Ananya (AKB): Could you start by telling me where you’re from and how you got to Yale?
Alice (AP): How I got to Yale? Sure. I am from Gaithersburg, Maryland. I was born and grew up in Montgomery County, Maryland, a pretty affluent suburb outside of Washington, D.C. My parents are both immigrants from South Korea. So, I grew up in a very middle income, I guess low income, family. I have an older brother who is ten years older than me.
Do you want me to go into my educational background?
AP: If I’m talking about how I got to Yale, it makes sense that I start in elementary school. My mom is a very ardent evangelical Christian. She wanted me to get that faith background and foundation early on, so she sent me to this private elementary school where I learned all about the bible and we had chapel every day. It was a very gracious and warm community, I guess. But the one thing that stood out to me there was that I was the only Asian in my grade. My grade only had 15 people in it, but there were two Koreans in the school, including me. We carpooled together, because we were family friends. But everyone always thought we were sisters. We weren’t. I went to a public middle school after that, which was a bit of a culture shock because I was coming from a school that was entirely white. It was a small, Christian school. I remember feeling really lost on the first day of school. I kind of found my footing there. In middle school, I studied a lot. I was kind of an overachiever. It was my defining quality. I just kind of loafed around a lot because I thought school was really easy.
Something else I should mention is that in 2008, during the economic recession, my family was pretty hard hit. My parents both ran restaurants growing up. I would spend all of my summer vacations and holidays there, just because there was no one to watch me at home. When that hit, business was very slow. So, we moved houses from this pretty well-off neighborhood to another neighborhood that was more diverse, I guess, and more middle-class. My mom sold her restaurant and my parents started working at the same one. I’d say that definitely shaped the way that I started viewing school. My parents are very big proponents of education. When I was little, my mother would always say, “Knowledge is power.” She’d take me to the library and everything. While I didn’t have the resources in my family to learn from them—because they are both immigrants, and English is very much their second language—I kind of made up for that by doing very well in school.
My parents are the opposite of tiger parents. They’re very hands-off. They kind of expect me to do well, but they have never really actually put pressure on me. So, after the recession and seeing them suffer through that, I kind of felt this obligation to hold up my end of the bargain too, because they’re working so hard. They did a lot so that I could have these opportunities, putting a lot of their money into the private school education I’ve had, which was my elementary school, and I didn’t want that to go to waste.
In eighth grade, my mom wanted me to apply to the STEM magnet program in one of the nearby high schools. It’s a pretty prestigious program. All the parents in the Asian community know about it. There’s an IB program at one school, and then there’s the STEM magnet program. Kind of the expectation is that if you’re a high achieving student, you should apply to one of these programs and attend them. I was not very into STEM, at all. I just kind of liked everything. I mean, I was good at math. I hadn’t gotten into the middle school program that is the feeder to the high school one. My mom wanted me to try again, so I did. Really the only reason I ended up going to that is because my middle school split into two high schools, and my best friends were going to the other high school. I didn’t want to be separated from them, so I figured that I’m going to go to a school I don’t want to go to anyway, it might as well be…
AKB: The one with your friends?
AP: No, the magnet program. I wasn’t gonna be with them either way.
AP: So, I went to that school, which is called Montgomery Blair. I have a lot of complicated feelings about Blair. I do think that in the beginning it made me more interested in STEM because I was forced to take four STEM classes freshman year, like math, chemistry, physics, computer science. The way it works is that there is a cohort of around 100 in each grade and you take a lot of the same classes as them the first two years. Then, you have the freedom to choose electives as an upperclassman. But I do think that it is a very old-fashioned way of teaching, where, especially in freshman year, they make the classes very difficult, so that you develop grit and perseverance. But, in that process, a lot of people are left behind, and it caters to a certain kind of learning. I think I managed to do well enough to get by. But especially my first year, the gender ratio was very imbalanced, there were 30 girls and 70 guys. It took me awhile to find my people, because I wasn’t really vibing with a lot of the girls.
The way Blair is, it’s the biggest school in the county, and there’s a STEM program within a larger school. The rest of the school is super diverse. It’s like 70 percent Hispanic and Black. But in the STEM program, there’s fewer that five percent Hispanic and Black students, so it’s majority White and Asian, so it’s the complete opposite of the rest of the school. You’re very much segregated because you’re picking special classes. So, it was hard for me to find students outside of the program too. It was this wishy-washy area. So, I struggled a bit with that. But then I really found my people. My best friend, Aditi, I met sophomore year in computer science. We were two of four or five girls in that class, so we really stuck together. We sat together every day and worked on the problem sets together. We had this great teacher. So that’s the reason I was interested in Computer Science. But she ended up going to Yale with me, which I guess I can talk about later.
In high school, the best thing for me was journalism. I know Yale says they take the “holistic approach” and everything, but for me, I don’t think I would have gotten into Yale if I hadn’t taken this English class in ninth grade. The teacher told me, “Oh, you should take journalism next year, because you’re a pretty good writer, and I think you would like it.” I told my mom that my teacher said that, and she said, “Wow! It’s always been my dream that my child was the Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper.” My mom was always not really pushing me, but the one thing she did push me on was joining the paper. She was always saying, “Join the paper, you don’t have to be an editor but you’ll probably like it.” So, I took journalism, and I joined the paper in eleventh grade. That was so great because it really opened me up to the rest of the school. The paper is mostly made up of students not in the magnet program, so I got to develop these really close bonds and work with people who I would have never talked to otherwise.
How I got to Yale specifically is that I applied through the QuestBridge program, which is designed to connect low-income, high achieving students with selective schools. So I did that. And I matched with Yale. It’s weird when I talk about QuestBridge, because I don’t think that a lot of people think I’m the person that fits those criteria. I remember when I got into Yale—the release of the results from QuestBridge is two weeks before the early results for Yale and other Ivy Leagues, so I found out that I got into Yale two weeks before anyone else had heard back from any schools—there was this buzz the next day when people found out I got into Yale. They were like, “How did she find out so early?” and then they would hear about QuestBridge. I remember one guy told my boyfriend at the time, he was like, “I wouldn’t have thought Alice would get financial aid.” That felt really weird. I think all my life my family has worked very hard to give us opportunities. At the same time, my parents have made sure I don’t feel like I am in a position that’s different from my peers. My whole school was very affluent, my elementary school was very affluent. They would always give me things when I asked for them. I was kind of ignorant of our real financial status until applying to college, realizing I did fit these criteria. So it was juggling those two. I read this essay about how this girl went to Andover, the boarding school, and she was on financial aid. As part of their package, she got a free Dell computer. It was the first computer she got. She was so excited about it, because she thought having that computer would bring her to the same level as her peers. When she got to Andover, she realized everyone else had MacBooks. She had this Dell computer, and she thought that was gonna elevate her to the status of her peers, but really it kind of made her seem more like an outsider. I think that about, because I have a MacBook. I always think about how it costs so much money, how it makes me look like I don’t need financial aid. I have been realizing more and more that class and wealth are so complicated, and it’s not just how much your parents’ income is in a year, it’s so much more than that. There’s a lot of research about how the children of wealthy white parents are way more likely to stay wealthy than Black peers of the same status. That was a long tangent. Basically, I applied through QuestBridge and I matched in. Here I am.
I didn’t really consider other schools. Finances is the most important thing in my search. I only visited two colleges. One of them was the University of Maryland, which is where most students from Blair go. The other was Georgetown, and we really only visited because we were in the neighborhood and wanted to check it out. I came into it with a pretty open mind.
AKB: It’s very interesting that you talk about the invisibility of your economic status. It’s such a sharp comment, that someone would say, “Oh, Alice isn’t someone who looks like the kind of person who needs financial aid.” I’m wondering if you could unpack how that felt for you in the moment. Do you think that’s something persists in your life even here at Yale? Do you think there’s a relationship between your multiple identities—whether it be being the children of immigrants, being someone who dresses well, being a journalist—that is ever in opposition to that?
AP: So, I guess when I heard that, it didn’t surprise me that much. It hit a nerve that hadn’t been hit before, but I could understand because our program draws from affluent White and Asian communities in Montgomery County, and most of the Asians and Asian Americans in the magnet are pretty well off. A lot of them got tutoring to do well on the admissions test for the magnet, or they received lots of college counseling and SAT tutoring. Since I was doing well academically, and I guess I dressed well, I don’t know, I guess the assumption was that I also fit into that category. And I had never said anything or acted in any way that would suggest that I was low-income. So, I could see why he would say that. It bothered me more why he would make that type of comment at all, less that it was directed at me. A lot of the discussion about class in my high school was about the rest of Blair, and not the magnet. And how there was such a sharp discrepancy between people in the magnet and everyone else. I don’t think that a lot of people realized that the magnet isn’t just one kind of person.
So, at Yale, I’m not really a part of the QuestBridge community here. I haven’t really found time to go to their events or interact with other people. Another thing I noticed is that some people are also here through QuestBridge, which surprises me. So, I’m sort of like that guy, who was surprised. Because class isn’t something that can be perceived just by talking to somebody. You really have to get to know somebody, their background. Even then, it’s not like people share their parents’ incomes. I think here it’s something that I’m still kind of dealing with. I feel kind of guilty sometimes, because I do have access to the really generous financial aid that Yale gives. So, I’m able to study abroad because I qualify for aid, whereas for most middle class or upper-class students, taking out $8,000 for a study abroad program is not feasible. I think there is a bit of guilt because in everyday life, my life is not that different from someone who isn’t getting financial aid. I can still purchase things and do things with them. I don’t feel the immediate burden, like some other lower income students might feel. In that sense I feel guilty, because I’m 100 percent hard pressed for money all the time. I think I’ve managed to float through the system in a way that’s easier than it is for other low-income students. In a way, I don’t identify so much with that community, but at the same time I’m not a part of the privileged, wealthy community.
AKB: Like, empathy for the rich.
AP: When I read that [article], I was like, which side am I on? I think a lot of people do feel like that. Most students here are from middle class families who can’t afford to take out $8,000 for study abroad, but at the same time they’re not necessarily strapped for cash, if that makes sense. I think most people would agree that Yale’s financial aid is really, really generous for people that need it, but for most middle-income families, they’re not really getting that benefit. It’s still a burden to take out all that money to pay for Yale tuition. So, with the whole discussion about the Student Income Contribution, I’ve been thinking about that, how it’s affecting some students a lot more than it’s affecting me. Because through my job, through my parents, I’m not super stressed about the Student Income Contribution. I do think that the figures that the activists use can be kind of misleading, but obviously I empathize with the push to get rid of it because it is a burden for some students. So, I think, here it’s hard for me to have concrete opinions about financial aid because I’m such a big beneficiary of it. I think the main thing that I feel here is that feeling of guilt, because I don’t necessarily feel that I deserve the generous aid I’m getting, sometimes. On paper, my family does.
AKB: But it doesn’t feel right.
AP: Right. Because I’ll make Amazon purchases to my P.O. box, and feel like a normal Yale student. But sometimes I’ll take a step back and realize my family is still not at the kind of level that a lot of peers are at. I remember Aditi was telling me about how one of friends was on the phone getting help from her parents with her paper. Her parents are both pretty accomplished lawyers, and went to help, and could help her with that. I was kind of stunned by that because I’ve never gone to my parents for help with academics. Obviously, people do that, because it makes sense. Why wouldn’t you ask your mom if she’s sitting next to you and knows all about the subject your studying. But I think that access to resources and opportunities that some students have, I’ve only become aware of that since coming to Yale. I’m still unpacking what I think about that. I think being here put my kids, if I have them, at my advantage. My parents weren’t able to provide that for me. It’s amazing to me that there can be such a difference in one generation. So, lots of gratitude. It’s just one of those things that doesn't benefit a lot of people.
AKB: Two things that are really interesting: this idea of opportunity and connection. I’ve also been noticing that, even personally, my mom has been offering me connections. It’s scary. I mean, they’re not super high-level, like the connections some people have. There’s this questions of whether the financial aid compensates for the loss of opportunity and connection. Or is it more like an apology, I don’t know.
AP: From the university’s side, there isn’t much that they can do in terms of compensating for lack of connections and opportunities, besides, like, the alumni network.
AKB: Which they do.
AP: I think it’s hard to navigate those as someone who is completely inexperienced in those kinds of things. Going to my parents for connections is not something that I have ever considered, really thought of a possibility. So even tapping into those university resources is kind of intimidating, because you don’t really know how to assert yourself. I wouldn’t think of it as compensation. Regardless of money, there are all sorts of tools that people have access to if they have parents with college educations and with connections. I think the tools of introducing yourself or making those kinds of professional connections, and the traits that come with those—that is something that a university cannot give. Because that’s something you develop as a child and as a teenager. I do think you can develop networking skills, obviously, through simple training you can get. But I think there’s a confidence you get from growing up in that kind of environment with parents who are equipped to teach you those kinds of skills. I don’t know. I never thought about it like that.
Especially as I’ve been trying to find summer internships, it did shock me too how some people were able to just call up their mom and ask them for a pretty prestigious internship. You know, people come to schools like Yale because of the networking opportunities with alumni. Especially with finance, that’s the advantage of coming to a school like this I suppose. I never realized that even for people who don’t want to go to Goldman Sachs or McKinsey, you can still benefit from those connections. I always thought the traditional route of emailing through programs with applications was the only way to find jobs. Even then, when there are programs with applications, having connections is so helpful.
AKB: I know for a lot of people, like myself for example—my dad is an academic and my mom was in academia at one point—my parents being involved in my education was such a big part of the development of our relationship. I’m wondering what your relationship is like with your parents, and maybe your relationship with them might’ve developed in different ways, how that may have shaped the relationship itself.
AP: I have to say I am a lot closer to my mom than I am with my dad. I think the reason for that is my mom is a really strong Christian, and she raised me to be that way too. I think we really bonded over going to church together, because my dad is not Christian. It would always be my mom and me going to church on Sundays, going to prayer meetings together. I think having that connection maybe made up for the lack of connection through school. In middle school, my dad wasn’t very enthusiastic about us being so involved in our church, spending so much time there. It caused a bit of tension between my parents. That definitely brought my mom and me closer. We were kind of like allies in this point of contact. I think my dad and I have a very normal, low-key relationship, where I don’t really go to him often if I’m having problems. I don’t really talk to him at school. I text my mom if something’s up. That being said, my parents and I have never really had low points. I’ve been very lucky because both of my parents are patient people. I don’t know if anything really brought me and my dad together besides like family time bonding. The biggest similarity between is personality-wise. We really get along well. We used to go to the gym together. That was a small thing that we would do. I guess those two things, and following them to work definitely brought us closer. I think seeing them at work, coming home really late, waking up early, that really made me respect them. Even if we didn’t grow a bond through that, I got to see this other side to them.
AKB: You talked about how your dad is not religious but your mom is. How do you think that has affected their relationship? Or, I guess I’ll ask, how did they meet?
AP: How did they meet? Oh! So, my parents met in Chicago because my dad ran this very small grocery, convenience store type of place and my mom had just moved to the United States. This was late ’80s. My mom was visiting her aunt in Chicago, and my dad lived in the same neighborhood as my aunt, and they were friends. While my mom was there, he stopped by to eat dinner with them. So that’s when they met. Through that, he introduced her to his store, he gave her a job. He would drive her to and from work every day, even though it was an hour out of the way.
AKB: So romantic!
AP: Yeah! Very quickly they developed friendship. And then, about a month after they met, he was like, “You should marry me.” She laughed and said, “Yeah, right”. But he kept bothering her about it, and finally she caved in. For a couple of weeks my mom was in Maryland because my grandma had just moved there. She flew back and they got married. It was two months after they met.
AKB: I’m shook. My parents also got married two months after they met.
AP: I was like, I can’t even say that I have a crush on somebody two months after I met them, let alone get married. So, they got married in ’88, and then had my brother the year after. I don’t think my mom wanted to marry a non-Christian, but she found herself in this romance. It was never really a source of conflict between them, until my mom got really involved in these prayer meetings and she’d go multiple weeknights. Especially when I was growing up, the expectation in a Korean household is that the mom cooks meals and has dinner on the table when Dad gets home from work. Both of my parents are pretty traditional in that sense. My mom followed that for most of their marriage. When I was in middle school, she basically was like, “I can’t do this. I’m also working until 4 or 5 every day. I can’t do this. Then, with the prayer meetings, I’m not going to be home every day. So, you have to figure out dinner yourself, or it’s not going to be a fresh-cooked meal, it’s going to be leftovers.” My dad was not the most patient back then, so he was shocked by the changes. That was pretty surprising to me, because they pretty much hid the problems they had in their marriage. I don’t think they had very many. They’re very agreeable people. But through that, there was a bit of tension. I think that was the first time I saw my mom cry, was because of that. We were driving home from prayer meetings and she’d be like, “Dad might be in a bad mood when we get back. But don’t be worried, it’s okay.” Then she’d probably recite a Bible verse that’s related. I’d be like, “Okay.” But I remember that being hard. I was in sixth grade. I didn’t have any friends. It was tough.
But that didn’t last very long. Over time, he became very understanding. Now he cooks his own meals. They’ve come a long way over the past five to ten years, in terms of letting go of some of those traditional Korean norms. He’s becoming more flexible. But I do think my mom has a bit of guilt because she hasn’t been able to get him to change. A big part of Christianity is spreading the gospel, so she does feel sad that her own husband doesn’t. But I think that my dad is a lot more open to listening to her. Because, she loves to talk about the Bible and the latest sermon she heard. I think he’s pretty understanding and will listen to her. But it always surprised me that she married someone with religious beliefs that were so different from hers because it’s pretty rare. Like when I was going to church, I was the only one who didn’t have both parents present. So that was kind of weird for me because there would be these events and we wouldn’t go because it’s hard to leave the house, or I would be the only one without both parents present, which was weird because I never thought of my parents as having marriage problems. I had to explain to people that my parents were fine, they’re not divorced or anything. It’s just how it was.
AKB: Has it been hard since you left home, not having that time that’s just you and your mom?
AP: I don’t want to say no, because that sounds bad, but I think I’ve behaved very independent. Just because my parents worked a lot. My mom and I are close, but we’re not that close. She’s not the first person I go to if I have some kind of emotional problem. It’s always nice to talk to her. But I don’t think that it’s affecting me negatively. I don’t call my parents that often at college, which makes me feel kind of guilty sometimes. Some people call every day, weekly. They are happy I’m able to be independent, I think.
AKB: What was something that was hard to adjust to once you got to Yale, something that shocked you?
AP: I mean, I’m a pretty introverted person. So, I think the first few weeks were very overwhelming. I wanted to make friends, but it’s hard for me to find my friend groups. I saw a lot of big groups of friends forming. But I wasn’t super pressed to get into one. I wanted to take my time and find friends that I actually vibed with. But it’s hard to do that when everyone’s in a frantic rush to make as many friends as they can. That was hard. But having Aditi here was helpful. We tried really hard to establish our own friend groups, establish ourselves and not hang out in the beginning of the year. But having someone who knows you that well in a foreign place is very comforting. Just knowing that she’s here is very comforting. Leaving home would have been a lot harder if I hadn’t had someone here that I’m that close with here with me. All the loneliness and homesickness would have been way worse.
AKB: Tell me about your friendship.
AP: Of course. I don’t think anyone in my life knows me as well as Aditi knows me. We met in sophomore year. We realized we had all sorts of common interests. We were presidents of the feminist club at our high school, we both did the newspaper—she was the op-ed editor—so we were on the editorial board together. We spent a lot of time together in high school. We were debate partners for junior and senior year.
AP: Yeah, we were like tight. It was great, since there were so few girls in our magnet programing, finding one that I vibed that well with was kind of a miracle. For both of us, STEM wasn’t our entire life. We both loved English and history and journalism. We wanted to do stuff that wasn’t just science and math. At the same time, Aditi is a genius. She’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. She has the most perseverance of any of the people I’ve met. She’s so ready to take on challenges and not let on that she’s struggling, probably because she’s not struggling. She’s very admirable in that way. As a friend, it’s great because we both have high expectations of each other, but we’ve never gotten into a fight. It’s weird, because you’re supposed to get into fights with your friends so you can come out stronger in the end.
AKB: The interesting thing about the friendship argument is that it happens when you get really, really, really close to someone. But when you know someone you know when to keep your distance, and when to get close.
AP: Exactly. We’ll take one look at each, say one word, and we’ll know if the other person is in a funk. We won’t press their buttons in anyway. We did this road trip together last summer, so we spent an entire week, 24/7 together and I don’t think I can do that with anyone else, not even my mom. Definitely not my mom, actually. She is great. I don’t know how I’m gonna spend the summer away from her. It’s definitely going to be the longest that we’ve ever been apart: when school gets out to the first week before school starts up again. So that should be interesting. I think the only thing that brought out substantial tension between us was junior year when we were both applying to be Editor-in-Chief of the paper. We talked about it, and we agreed that, whatever the outcome, we both deserved it, and we’d be happy for each other. We genuinely meant it. But then I got it, and she didn’t, so obviously that was awkward. She was so happy for me, but then there was the turnover when you’re training. Our paper met during two lunch periods in the computer lab, where we’d sit next to each other. But then, when I was chosen, I had to be gone, because I had to help with applications and talk to the editors about this or that. I think the absence, me not being there, was a dramatic shift in our relationship on the paper. Just because we went from being peers to this weird hierarchy where I’m one step ahead of her, but then we’re still best friends. And we’re still juniors, still writing stories. So that was kind of hard. I knew she was happy for me, and I knew that she didn’t want to feel jealous, didn’t want to feel blindsided. And I know I would’ve felt the same way. It was inevitable in some way, I mean it worked out fine. In the end, it worked out great, because she was taking really hard classes senior year, and having that extra burden of all the logistical stuff…. I think it worked out well in the end. But it is weird when your friendship overlaps with stuff like that. I think it’s even more present at Yale. It’s so weird that your friend is the president of some organization and title and authority over people you know, even authority over you. That’s very clear to me. I write for the paper here, and it’s weird contacting sophomores who have all this authority in this one area. It’s just interesting. There’s a lot of overlap here. Your classmates would be the people you’re trying to source, the people you depend on.
Back to Aditi, I was concerned at first that we were spending too much time together at Yale. But, you know, why would you not spend time with someone you love and care about a lot? Okay, I lied. The EIC thing was the first thing that caused a lot of tension. The other thing was a boy. If anyone is reading this, or listening to this, I don’t know if you are. Don’t get involved with the same boys—or girls, whatever you like, whoever you like—as your best friends. Because it’s just not worth it. Even if you know it, and you think it’ll work, don’t do it. It’s funny to us now, sort of.
AKB: So, you do/did journalism at Yale and in high school. Why do you do it? Why do you keep coming back to it?
AP: I really love that with journalism there’s a clear purpose to what you’re doing. In high school, I was really into writing features about our community. I wrote features about lack of diversity in our magnet’s programs. Everything I did felt really important. When you’re a high schooler, who doesn’t really have much of an idea of what they want to do, I think any purpose-driven extracurricular is really rewarding. I didn’t have that with my other extracurriculars. With debate, it was fun to argue, but I didn’t really see any tangible outcome or effect from my work. But with journalism, even if I didn’t feel like doing anything, I knew that writing my article would be really gratifying and super worth it. That part is always there, the instant gratification of seeing your work. You know this. It’s so hard getting published as a writer. But with YDN [the Yale Daily News], you’re published every day, every week. Obviously, it’s so much different. Creative writing is a whole different process. I have a lot of respect for creative writers, but I never felt like a creative person. In high school, I was too scared to do spoken word or write poetry, so I figured the best outlet would be the newspaper because it’s objective. At the end of the day, if I can’t think of right metaphor to use, it’s all facts driven. You always have people you can talk to. I like that.
I like that it’s based in talking to other people, learning about what other people are doing. It’s just interesting. It gives you perspective because you get to talk to cool students and professors. It’s a way to make connections with people in such an easy way. It’s not necessarily making friendship, but it’s learning from other people, which I think is awesome.
AKB: Is there a way in which your journalism in high school varies from your journalism here?
AP: Oh, yeah. So different. We published monthly. It was a 32-page newspaper, and we had a Spanish section, which was very awesome. We’re one of a few high school papers that has a Spanish section. But just the pace of story writing was so different, just because we had a month to flesh out first draft, final draft. So, it’s more longform, whereas with YDN it’s a daily. I think I wrote a lot more features, and now I do more straight news, which is a lot easier. It’s impossible to write a good feature in a day or two. But with news, it’s just recording. So I guess longform is more gratifying, you get to really know your sources, know your subject, whereas with straight news it's a lot less rewarding. Some stories it really feels like you’re just grinding it out. But then there are those stories where you do feel like you’re making connections and talking to really interesting people, and tapping into stuff that hasn’t been tapped into before. Knowing that that possibility is there gets you past that boring grind.
I think the other difference is scope, it just feels so much larger. There are infinite story ideas here, whereas high school we always had a session to pitch ideas and I’d be racking my brain. Here, there’s so much happening every day. It’s kind of overwhelming, but there’s always something to be done.
AKB: How do you think you’ve changed since you’ve come to Yale?
AP: As a person, I think I’ve definitely become more extroverted. I talk a lot more now. I find it easier to just approach people and make friends. I think a large part of that was, with Camp Yale, people are eager to get to know each other, with that I realized that people are a lot more approachable than they might seem. So, I’m more comfortable with that.
I think I’ve been challenging a lot more of religious beliefs since coming here. It was something I knew I was gonna do eventually. I always knew that there were a lot of different parts of Christianity that didn’t sit well with me in high school but I figured I would deal with those conflicts later. I guess that time is now. So, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I feel about different issues. Especially reconciling my progressive political views with the traditional views I had as a child and sort of changed as high schooler, but still kept. Like, in elementary school I never learned evolution. I grew up with creationism. My mom is the most pro-life person ever, and in high school I was the president of the feminist club. We would do fundraisers for Planned Parenthood. There were a lot of contradictions. I kind of separated them. I had my home/ religious life and my actual school, everywhere else attitude about politics. Now that I’m away from home, I have to deal with all of these conflicting things. I believe in evolution, obviously, I believe in Darwin’s theory. It’s hard when you grow up and you learn something in school.
AKB: Do you think if you had kids you would want them to be raised in the way you were raised?
AP: No, I would not send them to the kind of elementary school that I went to. I think I would try to give them all the information so that they could decide for themselves. But I would send them to public school. I wouldn’t give them that kind of radical education, in terms of religion. I haven’t been going to church regularly here, and sometimes I feel guilty about it. But then I kind of think about what exactly I’m getting out of that, and whether I can get that from different sources, whether I’m there if I actually believe it or it’s just custom. Maybe in four years I’ll have the answers.
AKB: What do you see as your future? What do you want to study? Do you want to go to grad school? Do you want to live in a different place? Do you want to have kids?
AP: I was thinking about this over break, because my dad was grilling me about what I’m gonna major in. Before I answer this, I do want to say that I had this conversation with my dad about why I want to be a Cognitive Science major—and that’s just one of the majors I’m considering—it’s the one that I really stuck with him because at first he had no idea what it was, and then I explained it to him. And he thought it was cool. But then he went online, and read more about it, and was a bit concerned because it’s such a broad major where you pick and choose what you want to do. He was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find a job where I wanted be with that major. I don’t really want to go to med school or become a neuroscientist. I totally felt him on that. But I was trying to explain to him that a lot of students at Yale study things because they find that subject interesting and they like it, not because they want a career out of it. He said he totally got that, but that I needed a job. It’s not that he doesn’t understand that I want to study what I want to study, but that there is that sense of, we want you to be so much better than we were. I don’t think he wants me to be distracted by the attitude of “just pursue what you love and everything else will come with it.” He’s very pragmatic.
Whenever people ask me what I’m majoring in, I either say Cognitive Science, Computer Science, or, now I’ve added, History to the mix, to spice things up. I’m a combination of those. But not History by itself, I’d do a double major if I were to do that. But I don’t know. Aditi predicts that I will be a journalist because she’s seen how happy I get when I talk about the stories I’m working on. But that scares the hell out of me, being a journalist. One, it’s a hard field to insert yourself in. It’s hard to get past working on local papers and actually do the really hard-hitting, exciting work that you want to do. So maybe I’ll be doing journalism, maybe I’ll stick with Comp Sci. I have a comp sci internship this summer, at Facebook.
AP: The hope is to fall in love with comp sci at this internship, because that would be really easy for me. I don’t know if I will love it…
AKB: But it’s worth a shot.
AP: Right. There are a lot of cool things you can do in comp sci. There are probably a lot of jobs out there that I don’t even know about that are possible. I see myself living in an urban area. I see myself going back to the D.C. area. I love the DMV. I love Maryland.
AKB: What do you like about it?
AP: Washington, D.C., is the perfect city. As a New Yorker, you probably disagree, but it’s not too intimidating and overwhelming like New York City, or L.A., or Chicago. But it’s still very much a city. There’s a lot of buzz too, because it’s the capital, and there’s a lot of political stuff happening too. It’s just a good size. The area around D.C. is so diverse. There’s a friendliness in D.C. that I don’t think exists in other places. We’re on the East Coast, sort of in the Northeast, but we’re not. We don’t identify with the New Englanders. So there’s that laid back aspect of it, but it’s still very fast-paced. I like that. It just feels like home, so I’d probably go back. Since I lived in a suburb of D.C., not actually D.C., it would be exciting to live in the city. So there’s that novelty to it, but it’s still a familiar place. But if I were to move to the West Coast, that would just be a completely different lifestyle I think. But who knows.
AKB: Would you ever consider living abroad?
AP: I don’t know. I’ve always thought living in Seoul would be so cool, just getting back in touch with my roots, you know? Seoul’s very intimidating and overwhelming, I think.
AKB: It’s so big.
AP: Yeah, it is. It would be a shock to live there, with the fast-paced, overwhelming part of it. But also, it’s Korea, you know. I have to brush up on my Korean.
AKB: Have you been there before?
AP: Uh huh. I went once as a toddler, so I don’t remember that. And I went once after freshman year, and I loved it. I visited family. It was the first time I properly met my aunt in Korea, my dad’s sister. Just because the only other times, I’d been so little. So that was fun. I think I like how in Korea there’s the crazy urban aspect of Seoul, but if you go to the countryside or one of the islands, it’s a whole different world. It’s like a tropical paradise, almost. There’s a lot of different types of environments. You’d never be bored in Korea. And the food, obviously. The only issue is that I’m vegetarian.
AKB: It’s so hard to be vegetarian there.
AP: Yeah. I think the abundance of bakeries will do it for me.
AKB: Is there anything you wish I had asked you about? Something that’s a big part of the way you see the world or…
AP: Probably, but I’m not the hugest fan of talking about myself. Not really. Is there anything else you want to talk about?
AKB: I can’t think of anything right now.
AP: I never really talk about myself, to be honest. Or, obviously, I do but… I mean, everyone likes talking about themselves on the one hand, cause, you know, good stroke of the ego. I like that. But I’ve never really found myself interesting. That’s why journalism interests me, because I like meeting people that are so cool. It lifts the pressure off of you to be doing these amazing things, because you’re just the one documenting it. Maybe that’s a cop-out. But I’m fine doing that, because I genuinely enjoy it. I don’t know. There are so many people here who are offering great work, so many great, thoughtful, ideas into the world, and into the campus. I don’t think I have that to offer yet.
AKB: Does it make you think you’ll grow into that? Or do you feel sort of at odds with the community?
AP: The idealistic part of me wants to say that I’ll grow into it, and that it just takes a certain level of maturity and experience, but I don’t know. Right now, more of the latter. Even in high school, I was in the STEM magnet program, I always felt like I was a step behind everyone else. Part of it was probably related to gender, and male-dominated conversations. But I think the fact that I didn’t get into that middle school magnet program really enforced to me that I’m not naturally gifted at this, but I can work really hard and be at a similar level as people who are. So that always comforted me.
I took this quantum physics class junior year, and there were these guys in my class who were really lovely, but they were real physics geniuses. The teacher would have a question, and they would answer it, and then they would start having a one-on-one discussion in front of the entire class about some abstract theory that none of us knew about. In those kinds of moments, I would feel like there was some part of me that was missing. They had this natural affinity for the subject that I just didn’t have. So, there was no way I would ever develop that. Over time, as you keep learning and they keep learning, that feeling only grows larger, because you just feel like you’re lagging father and farther behind. Coming to Yale, there’s less of that direct comparison because everyone’s doing their own thing, taking their own classes. I mean, there are times where I feel like I’m definitely not as eloquent or as experienced in certain things as other people here are. For example—I don’t want to single you out at all—I remember on the first day of Harvest [a freshman pre-orientation program] you guys, you and Irene and Annalise, were talking about your creative writing circles. And I was a bit surprised, because that part of the world was so foreign to me. The idea of creative writing… My suitemate does spoken word, or she used to last semester.
AP: Yeah. I was very intrigued because I had never met anyone who did spoken word in high school. I don’t even think we had a club for it. I’m sure anyone could learn how to write poetry and tap into that, but I always felt like that wasn’t for me. In the same way I felt like physics just wasn’t for me because something was not there. Things that you can learn through work, through keeping at it, have always appealed to me as opposed to really creative things. That’s one reason that I’m apprehensive about going into comp sci, because I do feel that feeling where I feel like I’m lagging behind. There are people who make apps in their free time, and love it so much, are on Stack Overflow all the time, and love comp sci. The class is just a formality, whereas I feel like I like it but I don’t like it that much. So I’m kind of worried to keep myself in that kind of environment. I don’t know. Aditi and I talked a lot about this because we didn’t have very many female science teachers, and how having more role models, having more female peers would have changed our attitudes about STEM. I think we’re both pretty cynical about it and know that we probably are talented and smart, but at this point the idea that we’re not has just been so heavily ingrained in us that it’s just something that you’re always going to have to have to deal with. I think that’s relatable for a lot of people. Imposter syndrome is very common. I think that’s something that I have also found challenging the last few years.
AKB: Is there some question you feel like you’re looking for the answer to, here at Yale? Something you want to learn about yourself, about the world while you’re here at Yale?
AP: Oh gosh. So much. The thing that comes to mind is the religious one, and kind of really developing opinions and beliefs that are 100 percent mine, and not just what my parents, not just what the right belief to have, but what I actually do support fully. Like you know how in journalism, you’re not supposed to write a fact unless you can back it up with an interview, or a source? I want to be able to have all of my beliefs like that, where I can back them up with concrete reasons. I want to be a rational person. I think I want that. Another question I have about the world is… This is less a question about the world and more a question about my personal development. I guess I didn’t really talk about this. But I struggled a lot with body image and weight and stuff like that, so I hope in four years I’ve reached a point where I’m completely past that, and comfortable, and confident. Wow, this is becoming very…. I want to be an activist. I hope in four years I’ve done something beyond just writing about what other activists are doing. I hope I find something that I can 100 percent devote all my time to.