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Month: July 2016

Gradually Getting into Grad School: A Tribute to Oprah

Gradually Getting into Grad School: A Tribute to Oprah

“Just go right away and get it over with.” My university was trying out a new mentor system and this was the advice about grad school that I got from the alum I had been paired with. Thanks for the advice, “mentor” but I took a hard pass on grad school immediately after undergrad.

I just wanted to work. But, my two jobs in DC weren’t right for me because I didn’t major in spreadsheets and I actually wanted to apply the knowledge and experiences I had taken away from school.

I realized at my first job and through “The Newsroom” that I really wanted to work in communications, the media, something along those lines. Basically, all I wanted to do for work was get paid to write on my blog, sit on my butt, and watch TV. But, seeing as how that wasn’t happening, I figured the media would be more exciting than international development and would put me on the right track to reaching my career goal of being Oprah.

I guess we can’t be friends

A few jobs I had applied to in the past were media-related, but most of them didn’t get back to me. All of them seemed to require a degree in English, journalism, or communications or actual experience doing something relevant. And I had none of that unless you consider writing about boys and HIV scares on my blog relevant.

So, because no one seemed to want to give me the initial experience to get experience, I started looking at grad school programs for journalism. Why? Many people don’t think studying journalism is a wise decision right now with newspapers and magazines disappearing. But, I know someone wrote all those articles posted on Facebook, so I don’t think good journalism is completely dead.

Round One

I began my grad school application process in the fall of 2014. I chose to only apply to UC-Berkeley and Columbia because they didn’t require the GRE (which I hadn’t taken) for their journalism programs. But, they are also arguably two of the best and most selective grad school journalism programs in the country. On top of my limited writing experience, TWO of the three people I had planned to be my grad school references said no. What the fuck?

Me either

Despite this setback, I found new references and applied.

Here are my two application essays to Columbia:

Columbia Application: Essay A

Columbia Application: Essay B

For Columbia, I also had to complete a prompt about a news story that had happened in the past year and discuss the angle I would take in approaching the subject. Honey Boo Boo’s mom, June “Mama June” Shannon, had just gotten into deep trouble because she was allegedly hanging out with her oldest daughter’s molester after he got out of jail. Since I felt that my chances of getting accepted were so minuscule, I wrote about that as a kind of Hail Mary attempt to stand out. And sadly, I knew more about HBB than topics you would think a journalist should write about in early 2015, like the crisis in Ukraine or the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris. I thought I approached the topic from a very original angle though. So I stood behind it.

Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get into Berkeley. When I got my decision email from Columbia, I expected a similar verdict. But, I got waitlisted – at Columbia, an Ivy League school, for a journalism program writing about Honey Boo Boo’s mom? The universe could be really twisted sometimes. My English teachers in high school weren’t a fan of my stuff (see Essay A), but Columbia thought there was a glimmer of journalism potential in me.

Round Two

Columbia eventually rejected me.

Despite half-convincing myself it was a one-off accident, I decided to apply to journalism school again. This time, however, I wanted to do things right and make no excuses about not having enough time, etc. I took the GRE and did decently for not paying hundreds of dollars for a prep course or even buying a book.

And then I whittled down my list of schools to apply to. I ended up choosing six based on their reputations, the specializations they offer, location, and where their graduates have found jobs. From the end of November until February, I spent many hours preparing my application essays and other required materials. I spent even more time stressing about how much I had to do and putting it off.

After wrangling my recommenders, waking up early to finish my essays in coffee shops here in Seoul (because I didn’t have internet in my apartment), and paying all of the outrageous application and transcript fees, I could finally relax and let the chips fall where they may.

I was pretty sure that if I had gotten waitlisted at Columbia the previous year, I could get at least get into one of these schools. And I had moved to Seoul with the intention of only staying until the fall. But, then I got in my head and started thinking I could get rejected everywhere. That would suck because I’d have wasted a ton of time, money, and energy not to mention that I would have no exit strategy from Korea and no plan for what to do with my life next.

The responses started to come in, and I did get accepted places. Here’s the final tally:

  • Stanford: rejected
  • Columbia: waitlisted (again)
  • Northwestern: accepted
  • NYU: accepted
  • Syracuse: accepted
  • Arizona State: accepted

Not too bad to get accepted to four (and a half) of the six schools I applied to. That was fantastic. All of the schools had their selling points, and I had trouble deciding. The ones that accepted me all offered me scholarship money or interviewed me for specialization programs that come with financial assistance. A couple professors even reached out to me. The head of NYU’s magazine program told me she forwarded one of my essays to her daughter because it might be useful to her. What? That’s bananas.

I ended up choosing Northwestern mostly because you don’t have to specialize right away. My experience so far has been in writing, but what if I want to do something with broadcast or documentary? I know so little about the media field that I think I should wait until I have a firmer understanding before choosing my niche. Chicago will also be a cool new city to explore. It was my dream to move there for undergrad, so now it feels like everything’s come full circle for me.

Guess who else got big in Chicago

Northwestern Personal Statement

I’m nervous for a lot of reasons to start grad school. I have no debt from undergrad thanks to scholarships, cheap Oklahoma living, and a little bit to my parents. So, this will be the first time I’m racking up student loans and journalism’s not known for being the most lucrative career. However, my program’s only a year. And whenever I think about how much I owe and whether this experience is a waste of money, I can think back to sitting at my boring ass jobs in DC. I’ll be happy that I took a risk and did something that will give me real skills and some useful connections. Maybe it’ll give me purpose too.

Out and Proud in Korea

Out and Proud in Korea

Growing up in a very conservative Christian, very controlling home meant often hearing how revolting my parents (my mother specifically) found homosexuality. Any signs of homosexuality—whether it was from people or bumper stickers—always brought a disgusted sound and remark from my mom. I went to a small, private Christian university and didn’t realize I was gay until age 22. Because of this, I planned on being celibate for the rest of my life. I came out to my mom, my siblings, and a few close friends soon after, but kept it to a few, unless it came up in conversation with people I trusted.

It wasn’t until I came to Korea, ironically enough, that I really started living out. After a few years here, I left Christianity and started dating. I hadn’t dated anyone before, I hadn’t been kissed before, and I most certainly had never had sex before. For the first few months, I felt out of place. I can’t tell you how many guys saw me as a freak for being 25 and a virgin. It was maddening because I just wanted to find someone and no one was giving me a chance. Not to mention that I live in a country that is obsessed with image and a long-haired, hairy, fat guy was just not what anyone in or around my city was looking for (plus the whole virginity thing). I have received messages during my time here asking me to shave my body hair for a hook-up (That’s way too much work!) or telling me that I would look better without a beard and with short hair (gurl, bye).

No

It wasn’t until I went to Singapore for a short vacation that I met this amazing guy who was not only super fine but also didn’t look at me like I was a freak for never having been kissed before. We spent every day of my vacation together. The third day I was there, he took me to my first gay bar. It was amazing being there and being able to kiss and talk in a safe place. I remember a lot of things about that night and of being with him for that week. He was my first—in every sense of the word. We were sort of together for a year and he even came to visit me in Korea. Those two weeks that I spent with him were two of the best weeks I have ever had. He had his flaws and our whatever-it-was had its flaws, but he taught me that I am someone who others can be attracted to.

It was another year before I got into the gay scene in Seoul. I went to a few events where I met some amazing people and started hanging out more often in the city than I ever had before. Every queer event that I attended brought me new friends. I had only spent a little time up there because I live an hour south in Cheonan, which is close enough to visit, but far enough away that it can be annoying.

A photo posted by Nick Holmes (@nickthehottie) on

Arriving at my first Korean pride festival in 2015 was pretty intense. When we (some friends and I up from Cheonan) got to the event, the borders were surrounded by anti-LGBT “Christian” groups protesting. They were dancing, singing, shouting condemnation, crying, praying, and holding numerous signs telling us how wrong homosexuality is. Once I entered the area, though, it all melted away. There was so much love. My favorite part of the whole day was marching in the parade. It was one of the most empowering and inspiring things I’ve ever been a part of. Just days before pride, SCOTUS ruled that same-sex marriage was legal all across the US. It was so great to see how far sexual minorities have come in both Korea and the United States.

This year’s pride event was also amazing. The protesters seemed to be less in number and volume. There were still a few points around the outside where they were holding signs of hatred in Korean while spewing words of “love” in English. I spent the day with some friends drinking, walking around to some of the booths, getting free stuff, dancing, and getting rained on. I thought the rain would deter people from coming, but the square in front of city hall was packed by the time they started directing people out onto the streets for the parade. We marched around downtown Seoul (same as last year). People were holding signs, dancing, drinking, and being merry. The crowds watching the procession had varying responses. Many were joining in the celebration, some were crying/wailing/praying, others were calling down damnation, and the rest just watched in confusion.

Pride 2016

It wasn’t until last year that I realized how important pride events are. Queer rights in Korea are basically non-existent. This country has such a long way to go to get where they need to be when it comes to human rights—but I have seen some changes. It’s been wonderful watching those of the younger generations embrace their queer friends. A really good friend of mine, who is getting married to another dear friend and moving to the US, came out to all of his friends and they were all accepting of who he is and who he loves. Another friend and I just threw him a bachelor party with all of his best friends and we all had a blast together.

As a gay foreigner in this country, I have it so much easier than my gay Korean friends. I’m out to everyone I spend my time around here—Korean or foreign. I have a great support system among the friends I’ve made here and have even been able to come out to a few coworkers over the years.

In order for Korea to move forward, more Koreans need to lead that charge. I understand the hesitation to come out, though. Queer Koreans with enough courage and strength to come out to their friends and family face ridicule, exclusion, and being forced out of their homes. I feel like this is a Catch 22 (is that the right phrase?) because things won’t start changing until there are more visible queer people here, but, for Koreans, coming out can have such dire consequences.

Flag of South Korean LGBT (source: Wikipedia)

I’m not sure where I see the queer community in Korea in the future. You know that feeling when you’ve been complacent and unsure for a long time, but you just know that something is going to happen soon—for better or worse? That’s where I feel like Korea is right now in regards to queer rights. I am hoping that something wonderful will happen, but that is up to those within the community itself: those who are out of the closet and those who have yet to leave it. Both this year’s pride festival and last year’s had the highest numbers of attendees than in years past. But, there has also been a lot of pushback. May those who are fighting continue to do so, regardless of how people respond.

Thanks Nick for sharing your story. I am super honored to have you be the first person ever to guest post on my blog and so grateful to have you as a friend.

Hugs and hugs,

Peter

Nick (the author) and Peter (Mustafa Jones)
Nick (the author) and Peter (Mustafa Jones)