Hello everyone, heres my final draft of the SOP for graduate school of Asian Studies. I have little time to edit it so any advice or suggestions are more than welcome.
I was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela, a third world country where two thirds of its population lives in poverty and less than 10% holds the base of an oil fueled economy. Being part of the latter privileged minority, I received a high level education; first at a bilingual school where I mastered English as my second language, and later graduating from one of Venezuela's most prestigious Universities Universidad Catolica Andres Bello (UCAB) as a Telecommunications Engineer. Parallel to my studies at UCAB I also worked on obtaining the Cisco Certified Network Associate Degree. As an alternative to an internship, I attended a summer practicum at North Carolina State University about "Wireless Sensor Systems". With my pre-grad thesis: "Network design implementing programming and evolution strategies", I successfully culminated my studies at UCAB.
Aside from the academic formation, the education received outside the classroom was an important aspect of my student life at UCAB, especially because of the difficult social and political situation Venezuela has being traversing for the past decade. Always conscious of an ailing Venezuela, and deeply grateful for all the opportunities it bestowed upon me, I actively participated in the student movement that emerged from the closure of Venezuela's oldest TV station Radio Caracas Television in May 2007. With the then Dean of the University, Father Luis Ugalde, scholar who I deeply admire for his tenacity, courage and intelligence, UCAB has always been a staunch ally of Venezuela's student movement, one of the many reasons why I will always be proud of the years I spent there.
My experience at UCAB would have been more rewarding had it not been for the rigidness of the Venezuela's Education System. Being limited to a specific core curriculum, I wasn't allowed to explore other areas of inquiry. This is the reason why it is not unusual for Venezuelan under-grad students to end up pursuing something unrelated to their initial studies. It was not until a trip I took to China on February 2007 when I realized that I had a greater interest in life other than engineering. During the month I spent there, China's culture and language rendered me completely smitten. Despite being very sudden, I knew for a fact that I had to learn this language, and from the moment I got back to Venezuela I started making preparations to leave for China once I graduated.
I'm aware that the logical next step would have been to look for a job after graduation, but I was confident on my choice to start a new academic path, so having no previous knowledge of Mandarin, on April 2008 I left for China. Today, almost three years later, I have undergone three Mandarin study programs and I'm currently working on the fourth one, all of them studied at Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU). My most insightful experience in China came after my first year at BLCU when I organized with a Chinese couple, one of them my Mandarin teacher, to travel all around China for one semester. The purpose of the study trip was to learn Mandarin 24/7 and simultaneously get to know those seemingly unvisited nooks of China to help me better comprehend their culture.
After four months, eleven Chinese Provinces, countless towns and cities, endless hours traveling by train, bus, ship, horse and on foot, and the experience of coexisting day and night with a Chinese couple, China became my North Star. My journey around the country and the feeling that emerged from it could not be better summarized than in the words of Cambridge's Sinologist, Joseph Needham: "Studying Chinese was a liberation, for it got you entirely out of the prison of alphabetical words and into the glittering crystalline world of ideographic characters. The Language is China: to love the language is to love China."
I wish to focus my future studies on China's social movements and contemporary politics, and simultaneously strengthen my Mandarin proficiency with the conviction of one day being completely fluent in the language. Having researched several programs in China, Europe and the United States, Columbia University's "East Asia - Regional Studies" Program excelled from the rest. After reviewing your Department's research interests, Professor Guobin Yang's work grasped my attention. His research relating social issues in contemporary China go hand in hand with my academic pursuit. Professor Andrew J. Nathan's compelling background on Chinese politics and foreign policy will contribute greatly to my understanding of the Chinese Political System. Also, I'm very much interested in the modality of seminars, the Modern China one in particular, which will provide me with the opportunity to directly interact with specialized scholars and enhance my China scholarship. Another important reason for choosing the MARSEA Program is my interest in pursuing Columbia University's PHD Program on East Asian Languages and Cultures to further my research.
The rising Asian nations and the West are currently restructuring the world's geopolitical order, and China is sure play a leading role in that process. In the long term, I am interested in landing a position at an International Organization where I can use my understanding of the Chinese society to help on the development of that convoluted process. I believe that given my multifarious background, coming from and understanding the struggles of a third world country, an engineering degree, three years of experience in China, and the tools provided by Graduate School at Columbia University, I will be perfectly poised to fulfill my true potential and achieve my goals.