Hien Luu is everywhere — but mostly at Starbucks. As one of twenty prestigious Hesburgh-Yusko scholars in the junior class, she’s done it all: accomplished international research, created The Race Monologues: Show Some Skin, started the Observer column “Asiatic Gaze”, and changed her major four times. Now an art and American Studies major, Hien discusses how to: choose a research project you actually care about, follow academic passions, and stay sane in the face of academic pressures.
HC: So tell me about the Hesburgh-Yusko Scholars Program:
Hien: Laughs …There’s a whole website devoted to discussing the program. It’s not about the title but what you do with it. This summer I researched historicism in the Vietnam War, focusing on the differences in interpretation and factual representation of the war in Vietnamese and American culture and educational institutions.
HC: How did you create your research project and proposal?
Hien: HYSP stipulates summer research and I chose to focus on a topic very important to me and to take advantage of generous funds available through the University. Organizing a research project is hard so it’s vital to pick a topic that you find fascinating and that you can stick to. It is a largely self-directive endeavor so it’s important to be completely invested in your research. For example, I had an advisor but the grant writing and research proposal was an individualized effort.
HC: How did you facilitate your research?
Hien: I specifically looked at how knowledge and history is manipulated through different societies and then presented to the general population. It was a two-part study, divided between Vietnam and America. During the spring semester, I interviewed 84 high school students in South Bend and read the small paragraphs on the Vietnam War in their standardized textbooks. Then during the summer I travelled to Vietnam and wanted to replicate the model of interviewing I did in South Bend in Vietnam but there were educational and political factors. There is an absolute language cultural barrier. The state controls one national textbook. To gain the information I needed for my comparative study I needed to forge deeper connections, so I taught a TOEFL class and witnessed first hand the differences in educational attitudes and priorities. It was incredible.
HC: What were the biggest lessons you took away from international research?
Hien: That establishing relationship is essential to experiencing a culture. And that I don’t want to focus on the macroscopic geopolitical issues — I’m more interested in the individual’s experience. So I switched majors from philosophy to art along with my American Studies major. It’s so easy to get boxed in and so hard to remember that college is supposed to be an evolutionary process.
HC: How has this affected your academic experience here?
Hien: I realized that work should be enjoyable. Switching my major to art and American Studies was definitely the right choice because it was a synthesis of what comes naturally. Don’t run away from what comes easily — working on what seems so easy is what helps make us extraordinary. At first, in a narrow academic sense, art didn’t seem “super” enough for me. But it comes so naturally and is a source of joy and I think that I can make a career out of it, specifically focusing on literary journalism and photojournalism and talking about the human experience on more of a microscopic level.
HC: How has this affected the way you approach leadership at Notre Dame?
Hien: There is a lot of constant pressure to perform here. HYSP is a source of pressure, a pressure to be super in the sense that you are doing the absolute max and stressed out all the time. There seems to be little space for the unsung hero and leadership it in its own quiet way, which is something I’m working on. In a way, I’ve become less active in leadership roles because I am trying not to over-commit. It’s so important to get to know yourself during these four years and not to over-commit for the sake of fitting into this achiever mentality. That’s not fundamentally important – your résumé isn’t the final sum of your individual worth and that’s something we all need to remember.
HC: Any last words on how to deal with academic stress and the pressure to résumé-build?
Hien: It’s very hard to step outside of your own reality. Other people really aren’t interested in your façade so there is no reason to worry about your impression. No one is really watching or judging you. Take what you love and run with it.