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Han ’23: An ending, and a beginning: What has my experience as a columnist at The Herald taught me?

Looking back through my previous columns for The Herald, I can see the faint outline of the five semesters I have spent at Brown. For my first column, published over two years ago, I wrote about my struggles with “imposter syndrome” upon arriving at Brown. Little did I know then that I would still grapple with feeling out of place at times as a junior — I wrote about my complicated sense of belonging on campus just a couple weeks ago. Between those two columns, I have written about a multitude of things that have mattered — and still matter — to me, from Kobe Bryant and “The Good Place” to cancel culture and the model minority myth. This is my fifteenth column that I am writing for The Herald. It is also my last. This moment feels like the closing of a chapter: an ending, of a sort, of my first five semesters at Brown. Upon reflection, I’ve found that my experience as a columnist for The Herald has taught me how to articulate my ideas, thus helping me define my sense of self.

Before coming to Brown, I had no experience writing for a student paper. I had no experience writing anything for that matter, other than essays or reports for my classes and random scribbles in half-filled diaries. I certainly had never written anything that an audience of strangers would be reading. But I knew, ever since I decided to come to Brown in my senior year of high school, that I wanted to prioritize writing in college. I was intent on having the ever-so-clichéd experience of “finding myself” at Brown after spending my high school years setting external goals rather than looking inward, and I felt that writing was crucial to my self-determination. 

Upon arriving on campus as a first-year, I immediately applied to write opinions for The Herald. In the years since, writing these columns has become very important to me. Before becoming a columnist, I allowed my opinions to float around in my head as comfortable, amorphous, unfinished thoughts. But putting those thoughts down on paper — or on a Word document, as it were — forced me to organize them in a way that is comprehensible to others. This process was far more uncomfortable than keeping my thoughts to myself. Public self-expression felt, at first, more exposing than empowering. Nothing ever dies on the Internet, and I was acutely aware that anything I wrote would follow me for years to come. 

But the experience of writing my opinions rather than just thinking them is the only thing that made them feel real. As I was forced to organize my thoughts, give them structure, consider other perspectives and allow people to read them and give me feedback, those amorphous phrases in my head became more concrete and articulate. Looking back through my 14 previous columns, of course there are things that I would change — sentences that need to be rephrased and opinions to which I wish I had given more nuance. But I still believe in what I wrote, and each column feels like a little snapshot of who I was at the time. The process of writing these columns also gave me exactly what I was looking for when coming to Brown: Being able to collect and verbalize my thoughts helped me better understand my own perspectives on the world, giving me a more defined sense of self. And for that, I will always be grateful to this paper.

At times, writing these columns has felt a bit like screaming into a void. But I have learned not to underestimate the meaningfulness or the power of what I write. Every time I receive a surprise email from a reader — and I have been lucky enough to only receive very heartwarming ones — I realize, once again, that people do actually read what we write as columnists. I have been privileged enough to be a columnist for five whole semesters. Reflecting on this experience, I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite writers, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “Stories matter. Many stories matter.” Writing these columns, each of them a little story of mine, has mattered deeply to me. But many stories matter, not just mine. And in that spirit, I encourage everyone who might be reading this column to consider writing for The Herald or another publication on campus. Your opinions, thoughts and stories matter, and writing them down for others to read is a powerful experience. I, for one, will carry the lessons that writing these columns taught me — the value in making my thoughts legible to others and understanding the power that my stories can hold. And I cannot wait to continue to read other Brown students’ stories, in this publication and others, for the rest of my time here at Brown and beyond.



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