The Best Class I’ve Ever Taken

Some classes change you.

It’s taken three years, but I’m so fortunate to have taken Professor Kalyan Nadiminti’s History course at Haverford this past semester called the Global Histories of Asian American Labor.

With a total of four enrolled students in the course (five if you count one who audited the class), this class became a tight-knit family as well as a therapy group, as Ann Tran’18 so nicely put it.

L to R: Kevin Liao (HC ’18), Rebecca Cheng (HC ’19), me, Katherine Lee (BMC ’18), Ann Tran (BMC ’18), Professor Nadiminti

As Asian-Americans, we’re often forgotten when talking about people of color. We’re also often forgotten when talking about Asians from Asia. There’s a common thread amongst many Asian American lives, and that is a feeling of being in-between. A feeling of not truly belonging, of feeling stuck in between the motherland you weren’t born in and the land you were born in. It’s about being distinctly other.

We delved into so many topics related to labor from the industrial interracial adoption complex to the narrative of the Asian immigrant as a non-resident worker, as well as the different types of Asian-Americans, like Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Indian/South Asian, and Vietnamese. We discussed our own families and some personal anecdotes, cried over the text Coolies and Cane (spoiler alert: Chinese-Americans were slaves, too, at one point), busted the Model Minority Myth, watched an episode of Master of None, and gave input as to which texts we wanted to read: our last text, American Born Chinesewas one that Kevin Liao (HC ’18) suggested on the first day of class.

Master of None

American Born Chinese graphic novel







As a third-generation Chinese-American, my family’s story is different from my friends’ ones where their parents came to America, or where they themselves came here as children. I saw my family’s story not just in the stories about the San Francisco railroad (which is why my great-grandfather came here in the 1800s), but also the ones about Japanese internment, about Korean adoptees, and more.

Throughout this semester, I’ve realized that I’m not alone: others have similar stories and thoughts about being asked, “what are you?” or “where are you from?”  I also realized that this is the first time I was in a classroom committed to introspection around my own personal role and where I fit in these global narratives.

There were so many mind-blowing moments this semester where I was just in awe having learned something new that I’d previously had no clue about. I grew closer to friends and gained new ones as we grappled with our identities together, and I’m so grateful to Professor Nadiminti for leading us all through it. As the semester ends, I have more questions than I had at the start of the semester and fewer answers.

Measuring Progress: Applications of Weight Training

How to Measure the Unmeasurable: Just a Feeling

This past summer, I probably annoyed my manager by repeatedly asking, “Yes, I can feel I’ve improved, but in what concrete ways?” It took me a while to realize that progress isn’t always measurable, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t occur.

Chasing Greatness sign at LinkedIn SF when I visited classmate Stephanie Cao ’18, LinkedIntern

School: Measurable, but an Incomplete Picture

In school, you can sort-of track growth in the same way. How long does an assignment take? What grade did you get? How much time did you spend studying? However, grades are not a perfect measure: sometimes you learn a lot but your grade does not reflect it (here’s looking at you, computer graphics last year.)

Teammate/friend Abby Brewster ’18 admiring the tennis teams’ academic accolades

This year, I’ve been trying to measure my progress in a variety of areas to figure out how to improve in each. One concrete measurement I like is weight training. Many sports teams on campus have training sessions with our Strength and Conditioning coach, Courtney Morris ’99. There, we do exercises to train agility and strength, whether it be working our quick feet on the ladders, jumping rope, or lifting weights and training our upper body.

It’s easy to see after a week or so that you can jump rope faster and longer, do more repetitions with more weight, and increase the number of pull-ups, push-ups, and more that you do.

Yoga class with Courtney and some teammates! #selfcare

I like running and yoga for the same reason: you can always go further (running a longer distance, running faster, holding a pose for longer, etc.) than you thought you could. It doesn’t get easier; you just get better. Yoga also provides a nice mental break, and is good for stretching, toning, and relaxing. I love ending my week with a yoga class in Bryn Mawr’s gym.

There are so many mental hurdles when you run or lift, but by pushing through them and persisting, you grow both in the gym and off of it. If you discipline yourself there, you can definitely focus longer on school work and push yourself to understand a difficult concept that you previously struggled with.

Some of my fitness, health, and productivity stats for the day.

An amazing app I now use to measure different aspects of my life is Gyroscope. I love the visualizations which really show what you’re doing. The productivity one also shows how you’re spending most of your time (which websites or apps) and you can set goals to use apps less.




So What?

Next year, you bet I’ll be stronger and faster, and I’ll have the statistics to prove it. Will I be a better programmer and writer? You may have to take my word for it.

Tips for Thesising (so far)

My thesis will mostly take place next semester, but I’ve started planning it all out this semester. I found a thesis advisor, made an outline and schedule, and have started work on it. One reason I’m so excited to do this work is because I’m really interested in the project I’m making ([three web apps to teach people with Autism emotion recognition through still pictures, gifs with no sound, and then gifs or video with sound.] This is something I’m interested in because it’s a practical project involving lots of code [something I’ll use and do in the future] as well as testing and working with students with Autism [something I did in elementary and high school].)

Keep calm….

Here are some tips on how to get started on your thesis to make your life easier in the long run.

  1. Find something you’re interested in. This sounds simple, but I do know students who chose a topic because they wanted to work with a certain advisor, or they didn’t know what to do so they hastily chose. It’s important to do research ahead of time so you know options and so you have the time to find something you want to spend a lot of time on.
  2. Find an advisor who knows you and will support you. This was a tough one for me: not because there were no advisors who do this, but because most of the ones who were available to me had little to no background in what I wanted to do involving app development. I had to modify my original proposal and plan to fit, and found my advisor at Haverford. (this is a nice-to-have for Bi-Co students: we have more options for thesis advisors and research opportunities because we can major and go between schools.)
  3. Focus on what is necessary. To simplify my thesis, I decided what I absolutely need (in app development, that is sometimes called the minimum viable product, or MVP.) If I run out of time, the bare minimum I need to do what I need to do is in the MVP. Everything after that is secondary, extra, things that are nice-to-have.
  4. Write it down. Mapping out screens and saying, “This is what the first screen looks like, and it has a drop-down menu with the following options which will take you to these screens.” From those screens, I drew more arrows to more screens, showing the flow or order a user would see my different screens.
  5. Keep it organized with folders. I have a few folders on my laptop for my thesis, separating research (i.e. why do people with Autism focus on emotion recognition, other apps doing something similar, and more.) I have separate folders for each application, and keep my advisor updated with a shared Google Drive folder.

    Organization is so important.

  6. Constantly iterate and adapt. My project has changed so much since I first found my advisor. We’ve talked about how best to achieve different goals, and how I can get the most learning out of this. The project has changed, but the goals haven’t.
  7. Keep the proposal broad. Do your research, and explain why these goals need to be achieved to solve a problem. How you solve that problem and achieve those goals should be kept fairly broad so you can change it if need be.

There’s a lot of possible thesis topics, but not much time to do them. You can do research or something more practical and hands-on, or you can combine them. More importantly, you can do something you’re interested in.