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Blogger Introduction: Chi Cap

Hiiiiiiiii everyone (:3). My name is Chi — and with my middle name made Lan Chi — meaning (a branch of) orchid in Vietnamese. I am an upcoming junior at Caltech (CO’ 25!) majoring in Astrophysics and minoring in English. On campus, I am involved with TECHLit, the literature club at Caltech, and a member of the Golwala’s lab in our beloved Cahill building. I am a member of Dabney Hovse, one of the South Houses at Caltech, and I am also its Vice President and Health Advocate!

My answer to “Where are you from?” will be a little complicated. For twelve years, Vung Tau, a very cozy coastal city in Vietnam, was my home. Then, I crossed the ocean and made a new home in Houston, TX. There lives a small immigrant community in the Southwest corner of the city, where many of my friends, like me, are either young immigrants or first-generation Americans. Many of us are the first of our families to enter college. Arriving from such a community colored the college (and Caltech) experience in hues complicated to explain. Perhaps, to be succinct: it means college was, once upon a time, something closer to fantasy than reality, let alone a private research institution like Caltech. (A great many gratitudes to Caltech’s generous financial aid program!)

A picture of my little sister and I by the Ancient Palace of Hue, Vietnam
A picture of my little sister and I by the Ancient Palace of Hue, Vietnam

Why be in love with the stars? Like many things in my life, the stars were once fantasies to populate my head with. Having lived in one city then another all of my life, the open Milky Way was not visible until the first year of college, when my friends from Dabney Hovse and I ventured to the open desert and witnessed the unpolluted wonder of the sky. Nonetheless, long before, mere letters in books have conveyed to me their intrinsic luminosity, so much that they shine through the mist of a foreign land. Indeed, my love for astronomy was the one thing I could carry across the language barrier. My ESL teacher has encouraged us to learn English by reading, by bringing us to the school library. During our first time there, I sought her advice on which book, in the astronomy section, was appropriate for my reading level. She helped me pick out a book as thin as my pinky about Mars that had as many pictures as there were words. From there, a spark ignited (which is, fun fact, also a word I first understood by asking for its meaning from another ESL teacher) into something akin to a fireplace, and later on became a bonfire once I discovered astroparticle physics a year later.

Longwinded story aside, this obsession with astronomy has brought back literature, an interest I finally dared to recover from the Earth once I moved beyond that first series of planetary books. Maybe you could already tell that from how verbose this introduction has been. Currently, my hobby outside of thinking about the deep, empty space is dreaming about it and putting it down to letters. As any writer wont to do, I am riddled with many, many, many, many works in progress; one of them is a novel in verse titled Eurydice Lies Awake about a lover left behind in the afterlife. I owe the inspiration for this to many poets, both modern and classical: Anne Carson (for both the novel in verse format and the interest in the Classics), Richard Siken, Ocean Vuong, Mitski, and of course, Stesichoros, Euripides, and Ovid. Alongside that, another story I am working on is about an astronaut/moon colonist being haunted by a moon ghost of his own conscience. There is also one about fire– you get the idea.

The thing I love the most about Caltech is that it is the perfect venue for me to venture in both directions: astrophysics, something I have always strived towards, and my tentative road into the world of literature. The Caltech spirit, for me, has always been the courage to be curious: to want to learn something new, to be willing to make a fool of yourself for it, and eventually improve. This courage not only extends the boundary of science, but also the boundary of yourself, of arts, literature, and whatever else you may choose. Aims for the star, and even if you are not there, let the rest of the visible universe fill you with wonder. But you don’t drift alone with your own momentum in this spacetime. Always surround you are the hearts of same-minded people – many of whom you will discover in your Houses – as gravity assists in the chaos of space.

My friends and I digging a ditch... for Ditch Day
My friends and I digging a ditch (or is it?)… for (a fake) Ditch Day

My goal for this blog is not only to carry my unique perspective, excitement, and trepidation about Caltech and college as an underrepresented, first-generation, and low-income student but also to bring in a breath of something like marvel and inspiration from the stories and essays I read into our common interest: science, the quest to understand the world. Perhaps some of them will be useful, perhaps some will not. Nonetheless, I believe your greatest weapon and companion on this Caltech trek is your love for science — a love so great even the haughty mountains of problem sets and thing-you-have-yet-to-understand cannot drown out its light. As the wise once proclaimed — commit to the bit!

Chi Cap ’25

I flitter around here and there — from the coast of Vietnam, all the way to the scorching heat of Texas, and now to Pasadena! When I’m not daydreaming about the sea or the stars, I like to write fictions and poetry, watch movies, or swimming. I’m also a member of the TechLIT club and the Totem Literary Magazine on campus, and I’m very active in Dabney House, where I am currently the Vice-President and Health Advocate.

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