Musings

The Best Type of Portraits by Amanda Liew

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Some photographers are inspired by nature. Others by fascinating people. Others by injustice that they feel needs to be documented. Now, I'm not sure I am even close enough in talent to dub myself a "photographer," but my journey starts with a friend. My freshman year in college I met an incredible sophomore named Natalie Franke. Even though she was only one year older than me, she had already mastered an artistic talent with photography that blew all our minds away. Starting as just a high school student, Natalie had begun to grow a portrait and lifestyle company, Natalie Franke Photography, for everything from weddings to engagement sessions to newborns to senior portraits. Luckily for us Chi Omega girls, that meant gorgeous photos at all of our events and all our eyes opened up to the world of portraiture. Now, I've never admitted this to anyone before (Natalie, get ready), but on my 19th birthday I had heard through the grapevine that some of the girls in my pledge class were going to do a photoshoot with Natalie. I was so excited but wasn't technically a part of the original group. I think I texted Aida with a casual "Sooo...what are you doing today? It's my birthday!" and of course she filled me in. Score! Sure, it's a little embarrassing how badly I needed to be in this photoshoot, but I had never done one before and hey, it was my birthday! The pictures turned out phenomenal. I don't think I'll ever stop treasuring these photos and the memories from that beautiful day. Even Chi Omega nationals reached out to Natalie to use it for marketing purposes! I always laugh at this photo because coincidentally it's quite diverse and almost looks like a college brochure. Guess we're now part of the Chi O brochure!

My 19th birthday Courtesy of Natalie Franke Photography 23451_1294154833787_1227780206_30879729_1900442_n

Fast forward to senior year: after much lamenting over the tacky and ridiculously overpriced senior photographs taken by Penn, my friend Maddie contacted Natalie again this year to see if she would be willing to come back to Penn (she's an alum, now) to take some senior portraits for us. She graciously said yes and even donated a portion of our sessions to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. In a weird coincidence, though, the day Maddie picked also happened to be...my birthday! The photographs that she took were absolutely beautiful and captured me in a way I couldn't image.

My 22nd birthday, just last week! Courtesy of Natalie Franke Photography (Click here for her full blog post)View More: http://nataliefranke.pass.us/amanda-liew

In our photography class, our professor has been pushing us to think about the role of the photographer. But one that I feel often gets ignored is the role that Natalie and so many other professional photographers play: the role of bringing happiness to others in the form of images. Being able to capture moments - from the huge landmark moments like weddings and births down to the small moments like both my 19th and 22nd birthday - are significant. As I looked through the full set of photos Natalie sent me, my heart soared. I looked beautiful. I saw myself and felt beautiful. Natalie has an amazing ability to capture each person's individual beauty and present it as a gift. While some might view it as vain, especially in the world of selfies and Facebook, I think that these are mementos we need in our lives, if only to remember.

So, in my own little step of my journey, for my "Choice" component of my Portrait assignment, I decided to do a photoshoot for my wonderful friend Kareli. Kareli is vivacious, hilarious, fun, and lively in the most amazing ways. Not to mention, she was doing me a huge favor by sacrificing her time for me to shoot her in ridiculous poses! After just one hour photographing her in the Quad, I could see why Natalie loved her job so much. I was already so excited to give Kareli what I hoped would be images that captured her beauty. Without further ado: _DSC0078

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Kareli, you are a gorgeous girl! I am blown away by your beauty, and your hair is amazing beyond words. I hope that I was able to capture even a fraction of it all! Thank you so much for all of your help.

Natalie, thank you for being a constant inspiration to me and so many others out there. You're spreading so much happiness and joy through your work - I hope you never stop!

And please, to everybody else, check out Natalie's wonderful work at www.nataliefranke.com!

I am...an Asian American. by Amanda Liew

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My brother and I circa my sassy days.

While "YOSYO" (You Only Senior Year Once) is usually a term reserved for paaaaaaartying, I've oddly applied the seize-the-day mentality to my education at Penn. This semester I decided to broaden my interests a little bit by taking Digital Photography, but I also decided to sign up for Asian American Communities - a subject I never thought I would look into during my life time.

Admittedly, I originally signed up for Asian American Communities to fulfill a graduation requirement through Civic Scholars. I've always been uncomfortable about my ethnicity and have always struggled with my self-identity (case in point: when asked the question, "Where are you from?"). Despite my hesitation to take a class where I'd have to talk about a community I didn't fully identify with, due to scheduling, not really liking the other course descriptions, and this nagging thought in my brain that You really should do this before you graduate, I signed up for the course. Even during the first week, I was ready to bolt and run. But that panic in itself made me realize something was wrong. Why was I so uncomfortable with the idea of even participating in a discussion about Asian Americans? Why have I spent my entire life trying to distance myself more and more from my ethnicity?  I've been mulling over these questions for the past four years, and I figured it was now or never. I needed to face my own issues head on.

Growing up, I quickly noticed that I was different. I remember asking my mom, "Why didn't God make me beautiful with blonde hair and blue eyes?" From such an early age, I saw and defined beauty as Caucasian. Throughout elementary, middle, and high school, I was in schools where Asians were a minority, but that wasn't a huge problem for me. At my chinese church, however, I was part of a completely Asian American community. Through a SPECTACULAR youth group, my entire life trajectory changed when I rededicated myself to God, grew constantly in my faith alongside amazing friends, and developed a phenomenal community that completely embraced me. Still, even with all of these amazing components, part of me was uncomfortable hanging out with my church friends outside of church. There was this imaginary scenario that always popped into my head: I would be at the UTC mall with my Asian American friends, and one of my non-Asian friends from school would see us as a group. He/she wouldn't even recognize me! Rather, he/she would just see us as "that group of Asians over there." For me, that was my biggest fear. That even being physically present with other Asians would lead to an instant loss of self-identity. I would no longer be "Amanda," I would just be "one of those Asians."

This thought terrified me. I have to admit, it often still does. I'm still overly aware at all times of the Asian to non Asian ratio in the group I'm with. The lower that ratio, the less anxiety I feel. Sometimes I actually prefer to be the only Asian in a group - perfectly happy to be the "token Asian." Because to me, that gives me more of an individuality. I'm noticed as an individual both for being Amanda, and for being the only Asian.

This is messed up. And this is wrong.

I always knew that this attitude was wrong in the back of my head, but I feel like only in the recent past and mainly because of this class do I now acknowledge it fully. It's something I still struggle with, though. You can't instantly shake fears. You can't always get rid of insecurities just by willing them away.

The difference, now: I realize I'm not alone. And I say that in more ways than one. First off, from the stories of my classmates and other Asian Americans in our research, I realize that the way I feel about my ethnicity and heritage is part of a multitude of different feelings and struggles other Asian Americans have. There are the Asian Americans who feel that they will never be accepted by other races, there are the Asian Americans who prefer to be part of an Asian American community because of commonality and tradition, there are Asian Americans who grew up in predominantly white communities but now embrace their opportunity to join an Asian American community at Penn, there are Asian Americans who look down on others who try to be "more white," there are Asian Americans who believe in assimilating as quickly as possible, and yes, there are other Asian Americans like myself who often identify more with the "American" part of our name than the "Asian." I am discovering that there is no one way Asian Americans are supposed to feel. I used to think that I didn't identify with Asian Americans because they didn't feel the same way I did. They loved being Asian Americans! They embraced it! It was great! But that's not how I felt. And therefore I wasn't like "them." But there is no unifying "them." There is no unifying attitude. It isn't "I hate being Asian American" vs "I love being Asian American." There's a lot more in between.

All of this leads to the second part of my realization. I've come to see that despite these very different struggles (and often opposing attitudes), no matter how much I try to run away from it, I am still a part of the Asian American community. Whether it benefits me or hurts me, I look Asian. My mother is from China. My father is from Malaysia. My children will be (at least) half Asian. And my grandchildren will be (at least) a quarter Asian. And because of this, we will face struggles. The world is far from perfect, and America is far from being in a post-racial country. Before joining this class, I didn't think Asian Americans had all that many problems, and it wasn't a pressing issue. Suddenly, though, I'm learning about refugees, attacks on South Philadelphia High School Asian students, entire generations being harmed by the "model minority" myth, and more. I'm learning about the murder of Vincent Chin, where he was brutally murdered days before his wedding in a racially charged attack. Vincent Chin was every bit as much an Asian and every bit as much an American as I am. So what makes me so different?

These stories have made me realize why I should care about the Asian American community and its struggles. Because I shouldn't have to feel conscious about the race ratio around me. Because it's not right that there is so little representation of Asian Americans in the media or Hollywood. Because it's unbelievable that Asian Americans still struggle to get elected to office. Because barely any schools teach about the internment of 110,000 innocent Japanese Americans during World War II. Because it really sucks that if things don't change, there's a chance my own children will grow up being embarrassed of me because I gave them their Asian features. I am part of a much larger picture. Being Asian American doesn't fall into a cookie cutter mold like I used to think. And while my problems and Asian American problems won't be going away any time soon, I can at least take the small steps towards accepting myself and embracing my heritage in the way I wish to.

So here it is. The statement I've been running from, but now want to accept: I am an Asian American.

DSC_0029My brother and I circa my I-wish-I-were-still-sassy-days

On Anne-Marie Slaughter, women in the workplace, and having it all by Amanda Liew

Today, I had the amazing fortune of being able to watch Anne-Marie Slaughter speak at Wharton about work/life balance with Jocelyn. Already extremely well-established in international affairs, Dr. Slaughter wrote a phenomenal piece in The Atlantic this summer titled, "Why Women Still Can't Have it All." It's a pretty lengthy article, but it was well worth the read and so eye-opening about the struggles women face in the work-field. Essentially, the article argues that women have been told the myth that if they work hard enough, find the right husband, or do the right things, they can "have it all." The article challenges that idea saying that currently, with the work environments we have now, it isn't possible for women to have it all. On top of that, those myths are just leading women to feel as if they have personally failed because they can't have both a successful family life and career. If you haven't read the article yet, I strongly recommend it. Even if you don't agree with everything she says, I think the importance is that the article has created a dialogue that's been necessary for many years now. Dr. Slaughter said something interesting today - that she said she wrote this article for my generation. She wrote it for young women who felt and demanded that these sentiments be shared. As one of those women, after reading her article, I felt both an immense amount of panic (Wait - I thought I could have it all, and now I can't?!) and relief (Thank God someone told me this early on in life). It's interesting, though, because as a 21-year old, I haven't (yet) to feel discriminated against because of my gender - especially in the workplace. All of the places I've worked in the past summers have been wonderful environments and I've never felt treated differently because of my gender. But then I realize that the real issues women face don't begin to pop up until far later in the game when marriage and children are part of the conversation. At the same time, it's made me realize that just because I'm not personally going through a struggle, it doesn't mean that I should ignore the general issues my entire gender faces as well.

A really interesting aspect of current work culture that Slaughter argues against frequently is society's obsession with face time. She strongly believes that the person who works the latest is not nearly the best employee, but rather an inefficient one. One example she gave was of an experiment with Boston Consulting Group (BCG) where each member of a team was given "Predictable Time Off" - a night where the employee couldn't work, email "blackouts," or uninterrupted time to focus on work and leave earlier. The idea behind this was that employees were suffering from not having a predictable schedule where they could make plans. The result was phenomenally successful. Satisfaction, teamwork, and retention rose. In fact, BCG is now implementing this method across 900 groups now.

A running theme throughout the Q&A was "What can we do? How can we enact change in this system?" Dr. Slaughter's answers ranged quite a bit depending on life stages. For women who were going to take an extendde time off to take care of their children, she recommended always keeping one hand in some jar whether it be taking classes or being involved somehow in the industry just so that there wasn't a large gap in your resume. What struck me a lot more was her recommendation for younger women - she recommended that when you were considering marriage, to have a serious and frank discussion with your significant other about his expectations. Would he be willing to move to a new city if you were offered a promotion Traditionally, wives are just expected to do that. Admittedly, when she said this my first thought was, "Oh my god. I'm never going to find a guy who will agree to that!." Obviously these discussions are so far away from my current life status, but I know that at some point in my life, I'll have to cross this bridge as well.

Dr. Slaughter calls for systematic change where companies make it easier for "caregivers" (not just mothers or fathers, but also children who are taking care of their elderly parents) to continue working and succeeding while sharing life and love with their families. This can range from the Predictable Time Off, to more flexibility in work time as long as you meet quality standards and deadlines, to daycare options in the office. She argues that companies are wasting money if they cannot retain the women they have dedicated time and training to - it's in their interest to change as well.

I'm grateful and thankful for the courageous women, including Anne-Marie Slaughter, who have brought this discussion out in the open. I hope that by the time I cross this bridge, it might just be possible to  "have it all."

[Update] In a turn of events I was not expecting, Anne-Marie Slaughter actually replied to my tweet and retweeted my blog post out! Immensely flattered she took time out of her day to read my post. Follow her on twitter at @SlaughterAM.

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Chi Omega, Yours Forever by Amanda Liew

Sorority rush is finally over! As long and tiring as the process can be, I have to admit that rush really brings everyone together. For one crazy week, you get the chance to see almost all of your sisters every day, catch up with the girls who went abroad last semester (my little little, Hanna, went to London *sniff*), and talk to some amazing new girls who are potential little “owl babies.”

During the workshop for Pref Round, we get a chance to share with each other why we chose Chi O, and how Chi O has impacted our lives. Every year that we go through this, I get a chance to remember and reflect on how much has changed because of a choice I made freshman year. If it weren’t for Philine giving me enough courage to go to a Habitat meeting together, we would have joined the Fundraising Committee, we would have never been Co-Fundraising Chairs together, and I would have never become Co-President of a club I loved. If I never entered Greek life, I never would have found Greek IV (my Christian fellowship for sorority/fraternity members). While I’m sure God would have led me to a fellowship elsewhere, I just can’t imagine my college experience without the amount of community and support I have found through fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who also understand what it’s like to be Christian and Greek. I would have never met my Big who is my mentor and the big sister I always wanted, and I would have never would have met 2/5 of my current roommates. It’s crazy to think about how that one decision to join Chi Omega changed the trajectory of my life forever. 

And of course, with all these lovely ladies, we always have an amazing time!
Skit Round with Cameron:
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Preference Round with Callan and Meggie
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Bid night with Maddieimage
Seniors on Bid Nightimage

The Chi Omega Symphony

To live constantly above snobbery of word or deed;
To place scholarship before obligations and character before appearances;
To be, in the best sense, democratic rather than ‘exclusive,’ and lovable rather than ‘popular’;
To work earnestly, to speak kindly, to act sincerely, to choose thoughtful that course which occasion and conscience demand;
To be womanly always; to be discouraged never:
In a word, to be loyal under any and all circumstances to my Fraternity and her highest teachings and to have her welfare ever at heart that she may be a symphony of high purpose and helpfulness in which there is no discordant note.