the theory as well as how to make a comic.

06/20 – First digital drawing

Over the 7 weeks, I was taught techniques of drawing digitally by my professor, which I then tried to practice and incorporate into my own work. One change I remember most significantly was my drawing style and artistic habits and processes. Upon entering the course, I was a very new digital artist; I had only completed one digital drawing since buying a drawing tablet a couple of months prior to arriving at Harvard (see photo: 06/20). I was much more comfortable drawing on paper (see photo: 6/27).

06/27 – 1st comic (pencil) – click to read!

Yet, I strived to improve and develop this new skill. Slowly, as I grew more comfortable with my tablet, I began to draw by pencil on a piece of paper, scan it, and then color it digitally (see photo: 07/04). I fell in love with this as I saw my original black and white drawings turn into a gorgeous page full of vibrant colors.

07/04 – Early short comics (pencil + digital coloring) – click to read!

Around halfway through the course, I wanted to now have those expressive lines I often saw in comics. To do this, I sketched out draft pages on paper, scanned them, and then inked them on Photoshop. In this process, I lost the rigid pencil lines and instead found myself becoming more flexible. I began to improvise, adding small details like hatching and motion lines (see photo: 07/18).

07/18 – Early short comics (digital inking and coloring) – click to read!

For my final project, I created a 8-page comic, by far the longest comic, or even art piece, I had ever made. It was a long and hard process. First, I zero-drafted all my pages (zero-draft means to quickly sketch out all the pages, similar to a quick first draft in writing). Next came several redrafts, moving around panels, tweaking the text, and thinking about the color composition. Finally, I inked it on Photoshop, and colored it! Though a slow process, I felt like a real graphic novel author moving through each stage of making my comic. I was extremely proud of my final comic, which i believe turned out pretty cool! Here’s a link to my comic.

08/02 – Sample pages from final comic – click to full comic!

In the end, I was able to achieve an A in Graphic Storytelling, earning 4 college credits. This course has been unlike any other, however cliché it may sound. Building upon my love for art, especially drawing, I was able to explore another form of art that is quickly taking root in today’s extremely technological times: digital media. I always found digital media fascinating, with its vivid colors and expressive lines (not to say there aren’t any in traditional media), and I had the chance to explore it in depth over the summer, allowing me be an artist refining her skills whilst also learning a new one.

It also taught me about dedication to art. I had taken art class in 9th and 10th grade and painted somewhat irregularly in my own time. I was always jumping from medium to medium, from watercolor to oil colors to charcoal to pencil. In those 7 weeks, I was dedicated to just one medium. At times, this was tough! I grew frustrated when some lines weren’t turning out the way they were suppose to and wanted to find some watercolors instead. Yet, I committed myself to improving this skill, and I have clearly seen improvement since the beginning of that summer. This has shown me how perseverance is so important in art; all the greatest artists in the past and present were never born magically amazing at art, instead they’ve achieved it through hard work and devotion to improve. Knowing this, I will also commit myself to grow as an artist gradually, knowing that each drawing brings me closer to becoming the artist I want to be.

03/23 (2018) – Recent character drawing

Since the end of summer, I still draw digitally regularly to this day, slowly improving my digital media skills, and it has quickly become one of my favorite art mediums. I’ve grown comfortable enough to now sketch, ink, and color all on Photoshop, a process I used to be scared of, but now am comfortable with and continue to develop in each drawing. I follow many digital artists on social media as well as tutorial sites, which I use as resources to help me improve. I’ve completed studies of admired artists’ works, focussing on things like color composition or brush techniques. Art has always been a big part of my personal life, allowing me to lose myself in choosing each bright or dark color, picking between two different brushes, and drafting and redrafting multiple sketches. As for my future plans as an artist, I hope to take more art courses in college, which may build upon these digital media skills or let me discover a brand new media.

GCD Wilderness Engagement – Diving into the Unknown

I have a love-hate relationship with the ocean.

Seeing the ocean, whether in person or in picture, has always given me a sense of calmness. Standing on the beach, feeling the salty wind brush against me, touching that cold seawater, it has made me feel free and relaxed. But the moment I imagine myself at sea, swimming in that dark blue, murky water, I take a step back and say, no thanks.

Well, that’s not completely true. Though I’ve never been a fan of swimming, compare me to a cat if you will, I have gone snorkeling in the past and loved it. So perhaps my fear of the ocean is better explained as a fear of drowning, the fear that my whole body is so far below the surface and I have to struggle for a breathe of air. And being out at sea creates a very possible risk of that.

So imagine my complete and utter horror when all of my friends decided to go on a scuba diving trip for our school’s expedition week and I agreed to go with them. It wasn’t an easy decision to make and I did change my mind from going a camping trip instead, but ultimately, I decided that it would be an incredible experience and opportunity where I could finally try to face my fear head-on. In retrospect, I am thankful I was able to think that way, since it allowed me not to forget my fear, but to challenge myself in spite of that fear. In this way, this was the first obstacle I overcame, well before the actual trip.

The trip was relatively straightforward, composed of 5 days, 2 of which would be dedicated to traveling out to sea and scuba diving. We, a group of 30 students and a couple of teachers, travelled to Ishigaki Island, Okinawa, where we trained with PADI, a professional scuba diving instructing company. We were given a textbook, from which we were told to study and learn about scuba diving, its risks, and the safety procedures. At the end of the trip, after demonstrating our scuba diving skills at sea and passing the textbook-based test, we would receive our Open Water Diver Certification.

The first night, I was extremely nervous for the upcoming day, when I would finally scuba dive out in the open sea, submerging myself several meters underwater and somehow survive. We had previously practiced using our equipment in a pool, but I knew that would be nothing like diving out at sea, especially comparing the shallow pool and the seemingly endless depths of the sea.

While anxiously awaiting the morning, I also had to study the textbook, where I read about the sea and the mechanics of scuba diving, learning about decompression sickness, non-verbal signals, how to breathe underwater. I found that understanding the sea, how I could keep myself safe and how to respond to potential risks left me feeling more in control and prepared. Which, I attribute to the science-lover part of me, as understanding new things about the unknown has always excited and interested me, so my nerves was forgotten in that moment.

Nevertheless, when morning came and a boat took us to where we would be diving, I was extremely scared to jump into the water. I was never a strong swimmer, so questions like, What if my equipment malfunctions and I’m unable to swim to the surface? What if the current sweeps me away? raced through me. Even as our instructor guided us through putting on our equipment, led us into the water, and prepared us to begin descending, my heart was beating incredibly fast and I had to remind myself of all the things I had been learnt, knowing that I really didn’t have to be so scared.

When I finally descended and touched the ocean floor (we went around 5-7m deep), incredulity hit me. I was breathing underwater. Touching the ocean floor. It was surreal, knowing that I did it! I really had sunk to the bottom of the ocean, even if it wasn’t that deep, and was breathing (did I mention underwater?). I was filled with a sense of triumph, knowing that I conquered my fear as I kneeled on the ocean floor touching the sand and seeing so many little fishes flit around me.

Later came the harder parts, we had to complete drills underwater to mimic what we would do if our equipment malfunctioned or detached. The most difficult one for me was taking my mask off, putting it back on, and clearing the water out of the mask. Although we still had our mouthpiece so we could breathe, I had to shut my eyes (since I had contacts), which was terrifying. There is something completely different between being underwater and seeing what’s around you, and being underwater and not being able to see. The moment I took off my mask, panic took over. I was 5 meters under the surface, seeing only darkness. I struggled to put my mask back on as I momentarily almost forgot to keep breathing. Although not knowing what was around me was petrifying, training kicked in from when we practiced in the pool, and the knowledge that I had done the same drill before calmed me. During that dive, I practiced the same drill a few times more. Though in each time I experienced the same terror of not being able to see, every little practice gave me more confidence and dissolved my anxiety.

In the second day of diving, we continued the drills and also did some free diving, where we swam around the reef, looking at the beautiful coral and the many sea creatures that lived amongst it. It was an amazing feeling, swimming with the coral on my left, using my equipment to navigate through the water smoothly and steadily; I felt as if I was one of the creatures that lived there! That free dive, looking at the beauty of the underwater world, reminded me of why I loved the ocean so much. While the ocean can definitely seem dangerous, it also has the serene, beautiful, and calm side to it, and I am grateful I was able to see that side.

Looking back now, I can still understand my apprehensiveness of scuba diving – it’s not as if diving took away my fear of drowning – but I am thankful that I pushed past that fear and went out of my comfort zone to allow myself to take part in that unbelievable journey, and truly see the natural beauty of the sea.

Terrorist Attack on Charlie Hebdo – Is limiting freedom of expression the right response?

‘Freedom of expression’ should not be limited. Otherwise, it would no longer be ‘freedom’, a fundamental human right, but rather, ‘censorship’. The attack on Charlie Hebdo occurred in protest of their cartoons, which – however satirical – express opinion, not hate speech, because they attack ideas of a religion rather than attack people, as pointed out by The New York Times. Considering this, to limit speech as a response would be to enforce censorship, which is harmful to the development of the country as it attacks the foundation of democracy and of a progressive society.

At the same time, to not limit freedom of expression invites offending those whose strong beliefs are challenged, consequently provoking them to commit violent acts in retaliation. Therefore, limiting speech to prevent offending beliefs would also prevent attacks like the one on Charlie Hebdo. However, if the law were to prohibit Charlie Hebdo from expressing their opinions on the basis that they could provoke people, it would subsequently have to prohibit any speech that offends anyone, which is all of it, as all opinions offend someone in some way. Therefore, limiting freedom of expression is not only detrimental to the country but also illogical in theory.

Spanish Reflection

2. Use a metaphor and a simile to describe the subjunctive and/or the imperative.

The imperative uses are confusing like a riddle, the subjunctive uses is a 500 page book, long and windy.

3. How is what you have learned relevant to other classes/material you are learning?

Learning about new and different verb tenses made me a lot more aware of the tenses I use when writing in English, and so I always made sure the tense makes sense and is grammatically correct. Also, we’re currently starting a unit on gender stereotypes and standards within society in art class, and looking at jewelery. This is similar to our appearances unit as both revolve around the idea of society’s standards on fashion.

4. Write a headline of no more than 10 words to summarize your learning this unit.

Class learns about the truth around beauty in society!

9. Make a wordle or mind map of your learning.

Spanish – Unit 1 Reflection

In the past unit, I think my strongest language skill was my writing; I really understood the format of each type of text (critique, news article, etc) as well as its purpose, so I was able to successfully communicate my message in each piece of writing. My next strongest point was reading, where I able to comprehend the text and identify different elements of it. One thing to improve here would be to constantly review the unit grammar and vocabulary so I can avoid not knowing words that are crucial to understanding the meaning.

Areas I need to work on are my speaking and listening. While words come easily on paper, I still find it a little difficult to come up with words to speak fluently on the spot. This is because I don’t practice speaking enough, and thus I get nervous and forget the correct words. Next unit, when I review vocabulary and grammar, such as on quizlet, I will try to say the words aloud as I go, so I can familiarize myself with speaking those words. In addition, I can also practice listening to words on quizlet, so that I recognize the sounds and such.

My goals for the rest of the semester is to continue expanding my vocabulary and working on speaking and listening. I also want to try to use more complex sentence structures, so that I can express my ideas more clearly.

Spanish – Goals for This Year

This year, I want to focus on the following goals as to help me become a better Spanish speaker. I’ve written them in English so I explain them in more depth.

Firstly, I need to review old conjugations we’ve learnt and practice the new ones. I will do this by using Conjuguemos and their games on different verb tenses. Ideally, I will practice this 2-3 a week, but at least once when I have other work.

Secondly, I feel that my range of vocabulary is still rather limited, especially compared to how I would normally express myself in English and how I would like to be able to write and speak in Spanish. Therefore, I want to practice transitions/expressions and other vocabulary (e.g. verbs, adjectives, nouns, etc). I will do this by using Quizlet and create different stacks of flashcards to help me learn new words and put old ones into my long-term memory.

Thirdly, I want to continue to use my previous assessments to help me make my next ones better. I remember that during the second semester in 9th grade, I began using the feedback from my previous work to target areas of weakness in my current work, which really helped me improve the quality. I want to continue to do this, and perhaps use a page to jot down notes on what I need to work on.

I look to a great year of learning Spanish! (with the fabulously dressed Señora Hill, of course 😉 )