As a senior, I embarked on a search for meaningful courses to take during my last year at Penn. Up to this point, I restricted myself to taking classes for my major and classes that would “look good” for future graduate school applications. But this time, I wanted to engage in something different, challenging, and meaningful.
My search ended when I found a class through the Graduate School of Education, EDUC-345, or better known as ‘Psychology of Personal Growth’.
Few things to note here; the first is that I had no idea I could take classes through GSE as an undergrad and the second is that I am all for personal growth.
An activity in our first class still sticks with me today. Fold a piece of paper into quarters and then draw visual representations of:
- Your favorite activity
- Your Culture
- Messages you received about gender growing up
- When you first encountered race. We were then to share our drawings with a partner before our class discussion.
My partner was someone who identified as a Jewish female. I was engaged in her sharing about her favorite activity and about celebrating Jewish holidays, but I was shocked to hear that she struggled answering the questions about her racial background. She shared that she just thinks she’s white and American, but never had the chance to explore it further.
When it was my turn to share, my partner was enlightened by the slew of new information she was getting! She did not know it was possible to be Chinese-Vietnamese and about the Chinese diaspora. She was unaware patriarchal households still existed today. Now she even wants to try my favorite food Bánh hỏi thịt heo nướng. I felt that I was an exotic creature from a different world sharing my strange life story, but I also appreciated how interested she was in my culture and background. For once when someone asked me, “Where are your parents from?” it wasn’t a subtle micro-aggression.
Through my work with various non-profits in Philadelphia and also with the student organizations I’ve been involved in on campus, I have had numerous conversations about identity. Each person has such a diverse background and story and I love hearing about it. I believe that my identity is something I have reflected on and explored a lot and was surprised to hear that it was my partner’s first time contemplating her own identity like this.
To me, this class defines what Penn is to me. Penn promotes not only the tradition definition of learning but also promotes learning and growing as humans in society.
I have been in so many spaces that aligned with my beliefs that I forget that there are people who don’t engage in a lot of the things I do. Penn is so big that we get absorbed into our own bubbles and forget that there are other worlds out there. Classes like these let me step out of that bubble and lean into the discomfort of interacting with someone different from me. Being in this class has not only taught me about things like gender identities and power structures in relationships, but also helped me grow more as an individual and member of society through interacting with others.