Hans Han ’18, 2018 Watson Fellow

Tell us a little bit about your Watson project and where it will be taking you!
My Watson project focuses on studying how the visceral physicality of declining urban transit service maps onto a broader picture of inconveniences and consequences of marginalization, and how this in turn disrupts the way certain communities experience the flow of time and activity throughout their days. How do urban transit systems, like most human creations, reflect all too common patterns of discrimination and negligence? Transportation is in many ways the lifeblood of a city, and a city’s patterns of mobility and accessibility are deeply political constructs with implications for an infinite number of daily moments. When we fight over the controlling of urban space, perhaps we are actually fighting more subtly over the control of time. Who can be here, and when? In addition to seeing urban transit as a manifestation of the day-to-day frictions of urban life, my project also holds a photographic and ethnographic component which will capture those serendipitous, exquisite moments when people believe that they’re the revolutionary romantic, moving through the city in their own small world. I wanted to know: how do people feel? Where do their minds go when they ride transit? These daily practices of movement are not necessarily ‘dead time’ or just inconveniences to be minimized — urban transit systems are also places full of rich cultural meanings and processes, where people do an absolutely immense variety of activities.The photography and personal stories represent a more textured, human way of looking at the spatial inequality within the city, while also capturing those joys and strange occurrences that are inevitable when observing humanity in any context.

During the course of Watson I plan on volunteering and riding transit in Chile, United Arab Emirates, South Korea, Germany, and Russia, all the while collecting personal and academic stories linked with urban mobility and creating digitally-rendered, layered maps for each city’s transportation networks. Each of these countries have a city with a different contentious urban genesis or metamorphosis, and over time I hope to document human stories which will reveal how human mobility can be a metaphor for vitality and life, and how the voices that have historically been left out of the urban planning discourse are how being included for a more equitable future.

What (or who) are the major influences in your life that has inspired you to pursue this path?
Some of the major experiences which encouraged me to study these questions came from my time abroad. During the summer after sophomore year, I worked as a photographer for an urban grassroots, illegal evictions-prevention organization in Jakarta, and I learned a great deal from radical architects and urban planners who studied how the new residential developments around train lines were exacerbating the pressure to push out the poorer and older residents to the city’s fringes. There was also an urban transit planner who I interviewed while studying abroad in Amman who was an important role model for me, and he made me believe that it was the work that goes unseen which is oftentimes the most crucial. Both my time inside and outside of Wellesley has revealed to me that even though the world is so vast, with so many complex, moving parts, perseverance is the catalyst for any long-term change.

How did your pre-Wellesley life influence your interest in this project?
​Prior to coming to Wellesley, I had spent most of my time growing up in the outer fringes of D.C., living in the not-quite suburbs which existed in that liminality between picturesque, hollow suburbs and the rushing urgency of the frantic city humming more than a few metro stops away. From when I was a kid to even now, cities always represented that place of contradictions and possibility, and I remember always attempting to bike back and forth between my part of the D.C. suburbs and into D.C. Of course a kid from the suburbs would be in love with cities. That’s a tale as old as time. Later on when I began riding the Red Line regularly for work, I remember being enthralled by the picturesque and humorous arrangements taking place all around me in the metro, with the closeness and morning breathiness of people that I often only pass by in the streets. But after seeing how the D.C. Metro continued to continually fail at certain points in time, and the inconvenience it caused so many different people, I remember wanting to examine the mechanisms behind these systemic failures more closely.

How has your time at Wellesley shaped your proposal? Your professors? Career Education?
​I want to thank every professor and adult mentor I’ve ever had — both at Wellesley and beyond. Sometimes people won’t believe me, but there are particular moments or phrases that I’ve carried with me, even all the way from my time during first year. My professors, the lovely people at Career Education, and other mentors and friends at Wellesley have all made me a more precise and humane thinker with the grit to continue moving forward even when the answers appear unclear. Because of them, I know that in the end, ‘Intelligence is nothing without delight.’

What did you learn or gain from going through the Watson application process?
​I learned so much from the Watson application process, as it pressed me to sit down and rethink all over again, why are the questions that I have so important to me? What are the threads of reason and curiosity that have woven together all of my experiences both at Wellesley and beyond? The moments of self-reflection during the application process allowed me to believe that regardless of whether or not I received Watson, I was so thankful to have gone through the process, as it had brought additional clarity to my hopes and goals.

What inspired you to take the leap and apply? Or, what would you say to encourage your peers to apply?
I believe that you should apply if you are hoping for a chance to understand your intentions for your work more clearly, and you’re not motivated by the name or prestige, but rather for the opportunity to grow as a person and better equip yourself to give back in the future.

What most excites you about this opportunity?
I think that being offered the Watson Fellowship is similar to someone tapping you on the shoulder, looking you straight in the eyes, and saying, "‘You've shown me a small glimpse of that which you love, and while I’m not here to answer the questions you have, I can give you the time and space to chase them until next year’s horizon. Perhaps your experiences will not necessarily lead to the answers, but better yet — it may lead to a set of even more exquisite, more precise questions.’”