This summer I had the privilege of participating in LMU’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP). This program allows undergraduate students to gain experience conducting academic research under the guidance of a faculty mentor. The six-week program generously offers affordable on-campus housing and a stipend to students who are accepted. I took part in SURP last year and enjoyed my experience so much that I decided to go for a second round. For me, it was really a no brainer because it gave me the opportunity to live in L.A. over the summer, take part in interesting research, and make some extra money as well.
For my research, I assisted my academic advisor with a project called Juvenilia Books Collective. The goal of this project was to create a blog, which would serve as an online space where people can interact and share ideas about themes relating to childhood and nostalgia. There were five other people working on the same project with me and each of us took a different angle, analyzing a different group and trying to understand their childhood experience and the sense of nostalgia that accompanied their childhood. I chose to look at the experience of people from various performance backgrounds, such as circus/sideshow performers, professional dancers, and trapeze artists. It opened my eyes to new cultures and perspectives that I never fully understood before.
For example, through doing research on circus performers, I learned that many have an extended sense of family. They see everyone in the circus they travel with as one big family, all there to support one another and all living for the same purpose: to entertain. Think about what it would be like to be born into a circus family (as many of the performers are). As a child, you watch your parents go out on stage, dazzling audiences night after night. You’re raised not just by your parents, but by a whole bunch of eccentric characters (imagine having a clown read you a bedtime story while your parents are out on stage performing). You rarely interact with people outside of your circus family and are constantly surrounded by people with jaw-dropping talents of all kinds who will gladly teach you their crafts. You have the freedom to practice and develop whatever activities, talents or skills that excite you and pursue your organic passions. Plus, you have the resources and support group around that allow you the potential to develop those skills into a profession that brings joy and amazement to people’s lives. It’s a very different lifestyle than the average child experiences and it’s easy to see how one might regard family very differently. It gave me a new appreciation and understanding for professional performers to say the least.
Outside of the research itself, living on campus during the summer was very cool because I got to see a completely different side of the university. You get to see all the construction and upkeep that LMU does to keep its campus looking like a stunning hilltop oasis for each successive class. You get to see all the programs and day camps that go on in the summer months that bring joy to the youth of the community. And best of all, you get to see the incoming class go through orientation and remember what it was like to be entering your freshman year of college. All the feelings of anxiousness and anticipation that rushed through your body, all the curiosity and wonder about the years ahead that occupied your mind, all the foreign buildings and unfamiliar faces that now, looking back, make this place feel like a home away from home.