Journey to IEDP series: Here we are again in November, continuing our series from October on our cohort’s distinct experiences that brought us to IEDP. Many of you reading this blog probably have myriad of questions: “should I go to graduate school?” “if so, which program should I apply to?” “how would my experience fit in IEDP?” “why would I want to be in IEDP” are probably only SOME of the questions boiling in your minds. This blog post series will show how some of our cohort mates have explored those very questions and came to our conclusions.

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Our guest today, Xiong, is a talented artist!

Hannah: So let’s start with our regular: What kind of thoughts, moments, experiences from your previous work experience that got you decide to apply to a grad school?

Xiong: I spent a whole academic year in Beijing, China to study abroad in my junior year as an undergrad and that really influenced my perspective in the world interconnectedness: politics, cultures, languages and social relations. That is what inspired me to travel more and make me want to do something not just in the United States but internationally.

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Xiong and the friends he met in China, biking on top of a city wall in Xi’an

Hannah: How did you first become interested in the world outside of the US?

Xiong: Even before going to China, I always had an interest of getting out of here. I want to work in the U.S. but I want flexibility to travel and do works in other countries and come back here later. Going to China was a reinforcement of my interest that opened my eyes to “Yes, this is the experience that I want to have” and “this is what I want to do in the future.” I enjoyed meeting new people outside of the US. I also loved studying language. I struggled a lot trying to understand and communicate with my Chinese friends at first but it’s fun for me so I take that as a learning opportunity, interact and have fun.

Hannah: What would you say are the key takeaway from your international experience?

Xiong: Each culture is unique, each language is fascinating, and everything is different. I can’t assume that “I’m from the United States so I know more.” When I was in China, I had discussions with my Chinese friends and roommates, and we all had different perspectives in politics. But I learned to understand and respect their positions because we each came from different background and experience. We also receive different education. After all, my takeaway for myself is to understand different people’s perspective and positions and how I can work with them. Having a respect for opposition, but at the same time, learning from them as well.

Hannah: Interesting. Now that we have the “international” part down, could you explain about the education part of your motivation?

After coming back from China, I spent a semester in D.C. during my senior year. I had an internship with the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) which is an advocacy group for the TRIO program. I was a part of the TRIO program myself. Working with COE, I gained a better understanding of the process how TRIO has been helping me through high school and college, and it has influence me to come here at Penn. At COE, I received opportunities to attend Congressional hearing as well as joined different educational coalition meetings. It allowed me to meet and network with new professionals, learning more about the education field. I experienced the behind-the-scene work about advocacy for education, and went to Capitol Hill and spoke with Congressional members and staff about the effectiveness of TRIO that support thousands of students across the nation. I was at a Congressional hearing where one of the TRIO students testified in the House Ways and Means Committee. His story is very inspiring, and that really motivated me to pursue a career in education.

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Xiong with Congresswoman Gwen Moore while during his internship in D.C.

Hannah: With all that in mind, why did you think graduate school is the next step for you?

Xiong: Through the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, I had an opportunity to conduct my own research. I really enjoyed that research experience, and it informed me on what it will be like if I went to grad school. I would like to have the power, the tool, and the knowledge to create my own research of my interest and sharing that information to make a difference. My interest is refugee education particularly in the Hmong communities. Not that many people know about the Hmong experience so I want to explore and share more of those knowledges.

Hannah: How did you come across IEDP?

My scholarship program held a graduate school virtual conference, and Penn GSE is one of the schools in the discussion. Afterward, I reached out and was able to connect and speak with Tyler, an IEDP alum two years ago. He shared with me his experience, and that was something I would like to have.

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Xiong’s sketch of the emblem of Stouffer College House

I applied to two programs, and I had a hard time deciding which one to enroll. One of the reasons I chose [IEDP] is because of this (pointing at the drawing). I got accepted to be a RAGA at Stouffer College House, and that helped lifting my burden on housing. Not many school offers this kind of opportunity. I would emphasize RAGA for the future students who are concerned about housing, especially first-gen and low-income students. RAGA is a great opportunity and experience to take a break from academic work.

And when I got accepted, Lauren referred me to another alum who lives in the NYC. From the conversation with that alum, I learned that [IEDP] puts much emphasis on practical skills and the bonding.

Summer internship is another component that made me chose IEDP. I liked that I don’t have to worry too much about my summer plan. Not that I won’t need to try but knowing that I will be doing something in the summer, it’s a relief.

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Xiong’s sketch of the world map without boundaries

Hannah: Time to ask my favorite but the most difficult question: have you ever felt the imposter syndrome? If so, how did you cope with it?

Xiong: Even before coming here, I do think a lot about that. I come from a different socioeconomic status and background, and there will be a lot of challenge that I will to face along. That is a concern, and I still sometimes struggle here.

It’s nice to have a tight cohort in IEDP in the midst of all that. We have a lot of experiences from different context that really help you to understand each other. To get over that imposter syndrome is to share more and talk more with your cohort!

The transcript has been edited for the clarity and concision.