I first discovered my interest in human cultural variation when I was ten years old. Raised in an overwhelmingly white, middle-class area of the American South, I had stumbled into a local taekwondo dojang expecting to stay for one free class. Over my eight years practicing taekwondo, I formed close friendships within South Carolina’s small Korean American community, and I was introduced to a loving mentor who would eventually become my Bharatanatyam teacher and gateway to the Indian American community. My friends, mentors, and active participation in the traditions of these two cultural groups brought me knowledge of history, culture, and language, as well as exposure to the challenges faced by minority populations in our area. From age ten, I have wanted to learn how my friends from different backgrounds understand the world we share.
After engaging with this question casually for several years, I attended Clemson University as a member of the National Scholars Program and graduated in 2016 with dual degrees: a Bachelor of Science in Anthropology and a Bachelor of Arts in Modern Languages, Mandarin Chinese. As a Dixon Global Policy Scholar, I was able to formally pursue an interest in politics alongside my regular studies. I maintained my connections with East and South Asian communities as I continued to practice East Asian languages and Indian classical and modern dance. Soon, what I had conceptualized as independent interests in East and South Asia, anthropology, and global policy found convergence in Tibet. I became fascinated with Tibetan concepts of identity, justice, and moral action, and specifically how Tibet’s current political situation shaped their views. In order to explore these questions further, I spent the summer of 2015 volunteering with Lha Charitable Trust and conducting fieldwork for an independent study focusing on interactions between the Indian and Tibetan refugee populations of McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India.
As to my master’s studies at Oxford, I plan to continue my study of Tibetan language, politics, and cultural history, aiming to better understand the roots of Tibetan cultural norms which now vary greatly across the diaspora community. This knowledge will contribute to future ethnographic fieldwork in which I will explore the methods by which Tibetans consciously and unconsciously alter collective memory of their own traditional culture in order to increase its chance of survival. With related questions such as what kind of circumstances initiate these changes and even the definition of “traditional culture,” I expect that I will follow this line of questioning in the future as a doctoral student and eventually an academic and anthropological researcher.
I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity to further my academic development at Oxford alongside Ertegun House’s supportive peers and advisors, none of which would be possible without the generosity of Mica and Ahmet Ertegun.