Hong Kong Student Protests and the Responsibility of Communication Education

In the last two months, Hong Kong’s student movement protests of China’s control over Hong Kong’s limited democracy has garnered international attention. The movement is lead by university student Joshua Wong, who, at only 17, has stood at the forefront of thousands of protestors in his fight for universal suffrage in Hong Kong.

To provide some brief background to issues igniting these protests: In 1997, the British ended 155 years of colonial rule over the Island of Hong Kong, located off the south-east edge of the Chinese Mainland, and returned sovereignty to the Chinese government. Hong Kong, however, still maintained a certain amount of governmental autonomy, and the political relationship between Hong Kong and greater China has been described as “one country, two systems”. However some Hong Kongers, used to political freedoms that British rule had provided them, feel as though the mainland government is slowly beginning to reduce the autonomy of the Island and impose Chinese communism. The student protests currently taking place began in response to a decision to require that candidates for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive (similar to the role of a prime minister or president) would have to first be vetted by the central government in Beijing.

Now what does all of this have to do with speaking and writing? In Jennifer S. Simpson’s article Communication Activism Pedagogy: Theoretical Frameworks, Central Concepts, and Challenges, Simpson states that since all knowledge is subjective and thus political, all humanities and especially the study and technique of communication comes with political responsibility. Similar to the common maxim “with great power comes great responsibility,” Simpson’s key argument is that, with learning to speak and write, we, as students, must also learn to advocate for a just world as Joshua Wong is doing in Hong Kong.

At the start of the video above, “The Evolution of Joshua Wong,” the narrator says that, “on the Hong Kong subway [Wong] looks like any other kid,” and yet he has inspired the largest challenge to the Chinese Communist Party control in the last decade. All students, speakers and writers, might appear unassuming in a crowd. The confidence with which Wong speaks during his interview in “The Evolution of Joshua Wong” demonstrates the power of determination paired with strong communication skills that have set him apart.

Our campus this semester has been more fraught with protests and demonstrations than ever before in my three years in Morningside Heights. What responsibilities do we have as speakers and writers to facilitate and even join this activism? Why do we learn communications skills if not to advocate for the world we want to live in?

To find out more about the Hong Kong Student Protest visit:



Because Everyone’s Gotta Learn

Recently I read an essay in the Harvard Crimson in which the author criticized a request by a professor that she change the way she speaks in class if she wanted to be taken seriously. By asking her to change her speech– to speak up, reduce her tendency to raise her tone at the end of sentences, and use less filler words such as “like” and “you know”– the author felt her professor was asking her to “masculinize” her speech.

Plenty of men have many of damaging speech tendency that the author describes as “feminine” speech traits. Gendering speech has its place but speaking clearly, concisely, and powerfully is not the characteristic of any specific gender. Concise and clear transmission of thoughts through speech is logical, not masculine or feminine. It is a rarely a trait people are raised with and it must be learned by all.

It takes time and self awareness. Taylor Mali says it best.

To read the complete Harvard Crimson article visit the Crimson web page at http://www.thecrimson.com/column/the-red-line/article/2013/4/23/harvard-lean-in/

In Search of the Illusive Summer Internship

Summer is, ideally, a time when stress is replaced by sunshine and homework is replaced by swimming, visiting friends, barbeques, and fireworks. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean that the time leading up to it is the same way.

I have found the pre-summer period thus far to be a relatively dizzying cocktail of internship applications, grant proposals, and job interviews. Deciding what you want to do during the summer months can be challenging, but the real difficulty lies in getting what you want.

Creating a professional-looking resume and cover letter are important parts of applying to any job or internship. The Barnard Career Development has open office hours during which you can have a trained peer advisor look over your resume or cover letter before you send it out. If you’re new to the job search or particularly grammar-challenged like myself, having someone trained in the art of job acquisition look over your work is a good idea. On the Career Development website you can also find tips sheets and sample resumes and cover letters if your too cozy at home and don’t feel like going all the way to Elliot to go to office hours for advice (however if you live in Elliot you really have no excuse. You can go in your pajamas).

It can feel a little awkward to sell yourself in a letter, but YOU GOTTA DO IT if you’re serious about getting the job/internship/grant. A great first step is to do a little googling (yes, it’s a word) of the organization you are applying too, then brainstorm a list of reasons why are you are interested in the position and why are you are a strong candidate. If you’re having trouble, ask a friend who knows you well to help identify your strongest qualities and how they might relate to the work the organization is doing.

If all goes well, the next hurdle to tackle is the job interview (if you haven’t heard back from the organization weeks after sending in your application don’t be shy about following up! Email them to make sure they received your application. Its better to know you’ve been rejected and to redirect your search, then to lose time waiting on organization that rejected you but never let you know– unfortunately that is common practice. This way you cut your losses. Remember rejections are part of the lifecycle of applications, if you never got rejections there would be no need for applications.)

Now back to the interview. No more proof reading, no more editing­– it’s just you and the organization you applied to.

First, practice is key. Ask friends to ask you sample questions. Why do you think you would be a good fit for this position? What interests you about the position/organization you applied to? What do you hope to do with the knowledge you would gain in this position? You never know exactly what an interviewer is going to ask you but thinking through why you are where you are, where you want to go, and how this relates to the job/internship/grant is necessary if you want to be able to discuss your interest in the position. You can then draw on this foundation of reasoning to answer almost any question you might be asked. Remember that all the rules of good public speaking also apply to an interview. Make eye contact. Don’t fiddle with your hair or your clothing. Speak clearly and concisely, eliminating unneeded filler works such as “like,” “um,” or “ya know.” They’ll sneak up on you so if you practice with friends ask them to help you by pointing out where you use filler words.

Second, take your time. Do not be afraid to pause and think if an interviewer asks you a challenging question. It is better to take your time to formulate a coherent answer than to immediately answer with a sub-par response. Interviewers ask challenging questions because they want to know how you think– it’s expected that thinking through a thoughtful answer might take sometime.

Third, ask questions. Get to know your interviewer, and show that you are a creative thinker. Questions should display your knowledge of the organization or the organization’s area of focus. For a good list of questions to ask an interviewer, and more general interview tips check out Barnard Career Development’s sections on interviews.

If all of this doesn’t feel like enough, sign up for a one-on-one session with a Speaking Fellow! Helping students prepare for interviews is part of what we do, so take advantage of the resources around you.  In the final stages of your summer job, internship, or grant search, do your reading, dress to impress, and relax. Be yourself, because in the end they are hiring you and what you have to offer– out of all the people in the world you are the only expert on that.


Speaking to be Heard: Thoughts on Becoming a Speaking Fellow

Imagine a beach, waves curling up and lapping on the sunny shore. You are walking in the sand feeling it spread beneath your feet and gurgle up between your toes. Stop for moment. Bend down and use your hands to scope up a handful of sand. Look closely at it. From far away the sand looked beige but up close all the little grains take on different colors, betraying their diverse origins.


This is what New York City is like. When I first arrived I was amazed by the shear magnitude of difference that could exist in one subway car. Soon, however I began to feel myself disappear in the crowds, becoming part of the beige. It’s hard to stand out in a city where the extraordinary is ordinary.


I found solace in knowing that not everyone has the same things to say, the same way to speak. The connections made by one’s brain are the result of a truly unique mix of experiences, beliefs, and knowledge– these are the building blocks of identity. Yet, the individuality of one’s thoughts goes unnoticed unless one has the ability to powerfully voice these unique connections. Developing strong public speaking skills has given me the ability to assert myself in crowds– to stand out not because of how I look but because of how I voice my own thoughts and opinions.


To be a contributing member to society it’s important to teach the unique connections our minds make, as well. A city is the sum of its parts. Its ability to grow rests on the ability of its citizens to share their knowledge and skills with others– to create a critical mass of educated individuals who then power the city. Teaching is a key component in leadership and can always be improved upon. Believe it or not, learning to teach also enhances your own ability to learn.


This is why joined Speaking Fellows: to hone my public speaking skills and to develop as a teacher. Rooted in an attempt to find a place in the city, Speaking Fellows has helped me find my voice in the crowd. Everyone comes to Speaking Fellows for different reasons– if you see a Speaking Fellow around campus or in a Speaking Session don’t hesitate to ask them their story.  If it resonates with you join Speaking Fellows and raise your voice as well.


Click here for the application. 

Learning From the World Around Us: Atheism 2.0

Atheism 2.0: Alain de Botton

Alain de Botton is a great speaker. Not only that, but in this video his content is incredibly interesting. While you listen to him speak, think not only about what he says, but how he says it. One great way to become a more effective speaker is to listen to great speakers, pick out what you like, and try using their techniques in your own speaking. Keep an eye out– you’ll be surprised how much you can learn about speaking from people around you.

The Window and the Door

There are between 6600-6800 distinct languages being spoken in the world today[1]. Each corresponds to a specific culture; a trail of traditions, ideas, and feelings can never truly be translated from its mother tongue to another. Studying these cultures and their products provides us only a window into their reality while learning the language provides a door through which deeper knowledge can be attained. Take for example words such as Saudade, a Brazilian world for nostalgic longing for home, or Waldeinsamkeit, a German word for the feeling of being alone in the woods. These words don’t exist in English and yet they capture nuances of their mother culture that tell us about the intimacies of the cultural psyche that created them. Of all of these global languages I know only one and a half (I’m still working on my Spanish). I’ve set a life goal for four– clearly I’ve got a long way to go, and even then four is a tiny fraction of what’s out there. In this world of so many languages how many do you know?


Languages are subject to natural evolution like all elements of culture. However there are also mindfully created languages, such as Esperanto. As a child, created code languages fascinated me. I spent hours learning and speaking Pig Latin, Ubbi Dubbi, and countless other languages with my cousins hoping always to find new ways to secretively communicate. Using code my cousins and I created a world that excluded and baffled others. There frustration was our goal. I found it weird that English, what I spoke with my parents, could be understood by anyone walking by. In a world so large and intimidating Pig Latin and Ubbi Dubbi built a wall of protection and intimacy around us.


What I didn’t realize was that my language didn’t need protecting: my abstract thoughts and disjointed sentences– my kid-talk– made my words to hard understand without even trying. Hilarious home videos show me standing on the couch in my living room at five and six years, old passionately proclaiming words that when strung together make very little sense. This inability to effectively communicate was the product of a child’s mind, so wild and free, yet utterly disorganized when compared to an adult’s.


While kid-talk is not considered one of the world’s 6800-6900’s languages, it is charming to listen to and does provide a door into the functioning of the child mind, just as studying foreign languages opens the door to foreign cultures. The Scared is Scared, a student video recently sent to me by friend, wonderfully presents this concept through the actualization of a child’s narrative. It’s also got some pretty impressive life advice woven into it as well. Kid-talk, though perhaps at times disjointed, can illuminate the beauty of simple conclusions that adults miss. Disorder, at times, opens the door to clarity.

[1] “1. Language and Writing.” International Mother Language Day. UNESCO.org, 2004. Web. 14 Feb. 2013.