Jenny Xin Luan '18: Where To Go After Hiroshima
Jenny Xin Luan is the 2018-2020 Shansi Fellow at UNITAR, ANT-Hiroshima, and Green Legacy Hiroshima. This is her second year narrative.
I have spent over 200 days at this desk at the UNITAR office overlooking the Atomic bomb Dome and Peace Memorial Park. There are only a few months left in my Fellowship to appreciate this view and spend time in this city. My journey in Hiroshima has been a transformative experience and started off my voyage as a Shakaijin (Japanese for a specific category of people - working adults, full-fledged members of society). I shrugged off my liberal arts college student hat and adopted a new set of lenses to look beyond and contemplate my future. Where should I go after Hiroshima? What is the life I want to live?
As a Psychology and East Asian Studies major at Oberlin, I was looking to build an academic career in cross-cultural psychology research. When I got the Hiroshima Fellowship in the fall semester of my senior year, I decided to pause my psychology studies with plans to resume after two years in Japan. I was very determined that would work but, at the same time, acknowledge doubt of this pursuit. I enjoyed the process of conducting research, but was unsure about what my primary research focus would be throughout my career. Also, as a foreign student, I was struggling to fit in this relatively “domestic” field of study in classes. Coming to Hiroshima was my solution to the doubts I had. It was like a test for my love of psychology. Would this passion endure two years of new adventures in another country? As it comes to the end of my Fellowship, my answer has shifted from a solid “yes” to a very weak “maybe.”
Ten months into the Fellowship, I realized what an ideal work environment was like for me: an environment where I was surrounded by people from different corners of the world speaking different languages. UNITAR gave me a taste of what is like to work in this kind of environment. I work with people from Japan, Australia, Afghanistan, Switzerland, Iraq, and South Sudan. I have seen things I did not know about the world little by little, including new languages, culture, and history. I learn from each person every day. More importantly, everyone is equally “foreign” and I am not the only “international” contribution to conversations. This is where I belong.
Starting from the second year of the Fellowship, I began to think about life in general. Maybe I spent too much time by myself. Maybe contemplating existential meanings became a good way to kill time. I engaged in conversations with people from different professional backgrounds and tried to learn from their experiences. The desk next to mine at UNITAR has hosted many of my former colleagues. The last colleague sitting there was an American lawyer. We became good friends and often went for coffee together. Before moving to Hiroshima for his partner’s work arrangement, he was a lawyer working solely on domestic issues in the United States. Apparently, that changed after his move to Hiroshima four years ago. With his law background, he found opportunities at our office and later at other international organizations in Malaysia and South Sudan. Last year, he announced that he was going to Afghanistan for a new job and planned to pursue an online degree in international law. He said he never imagined this mid-career change would happen. But now, he embodies a global professional career. Besides constantly being amazed by his choices, I just thought, “that is what I want to do.” I look up to the brave choice he made to switch fields when he already had an established career. I admire his courage to work in different countries, including places that still have active war zones. I hope I am able to make the decision to work in such a country when I have the opportunity. My imagination is probably allowing me ignore the hardships that would come with this professional path. But, for now, that is what I want to pursue.
Last summer, I started my search for graduate school programs in international affairs. Since October, I have been writing essays, taking the GRE, and requesting recommendation letters. Now, in February 2020, I am submitting the last two of my applications and waiting to hear from the schools. I am excited to take this step, but also extremely anxious about the results. For the essays, I was asked to write about my my research interests, leadership potential, and career prospects. The more I wrote and edited, the more I started to wonder if I might not be ready for this. I’ve solidified my interests but am unsure of how to navigate myself through this vast ocean of opportunities, however I am unsure if my concrete interests and my prior experience will be enough. I fear rejection. I fear that all this thinking and planning for the future will come back to zero.
As the confusion and anxiety piles up, senioritis (the Fellowship version) is also kicking in. Lately, I have been finding myself unmotivated more often that I would like. This is in contrast to the positive developments in shaping my interests. I cannot just leave myself in this negative swamp. So, I called Ted, our Shansi Deputy Director, last week. He kindly listened to me vent on my anxiety about the future and graduate school applications. He calmed me down and noted that anxiety about the future existed for almost all 23-year-olds. He emphasized the importance of seeing how much I had grown by looking back and acknowledging the progress I had made. The application process was helpful in the sense that it helped me to focus while crafting the essays and mapping a future. I was very grateful for Ted’s kind words. After the call, I sunk into reflection of the past year. I would not have known I wanted to study international affairs if I did not come to Hiroshima. I would not have discovered the many opportunities in this field if I did not do the research for the essays. It has been one step leading to another, and I am learning little by little along the way. This is something worth celebrating.
I re-read the bio on Shansi’s website I wrote two years ago. I was determined to become a psychologist. Well, the part of me that wanted to understand and help people never changed, but I am just going to do the same in a different field and a different environment. What’s next after Hiroshima? I still do not know. But I know even though there will still be anxiety and struggles wherever I go, the learning will never stop.