Undergraduate Spotlight: Christopher Quach (by Ann Horwitz)

Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down to talk with Chris Quach, a sophomore Sociology major from Germantown, MD.

Chris QuachWhat made you decide to declare as SOCY your major?
I came in as a soc major. I’ve always been interested in looking at the different ways in which people think and function, and the way groups and whole societies function…I knew coming in that Maryland had a reputable Sociology Department, and once I got in, it felt small enough that I felt very nurtured, that I was being taken care of by this Department…I felt like I could make a name for myself once I got here.

So you already knew, coming in, that you wanted to be a soc major. High school is pretty early to know the path you want to take!
I’m Asian and gay, and so growing up, in high school, I always had that intersection to deal with. And so I knew that coming here and majoring in Sociology, I wanted to do something that incorporated that.

When did you come out?
I came out to close friends in my sophomore year of high school. But I was actually outed to my parents just last year, which was very scary in the moment, but now we’re—long story short—we’re in a good place. We don’t address it directly, but there’s sort of that silent understanding between us that I’m their son and they love me no matter what.

Tell me more about the research interests you mentioned before, looking at the intersection of being Asian and gay.
I’m half-Vietnamese and half-Chinese, but both of my parents were raised in Vietnam, so culturally I feel more Vietnamese. I really want to research coming-out narratives within immigrant families, and more specifically post-Vietnam War refugees. My parents are both Vietnam War refugees, as are the rest of my family. And I want to look at the intergenerational relationships within those families that sort of complicate the narratives. Me, being not just an only child, but the only only child in my extended family, there’s a lot of expectations thrown on me, and expectations from immigrant parents in general that are dramatically different from someone who’s rooted in this country and who’s had family here for generations.

What are some of those expectations that you feel on your shoulders?
There’s the usual, like any parents, they want you to get married and have kids, a family and the big house and picket fence and that whole thing. But, also, to do better than them, there’s an expectation that, ‘We came to this country—it’s all for you, and having a family, a job, and a successful career is not just something you do for yourself, but it’s your way of repaying us,’ essentially. So, I feel not just the burden of succeeding for myself, but succeeding for them and not letting them down. And, in coming out as gay, I felt like I’d already let them down in a sense. Sociology helps me to grapple with those feelings. And it’s definitely not a process that’s complete yet or will ever be complete. I feel like all of us are works in progress.

What are some of your favorite courses that you’ve taken in the Department?
That’s tough. I’d probably say the one I’m in right now, Sociology of Gender. It’s a lot more work, a lot of reading and the readings are more in depth. My instructor, Zach Richer, he’s great. He expects a lot out of us, but he gives us a lot, too. He makes sure that we really get it. I like the fact that he doesn’t teach from a textbook, that our readings are from different authors, from different backgrounds, and it makes me feel like I have that much more of a teacher-student relationship with him. He’s really thought through what readings will work, in what contexts, at what times in the semester.

And do you have a plan of action for other courses you’ll be taking in the Department?
Yes. I’m a stratification concentrator, but also sociology of education and race relations are interests.

Do you have any long-term career goals?
I am actually in the Joint BA-MA Program in Public Policy through BSOS, so I’m looking to go into either education policy or immigration policy. I’m also getting an LGBT Studies certificate, so incorporating my LGBT Studies background into either of those policy fields.

Are you enjoying your time here at UMD?
I love it. It couldn’t be better. I love my classes, I love the professors. My roommate has been awesome.

What do you like to do outside of academics?
I love to eat. And tweet. And travel. And explore D.C. whenever I can, and try new things, new restaurants, and go to places I haven’t been.

And when you tweet, what do you tweet about?
Mostly it’s just rants. But there’s the occasional quote I’ll find that I find really inspiring and I’ll put it out there.

As a sociologist, how do you think that social media like Twitter are changing our social world, if at all?
I feel like I can only speak for myself in that, but what I feel personally is more of a connection to the world. Some people think that social media creates more of a detachment from life and current events and daily happenings, but I feel more connected than I’ve ever felt. I get to follow CNN and Washington Post and ABC News and other news media. I just wouldn’t have time to sit down and watch an hour of a news broadcast, but I can see what’s going on before me in 140 characters or less. It’s just brief and instant and I can keep on top of things that are going on in the world without having to sit down and take it all in.

As somebody who’s interested in stratification, do you think that things like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. are making people in general more connected—that they’re ameliorating stratification—or that they are sites where stratification gets reified?
I would say that it depends on the social media site itself. Facebook, even people in Third World countries have access to that. A site like that is bridging the gap. Same with Twitter. But then I think of something like Foursquare, or other apps, things like that perpetuate inequalities because you can’t get access to them unless you have enough money to buy an iPhone. I’m guilty of it, too. Sometimes I’ll check into multiple places a day on Foursquare, and I almost feel like I’m bragging to people, like, ‘Look at all the places I can go to and check in to, because I have this cool phone with all these cool apps on it.’ So, there are definitely pros and cons.

Anything else you want to add about SOCY?
I really love this Department. I definitely feel like I have the potential to go far here. Nicole, in the undergrad office, I love her. She’s been able to get me in touch with grad students, faculty that might be able to help me get to where I want to go eventually.

Last question: who’s your favorite sociologist?
Does Audre Lord count? We’re reading a lot of her in Soc of Gender right now, and I really like that she doesn’t have a soc background necessarily, and so she’s not steeped in academia. It brings a different perspective to the table. I just love her way of thinking. She pushes a lot for incorporating one’s lived experiences into the sociological imagination. One of my favorite quotes by her is, “Unless one lives and loves in the trenches, it is difficult to remember that the war against dehumanization is ceaseless.” I just live by that.

Ann Horwitz is a 2nd year PhD student.

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