Polygence blog / Student Spotlights

High School Research Student Padma Writes a 107-page Creative Narrative About the Spanish Civil War

7 minute read

Padma is a senior from Hong Kong who researched the Spanish Civil War while working with Polygence mentor, Ellis. She read primary and secondary sources as well as analyzed art and photography of the time to delve deep into this rich historical period. Padma ultimately produced a 107-page creative narrative in the form of a casual dialogue between two people - a young Spanish citizen and an older one who survived the Spanish Civil war. You can read more about Padma’s Polygence experience in the interview below.

What motivated you to focus on Spanish history for your Polygence project?

I wanted to try to do something new and I think I made the right decision. I was so excited because the first time I met Jin, we sat down to discuss what I’m passionate about. After switching from a local school to an International School, I randomly decided to take Spanish for the first time and realized that learning new languages is really cool. That's how Jin recommended me to try something new. That's also kind of where my starting point was and it turned out to be a really good idea!

What were the main things you were hoping to learn during your Polygence project? Do you feel you accomplished them?

So when I came to Polygence, I was hoping to become more of a critical thinker, which I definitely improved on. Ellis and I would discuss current events that tie into what I’m learning and we had so much fun challenging each others’ thoughts. The second thing I wanted to achieve was to be a better reader and writer, something which Polygence has definitely shaped me to become! I was not only given so many resources to read about, but also many materials in many different mediums. I wasn’t just reading passages as some of them were graphic, some propaganda posters, and others were poems.

One more thing I wanted was an opportunity to see what research was actually like. I used to think research was something really boring like just collecting data, but researching history wasn’t. My mentor, Ellis, and I had a lot of conversations talking about the Spanish Civil War and what women produced at the time, such as the photographs women took compared to men. We also explored works like Guernica by Pablo Picasso. At museums, I would usually skip past images like that, but then I realized all forms of art are actually connected to history. I thought history was all about memorizing facts and once you're done with that you can get full marks, but I never thought about how history could be so much more than that!

How did you decide to write a creative narrative for your Polygence project?

Well, so for the first two or three sessions, I hadn't started on my project. I was in my brainstorming stage until I told Ellis, “You know what? I'm gonna do inklewriter.com.” It's a tool where you create your own interactive story. You kind of spread out the story as you go, but I realized it's not realistic because there were so many storylines; I couldn’t predict what's going to happen for a single player. In my confusion, Ellis said “Why don't you write a dialogue?” Initially, I was worried. A two person dialogue? How can that be interesting? But I realized that I love talking to people and it's actually easier for me to write a full-blown dialogue.

How is Ellis different from other teachers that you've had? More generally, how was the Polygence mentoring experience different from your typical classroom experience?

I think one of the major differences is I got to ask as many questions as I can. Sure, I can also ask questions in class, but this one-on-one experience with a mentor is really unique, especially since I had full flexibility in delving into what I'm really interested in. Ellis always emphasized how she wanted me to do something that I'm interested in, and she never pressured me to complete a reading if I wasn’t interested in it. That actually made me want to do even more. She also always tries to just bring light into dark matters, pushing me to see things from a different angle, something I never had the time to in class with a bunch of twenty.

Ellis also challenged me a lot. She asked me a lot of questions, so I needed to really delve in and synthesize information that I've been reading, something that I truly sucked at before. But Polygence pushed me to the boundaries and pushed me to do something that I couldn't do before.

How has Polygence influenced your plans for the future?

It definitely changed me for the better. Before I was only interested in math and physics, but now, I’m also interested in Spanish and history. I think it's a strength because if I never tried to understand more about things I didn't know, how would I make the right decision? It’s worth considering other options. I have so many opportunities now to get to know more about myself and truly explore what I'm interested in.

You've started a YouTube channel since Polygence, which is super awesome. What kind of videos have you made so far? And what are your hopes for the future?

It's about basic Spanish, but in the lens of both English and Cantonese speakers. I know people might be doing Spanish tutorials with one language, so I want to do something different. Right now, I'm planning to teach a unit about food and the names of ingredients. I’ll also get into more exciting topics such as clothing, stores, locations, numbers, and the alphabet.

What advice you would give to a student who is thinking about applying to Polygence or is about to begin their own Polygence project?

1. Read actively. Don’t just skim. Make sure you're taking full advantage of the resource in front of you. Print it out, take notes, highlight, circle, just make sure you actually engage with it and annotate. I know annotating sounds so boring (I used to hate it), but it actually helps with memorization and understanding the text.

2. Organize. I usually put everything in a Google Drive and I asked Ellis to put anything she wants in it too. This way, you work collaboratively in one place and it’s easier to find where the materials lie.

3. Be an active listener. For a lot of students, it might be goofy to just listen before asking, but I actually learned how to ask better questions through this process.

4. Don’t take notes while your mentor is speaking. Polygence pushed me to actually listen to the mentor. Sometimes, it's better to be a good listener than to be a good speaker, especially if you’re learning. They go hand in hand, but you have to be a good listener first. Just focus in the moment on the person in front of you.

5. Reach out. If I had any problems, I'd never hesitate to reach out to Ellis. Not everyone has the chance to engage one-on-one with such knowledgeable mentors, so do your best to enjoy knowing more about them when you can!

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