Cindy Lou is a rising sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences looking to major in economics and considering minors in both law and society and East Asian Studies. This summer, Cindy will be studying abroad in Hong Kong, China, London and Rome. She also participated in a feminism camp in New York sponsored by the Penn Women’s Center.
Street: So tell me about your experience with Penn Engineering in Japan.
Cindy Lou: I was in Hong Kong and Zhuhai, China. It was part of the Global Biomedical Service Learning Program. I took it as an elective course, one that I could learn more about my culture, while being able to learn about the orthotic fabrication process. We helped children with cerebral palsy, and we learned how to build orthotics from Hong Kong Polytechnic students.
Street: Did you work directly with any of the children?
CL: Yes, of course. We took their measurements, talked to them, and fitted them with their orthotics. I speak Cantonese, so I could talk to some of them in Cantonese (they spoke English too, but they would speak to me in Cantonese).
Street: Would you ever go somewhere where you couldn’t speak the language and didn’t know a lot about the culture? It seems like enhancing what you already know is a big part of going abroad for you, like diving deeply into some cultures, rather than just scratching the surfaces of others for a few weeks.
CL: I’m really open to studying abroad anywhere. For me, learning about a new culture is so important. I realize with each trip abroad how much I don’t know, but also how much I really want to learn. I live with the philosophy that that education is liberation. The more knowledge that I gain, the more I know I have a social responsibility. I’m going to Rome next month, and I don’t speak any Italian so I know it will definitely be an adventure.
Street: Does the sense of social responsibility gained from studying abroad translate over into other programs or activities that you do?
CL: Because of everything that is happening in America and around the world, I am more mindful and I always want to be my best self, to represent the underrepresented, to understand, or try to understand some of the things that are hard to understand at first. I don’t know. Every time I’m travelling, I get a new sense of hope and optimism. It’s refreshing to put yourself out there and to be present and really learn outside of the classroom.
Street: I think that optimism is really so important in today’s world, and I know that studying abroad isn’t the only thing you did this summer to learn more and increase your optimism. Tell me about the feminism camp and the Penn Women’s Center.
CL: Wow, feminism camp was the most insane thing. I went in not knowing what to expect, but it exceeded any and all expectations. They describe it as part conference, part professional development workshop, part activist Launchpad, and part retreat. I can’t possibly put into words what that week did for me. I learned so much. I met so many incredible people. Penn Women’s Center gave me a scholarship to go.
Street: Can you share with me some of the most enlightening insights? I know that’ll probably be difficult to choose.
CL: I learned so much about intersectionality, especially about what that means in today’s political climate. I learned about activism, what it means to live out loud. I learned about my identity and how complicated it all is. Our identity is ours, you know. I never appreciated how multi–faceted we all are, but going to camp made me realize how much there is to learn about people and the world. It connects back to the travelling thing. I tend to internalize many of my experiences, but being there allowed me to see that I have a platform. I have so much.
Street: So it sounds like you definitely consider yourself to be a feminist now. Is that correct?
CL: Of course I consider myself to be a feminist (although I’ll say that I’m a loud and intersectional feminist). I’m still learning all of the vocabulary. I took the first steps on my journey of activism and advocacy. I learned how to embrace my feminist values. I think in high school, I was in AP Language, and my teacher asked us who was a feminist. I raised my hand (probably just one of three) and then he asked us who was a feminist but afraid to say so. I raised my hand again and he asked why. I don’t think that I had a good answer. I’ve been trying to discover why ever since. Now, it’s not just about wanting more for yourself; it’s about helping others realize that they can want more equality—that term is so complicated. What the hell does that mean, right?
Street: Yes, everyone seems to have different ideas about equality and if it’s even possible to attain. A lot of people would argue that feminism is divided into the white feminists and feminists who identify as minorities. Could you talk about that a bit and could you talk about the concept of intersectionality?
CL: Yeah, of course. So I’ve always considered myself a feminist, but I also realize that me being a woman of color, and also from a low–income background means that I’m not like everyone else. I guess when I learned more about the concept of intersectionality, I learned that it seeks to embrace all parts of our identity—race, class, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, etc. I guess the general idea is that we don’t have to fit into one box. There’s so much in between that sometimes we don’t highlight because we don’t know about it. It’s a process. I’m just beginning to learn everything and it’s been enlightening. I’m more aware that systemic injustices and inequality occur in so many different dimensions. I’m learning how everything fits together or doesn’t fit together. Like I said, I’m taking the first steps and I hope to be learning much more, to continue to educate myself and to start asking the tough questions. I don’t know if I answered your question clearly. It’s hard because I feel like I don’t have the right words.