Camellia Travels the World: Sociology Research 101

January 10, 2020

Throughout the semester, each of us picks an aspect of Human Rights and conducts an individual research project with the guidance and help from our faculty and country coordination teams. The project is a qualitative sociology research, and it is very different from any other research that I have done in college. Besides literature review and online resources, we are asked to hold interviews with locals and professionals to learn more about specific cases in each country. And at the end of the semester, we share our work with each other. To tell you the truth, this is a very long journey and a hard one; step by step, I slowly developed my project and dived deep into my thoughts…

Firstly, I have to narrow my interests to one aspect of Human Rights that I am passionate about. After days of thinking, I started my project with “comparison of public and private schools,” analyzing quality of education in different countries. At the personal level, I see the difference between public and private education within my own family: my brother has always been educated in public school system in China, and I have been attending private schools in both China and the United States. On a national level, I notice the rise of private school system in China, and I am curious about the causes and the differences. Thus, I would like to learn about the education system across the world, and thus, reflect on my own case.

When I thought my topic was specific enough and was confident about my project, my professor posed many challenging questions. Out of all, the most critical issue is that it is obvious that private education is generally better than a public one; therefore, how could I make my project more unique and argumentative? Going beyond the evident inequalities regarding entrance to and the outcome of the education system, what do these differences imply? And how these differences affect the future of children?

With numerous questions in mind, I looked for the commonalities among three countries’ education system, and finally, I decided to address the inequality of language education in public and private schools. To be more precise, I focused on English learning in schools, because English has been used as an international language for communication and in academia, and thus, English learning becomes prevalent and significant for most parts of the world. I understand the importance of English, as I am a beneficiary of good language education.


During the final few weeks of the program, I spent hours at a café going through my notes and working on this project.


Yet, I still ran into a wall: how is English learning related to human rights? How can I justify the importance of language education when facing the call for language justice? Indeed, language justice is a human rights movement, fighting for equity of all languages and building multilingual spaces. I support the initiative, and I strongly believe there is no “superior language.” Then, why is language education so prevalent across the world? Is it just for global education and neoliberalism? Is there any other use of language education?

Again, I spent days at this bottleneck period, until I saw a video of Gayatri Spivak discussing English as a “tool of the masters”; by acquiring this tool, teachers can “make elite and subaltern meet.” She uses herself as an example, describing her role as an English teacher in India and how she and her students “defeated the English by loving the language.” Learning English is not an act of surrendering to the masters, but rising and speaking as the subalternity. At that moment, I finally found the connection for my research project: language learning is a tool utilized by people to demand and protect their human rights; it is to give them the power of speech and expression and let their voices be heard and understood on the world’s stage.

With this belief in mind, I argued that guaranteeing equitable language education in public education is to equip lower socioeconomic class and marginalized groups with a tool to rise to the stage with the elites, to articulate the violation of rights they have been in, and to protect human rights by themselves.

This is my first time doing a sociology research project, and as you can see, I had many moments of frustration and periods of stagnation. To me, this project has witnessed my progress, and I am very grateful for this opportunity to scrutinize one topic and develop my critical thinking and research skills.

All my thanks and love to this funky and funny, relaxed and resourceful professor that helped me throughout this semester.

Jack in NZ: Work

October 14, 2016

“Work work work work work work” – Robyn Fenty

“You don’t gotta go to work, but you gotta put in work” – Brian Lee

“Work sucks” – Tom DeLonge

I wish the bathroom were further away from my desk. I could use a nice long stroll to put some substantial physical distance between me and the rest of my work. Unfortunately it’s close by. Perhaps I could wander upstairs a few floors, do a lap around the library, hope I bump into a friend and get sucked into conversation. Better judgment prevails and I’m in and out and back at my desk, bladder emptied, legs minimally stretched, mind still resisting the remaining four steps of Dunedin tap water lead concentration data processing. I fidget for several minutes, taking a long drink from my water bottle. I’m not thirsty, but it’s something to do, and ensures I’ll get to repeat my brief walk past a dozen-odd bookcases to the bathroom within the hour. Maybe I’ll pick up a book and page through it for a while. I’m stuck in the history section, and though I’ve never been a big fan of the subject, these are desperate times. The girl at the desk to my left gets up. I take off my watch and put it on the desk next to my computer, adjusting it several times so the band and the flank of my laptop are exactly perpendicular. I look out the window and watch pedestrians walk by. No one greets another as they walk past. Virtually all of them stare down at their phones or turn the other way with deliberately nonchalant motions. I listen to people shuffle and fidget. A page turns. The girl at the desk to my right gets up. Another page turns. Someone about 20 bookcases over coughs, giving another the tacit permission to do the same. The cycle repeats. The cough and throat-clearing wave passes down the row of desks. I participate. Pens click and are set down with varying degrees of noise. There’s a soft clicking and clacking of laptop keyboards amid the sound of cars driving by. A fluorescent light is on the fritz behind me and makes a plinking sound as it stochastically flashes. I believe it’s as close as I’ll get to Chinese water torture, god willing. The girl who left the desk to my right returns. No sign of the other. Perhaps she’s taking a lap. There’s a palpable air of brow furrowing and nail biting and absentminded finger drumming. Two pretty girls walk by with a Bernese mountain dog and half the people near the window turn their heads. I take another sip of water. I remove my glasses and man handle my face to make sure it’s still there. As far as I can tell, it is. I put my glasses back on. I take them off again and clean them. They’re not dirty. A man with a large green umbrella walks by outside. He stops, checks his phone, and goes back the way he came. I clean the small amounts of gunk from under my nails. I swivel side to side in my chair and open my phone, checking each social media app, finding nothing new. I check each of them again.

This is how the past few weeks have gone. I pick at work for several days, like a child pushing peas around his plate so he can please be excused. I resolve to get things done early, then spend hours on YouTube chasing a tireless rabbit down its infinite Internet hole, rationalizing videos like ‘Jon Stewart destroys Bill O’Reilly on his own show’ and ‘Seven times Neil deGrasse Tyson blew our minds’ have some vague educational benefit. Mid-week rolls around with minimal work production, and weekend plans begin to crop up. A glorious light at the end of the tunnel. Mountains, trails, friends, a departure from cyclical procrastination and concerns of studying, the only thing motivating enough to get me to sit down at a library desk for hours on end and claw my way through lab reports and lecture notes. Forty-eight hours of freedom. All that remains between me and a weekend of fun is the Eurydician task that is my lab report. I must not look back.

I can only hope that with 20 days left in my semester abroad I can change my work habits. There are so many things I want to do before I go, and piles of work to complete before I can do them (it’s possible I’ve neglected to take notes on a lecture or 30). With a little effort, I’m sure I’ll be able to. Though perhaps this post is proof negative, I’ve spent an hour on it instead of doing my assignment.

A car horn honks.

The girl to my left returns.

A seagull floats past.

I get up to walk to the bathroom, but I don’t really have to go.

%d bloggers like this: