For much of my life, I have searched for my own cultural identity. Coming from a family with a white father and a Mexican mother, I have been confused as to where my roots really are. Because I grew up with my mother, I was raised in the Mexican culture and am a Mexican at heart, although the color of my skin is comparatively light. So I have involved myself with minority educational and outreach programs including CAMP, while at the same time getting involved in mentoring younger students, and informing them of scholarship opportunities.
The education abroad program gave me the opportunity to study abroad for a single academic year in Singapore. I had always wanted to see another country, but what I most desired was to spend time in Latin America, where I could discover my roots. This exploration would have to wait until a later time, however, as I decided to go to Southeast Asia. Singapore offered me an awesome educational opportunity, and a full academic scholarship called the Freeman Asia Award.
Upon my arrival in Singapore, I discovered that I would be the sole representative of U.S. ethnic minorities at the National University of Singapore (NUS). This put a lot of pressure on me, because my failure or success would inevitably be taken to reflect the abilities of minorities worldwide.
Apart from this added pressure, I experienced a total culture shock here, since I knew nothing of the Asian culture at all. In the U.S., I was stuck in a box within my own culture, and I was not as open to other ways of life as I would have wished. But now I am immersed in the Asian culture. And having survived the initial shock, I am a stronger person for making the transition.
So, I decided that I would succeed here in Singapore, as I have at University of California, Irvine, to make a name for U.S. ethnic minorities. I signed up for various mathematics courses to challenge myself with the teaching style here and to prove to myself that I am able to succeed in any environment. The class structure here is very different from that in the States, so it took some adjusting upon my arrival. The local students gave me a wealth of information and tips on how to succeed in the educational system here, which is often compared to that of MIT. As an exchange student, the university allows me to sign up for any class that I feel comfortable with. I had to take advantage of this opportunity, so I am taking upper division biology courses to strengthen my mathematical biology background.
I am also taking advantage of the UROP program, which is also available in the United States. I signed up to do research with an inspirational mathematics professor on HIV. I am in the process of creating a model to predict the global spread of HIV subtypes. This research led me to apply for the upcoming summer's research experience through MIRT. The MIRT program offers several international research opportunities for students interested in the biological sciences and its applications. I later found another advisor in the biological sciences department. We are working on modeling of transgenic fish, and some ecological models including various species of spiders and their webs. I am using the BioQuest program biota to perform this last task.
My free time is spent on writing for SACNAS News, exercising and personal training, as well as traveling. I am taking full advantage of being in Asia by visiting many of the neighboring countries including Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Korea, and China. I am far away from what I call "my people," but I will never regret coming to Singapore.
After being away from friends and those that I love, I realize that you can make friends wherever you decide to go, and you realize who the true friends are. They are the ones with whom you still communicate even if you are oceans apart. The opportunity to study abroad is one of great magnitude in anybody's life, as it helps you discover what you are really made of. Upon my return to Irvine, and to my family and friends, I will appreciate all aspects of my culture even more, and I will have learned more about who I really am as an individual.
Brandon Brown is pursuing his undergraduate degree in applied mathematics at the National University of Singapore through the Education Abroad Program at the University of California, Irvine. For further information, please e-mail Brandon at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.