I began the first week of the Workshop by reading from Where Research Begins: Choosing a Research Project That Matters to You (and the World) by Thomas S. Mullaney and Christopher Rea. In many ways, Where Research Begins shows research as an organic process of exploration. It reminded me of how I first realized that I enjoy research and find it meaningful — the times when my younger self would just go down random Wikipedia rabbit holes and look at what interests me. To me, it was almost like a different form of play.

I think young children are very curious about the world, and as they organically explore through play, their curiosity guides them, even if they don’t yet know how to articulate their interests and concerns. Also, I think young children usually don’t deny or dismiss their interests (or judge themselves) due to subconscious beliefs that these interests are insignificant, boring, or simply not good enough” for other people. To me, Where Research Begins systematically shows how we can rediscover, recover, and return to a more authentic, open, and vulnerable kind of curiosity, exploration, learning, and play. It shows that we can do so by unlearning the conventional narratives surrounding research. I realized that in a way, much of the exploration of our selves is a process of rediscovery, return, and recovery, except this time around we have new language, frameworks, and tools.

Visiting Chùa Tường Vân in Lowell, Mass., was my most significant experience of this first week, and it was also a return — one that both resulted in and was the result of new perspectives and questions. This time, I felt a sense of familiarity, connection, and community, unlike when I visited Buddhist temples in China when I was younger, which felt unfamiliar and overwhelming to me simply because there’s so much I didn’t understand. But this time, I felt that I was welcome in that space, that I was invited to it, and that now, as in the song we sang, I have arrived in it. I felt this even before Tham Tran [youth group leader of the temple] spoke about how the temple engages with people with various beliefs and faiths.

Even though I am unfamiliar with much of Buddhism, Thay [teacher] and Tham explained concepts in an accessible way. I didn’t feel like an outsider to that space and that community in the sense of being a stranger; rather, I felt like an outsider in the sense of being a guest who was invited and welcomed to this space. For me, coming into these spaces can be difficult, since I often find myself feeling self-conscious or feeling that others are judging me when I am actually judging myself. Also, religion is messy and defies straightforward categorization, so I know that whenever and wherever I start, I will have to start making messes and messing up. That day at the temple, I let my curiosity, wonder, and awe guide me, and by doing so, I began to let go of judging myself.

Knowing that I wasn’t the only one who is unfamiliar with Buddhism that day also helped. I appreciated knowing that I’m with others who are also at various stages of exploring Buddhism and/​or religion and spirituality and/​or their own beliefs and values. In short, that I’m in this space in community with other individuals who are growing and learning in various ways, and that as we do so, we will face moments of challenge and even perhaps discomfort together.

I kept thinking about the What Time Is It on Sesame Street?” song about clean-up time” and mess-up time” from the very first day. The characters are trying to learn about cleaning up and messing up, but at the same time they are also learning more about themselves and each other as individuals. In this very first week, I began to see the significance of not just messing up and cleaning up but also doing so together.

In this very first week, I began to see the significance of not just messing up and cleaning up but also doing so together.

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Each spring term, The Workshop welcomes approximately 20 seniors to this interdisciplinary, project-based course. With an eye toward reimagining what school can be, the Workshop is the senior’s only academic commitment for the entire term. Instead of splitting their time and attention into units of distinct courses and fields of study, they work closely with peers, faculty, and community and global partners on a series of linked, interdisciplinary projects that revolve around a single theme. Within the theme Experiments in Education, students explore areas of personal interest.

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