Katherine Bascom ’10, Russell House 2010–2011 Arts Fellow (part of the Wesleyan University Writing Program), interviewed Yu Vongkiatkajorn ’13, a College of Letters (COL) major who is currently studying abroad in Paris. Yu is a Freeman Scholar from Thailand, and recently won the Herbert Lee Connelly Prize for outstanding talent in nonfiction writing.
What type of writing do you do?
I mostly write in my journal — reflections, ramblings, details that I notice, conversations that I have or overhear. It’s the only kind of sustained writing that I can do outside of classes. I’d like to think that it helps me furnish material for more formal nonfiction or fiction pieces, but it’s also something that I really enjoy doing for myself. I’m beginning to write more fiction since I’ve taken Paula Sharp’s fiction class, but I can’t do any poetry. It’s completely foreign to me.
What’s the best thing you’ve read recently?
What writers have influenced you?
I picked up Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides in eighth grade and completely fell in love with it. It was the first time I had encountered something so powerfully written, so tied to its characters and their interactions. I spent every spare moment I could reading it and I even stopped eating and socializing with people for a while. After that, my tastes changed completely and I started looking for books outside of the fantastical and the Dan Brown’s. My brother later gave me a copy of one of Anaïs Nin’s diaries, and she’s since become one of my favorite authors.
Please tell us about your piece that won the Connelly Prize.
I submitted two pieces for the prize, both of which I wrote for my nonfiction courses with Lisa Cohen. The first is centered around a watch I bought one summer and how it was tied to a relationship I had with someone at the time. It’s kind of an experiment in style, and I think that it was an indirect way for me to talk about an experience that had a profound effect on me. I wrote it in freshman year, then abandoned it for a while, but now really like how complete it feels.
Where is your favorite place to write?
I don’t think I have a favorite place to write as much as a way to write. I need to be able to write on a surface — there’s something about pressing my pen to the paper and seeing my own handwriting that helps my ideas flow better. I’ve been keeping a notebook of my travels, and although I don’t usually reread previous entries, it comforts me to see my previous writing. It feels like I’m continuing my thoughts, in a way.
Where are you studying abroad, and what has been most surprising about the experience?
I’m studying abroad in Paris. What’s probably been most surprising is experiencing the culture shock that I should have felt when I went to the U.S. for the first time. During orientation in Paris, I had never felt so maladjusted in my life. Though language played a part in how I felt, it was far from the main factor. Identity became a big issue, because I always had to say that I was a student studying in the U.S., but that I was Thai, not American. Yet at the same time, when I work as a language partner or a tutor, people expect me to represent the U.S., or either rebuff me for not actually being from the U.S. I’ve had someone reject me for a position just on the basis of not being American. Other people have just referred to me as an American student. I suppose it’s typical of study abroad experiences, but I continually find myself rethinking my identity here.
Apart from that, what’s also been interesting is discovering how filthy and strange Paris can be. The Champs-Élysées at three a.m. is a sad, depraved place.