Who’s that kid? It’s Claire Mullen, FCRH ’16


Claire Mullen, FCRH ‘16, traveled to Vietnam in 2011 while on a gap year. (Courtesy of Claire Mullen)

Claire Mullen, FCRH ‘16, traveled to Vietnam in 2011 while on a gap year. (Courtesy of Claire Mullen)
Claire Mullen, FCRH ‘16, traveled to Vietnam in 2011 while on a gap year. (Courtesy of Claire Mullen)

By Nicole Horton

Whether she is traveling around the world, writing or exploring New York City, Claire Mullen, FCRH ’16, has had a broad range of experiences.

Mullen, a Chicago native, took a year off after high school before coming to Fordham. She traveled and backpacked for eight months, mostly through Southeast Asia. She visited Japan, China, Vietnam and Cambodia. She also traveled to Peru and Puerto Rico. Mullen took particular note of the unique culture of each country she visited.

“In Vietnam everyone was very conservative [in regards to mannerisms and clothing],” said Mullen. “In Cambodia, everyone was very laid back in the cities and beaches. I really loved the pace. I went to Sa Pa in north Vietnam where I stayed with a family and went hiking across the countryside. They were so poor, but they were the happiest people I’ve ever met, which really affected me. I didn’t feel bad for these people in poverty, because they found comfort in their farm life that I can’t really comprehend in my life in America.”

Mullen enjoyed the music in Vietnam, especially the French and Vietnamese DJ Onra. He blends Vietnamese pop music and hip-hop music together to create his sound.

In regards to food, she tried a variety of regional delicacies, such as tarantula, ants, cricket and snake. “The best food was in Cambodia. They had their own sauce and put coconut curry in everything.”

For anyone looking to travel, Mullen would tell you not to let the language barrier hold you back. “In China, they were learning English and were interested in practicing with Americans,” said Mullen. “Also, I had language books and apps. Of course, it’s a disadvantage, but it shouldn’t inhibit you from traveling.”

While in Southeast Asia, Mullen was surprised at how locals were often taken aback by her pale skin, blue eyes and blonde hair. “People wanted to take pictures with me. Once a Vietnamese woman came up to me and said that my skin was so beautiful and white.”

This awe toward white skin, which lead to the popularization of BB cream in Asia, upset her. “It makes you realize how easy you can give into preconceived ideas of beauty, like tanned skin in America. I always wished I was tanner here.”

Mullen does not believe that her travels have been life-changing. While reflecting on her experiences prior to attending Fordham, she said, “There are subtle changes only that I would notice. I didn’t have to leave America to find out there’s poverty.”

Growing up in a house with four rowdy kids, Mullen found and developed her own voice, which has impacted her style as a writer. Back home in Chicago, Mullen saw a huge divide between poverty and working class in the South Side.

“My mom was adamant about driving to Cabrini Green in a Volvo,” said Mullen. “She would go to Target and pick up clothes and food and drop stuff off there. She always wanted to expose me to that and not to take anything for granted. She didn’t want us to be spoiled.”

This year, Mullen had a first person narrative featured on “Thought Catalog” about her experiences as a nanny while home in Chicago.

“For my “Thought Catalog” piece, in retrospect it was funny but nannying was hell. I hated it,” said Mullen. “I think it’s important to be self-deprecating and have a sense of humor, so you can look back and laugh.”

Although Mullen is always jotting down her ideas, she plans to become more serious about her writing and hopes to one day be published. She stresses the importance of everyday moments and conversations in her writing.

“I write funny things down in my phone so I won’t forget thoughts or memories. People say, genius, funny things and not even realize it,” she said.

Mullen has worked on cultivating her writing style and found professors who served as a support system.

“This year my professor Kim Kupperman pushed me to go to writing events, like poetry readings. I read out loud for an audience, which I’ve never done before. I explored this whole writing subculture that I never knew existed before.”

Going into junior year, Mullen has many more things she would like to experience. She said, in addition to studying abroad in London, “I’d like to write for a school publication and create a project for Campus Movie Fest. I’d like to go to more professional and college baseball games too.”

Nicole Horton is Culture Editor at The Fordham Ram.