Class of 2014
Baulkham Hills, Australia
To Sora Yang, world cultures form a spectrum of lenses for viewing everything from politics and religion to art and everyday life.
"I grew up exposed to two different cultures — my Korean household and Australian society," she says. "I'm fascinated by the way that when you look at something from one culture, it can look completely different from another culture."
Moving to the suburbs of Sydney, she became finely attuned to these differences and their impacts. In an award-winning essay, she chronicled her experience as a lone "foreigner" in elementary school. At first excluded from the activities of her peers, she eventually found her footing, as a deeply Korean woman who felt at ease in a new society.
"It's important for me to stay true to my Korean background," Sora says. "Globalization is about the increased integration of different countries, but it is important to remember that traditions and cultures can show another way to view the world."
The short memoir, written in just half an hour, won first place in the Global Ham Suk Hyun Global Essay Contest.
She expanded on her previous writing in a book of essays, which she also edited, called My Korean Identity and Quest for Understanding: Essays by Korean Youth around the World. Rather than assimilate into her new country's culture, she found a way to stay true to her Korean heritage, while also growing comfortable in a different society.
"Unlike some of my Korean friends, I can still read and speak Korean," she says. "Many people give up on the countries where they are from when they go to a new place. I believe you should really retain your identity."
Her writing depicted an alternate view to the homogenization of cultures across the world, where global citizenship can mean both remaining true to a native culture while embracing the differences in others.
By coming to Abu Dhabi, Sora hopes to become "fluent" in as many of these perspectives as possible as a way to preserve them in an increasingly globalized world. This could come in conversations with the hundreds of nationals who make up and travel through the UAE or more focused studies of the way cultures exist and develop here.
"If I know about a range of cultures, then I will have more perspectives to draw upon," she says. "Already being here, I have learned about political issues that I wasn't aware of, especially in the Middle East."
Everywhere she looks, she finds the ramifications of culture. Watching the TV coverage of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008, she was inspired to write a group of short stories examining the relationship between events and the news media.
"I was watching the news coverage of the Mumbai Massacre, as it was dubbed, when the manipulative, superficial nature of the news hit me," she says. Called "News Tales: Breaking the News," the stories examined the theatrical and exploitative nature of the media's coverage of crises.
At NYU Abu Dhabi, Sora hopes to begin looking at similar issues through new nonfiction. "I want to go back into the things that I dismissed before," she says.