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From Us In Charcoal: Isabelle Yap

Isabelle Yap (she/ they) is a senior from Atlanta, Georgia studying Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences at Boston University. She is a first generation American in her family and Jamaican and Chinese culture influences her greatly. From early on, Isabelle has enjoyed photography and that has led her to where she is today in her 3rd year as a Charcoal photographer.

Get To Know Them:

What’s your family background?

My family’s nationality is Jamaican and both of my parents were born there. My father’s family is Chinese Jamaican so there are many Chinese influences in my family.

How has your family background influenced your upbringing?

I am a first generation American but my parents made sure I knew all about my family and heritage while growing up. Every summer from the age of 4 until high school I would live with my family in Jamaica. It truly did take a village to make sure I stayed in touch with my heritage across country borders. The main influence of my background has been through food. Every week growing up my parents and I would go to dim sum after church and during the week we would often pick up a patty from our local Jamaican bakery.

Do you have a favorite cultural celebration or tradition?

I have two that are really important to me: Chinese New Year and Christmas. My family would always go to the local lunar new year celebration and watch the firecrackers and dragon dance. For Christmas, my family would cook all of my favorite foods: char siu bao, sorrel (Jamaican hibiscus tea), and favorites from southern american holidays like mac and cheese. I usually get to see my extended family during that holiday season and it is nice to reconnect with everyone over a delicious meal.

How did your journey with Charcoal begin?

Before I even made it to BU I knew about Charcoal. I remember sitting in the Posse Atlanta Office, the nonprofit that helped me get to BU, and holding the issue of Sweet. The imagery was just stunning and I had just finished my AP Photography portfolio at the time. I knew that I wanted to continue my photography practice at BU and want Charcoal to be the publication I practiced through.

How long have you been a photographer for Charcoal?

I am going into my 3rd and final year as a photographer on the staff.

Best and hardest part of the position?

My favorite part is seeing models who are shy in front of the camera come into their own. It has always been my favorite part about being a photographer. It means the world when a model is able to be vulnerable with me and show a beautiful smile amidst a laugh or play around with new poses.

One of the hardest things of being a photographer is probably understanding and/or communicating the desired composition for a shot. Charcoal has become a large operation with many moving parts that are all so valuable. When there is a desired imagery it can be hard to make sure everyone is on the same page and creating art we all love.

Are you part of any clubs outside Charcoal?

I’m a part of the National Student Speech Language and Hearing Association.

Do you feel a sense of community in any? Compared to Charcoal?

I definitely feel community in my other club because it is filled with people in my major or folks who are interested in the field. Majority of people in my major end up going to grad school and we have been supporting each other through the application process. I am greatly for that community but it is definitely different from the community I feel in Charcoal.

The field of speech, language, and hearing sciences is white dominated and I am usually the only black person in my classes. I love that when I am in a Charcoal space I don’t feel hyper aware of my race compared to those around me. Charcoal is a space where I am able to exist freely as I am without that being the primary emphasis of the work I do on staff.

What are your hobbies and passions?

Outside of photography, I love to cook and bake. That is a hobby that has become a handy skill because everyone has to eat, but it is nice that I can provide my loved ones with a yummy home cooked meal. I also adore the environment and being outside. Nature photography is where I started and I have a feel that is where I will end up in the long run. There is just such jaw-dropping beauty in nature and I love getting to go on a walk and capture those moments.

What’s been the best thing about your college experience?

All the amazing friends I have made and friendships I have maintained. I have an amazing chosen family that keeps me sane everyday.

Do you regret anything from your college experience?

I mainly regard not getting to study abroad but I think I have maintained a global day-to-day within my friend groups and I will be traveling in the future!

Would you change anything?

I would have challenged my fears more! There are a couple times I let a new experience pass me by out of fear. I wish I could have challenged that.

Has there ever been a time when you felt you were struggling or overwhelmed?

The real question is if there is a time I haven’t. I am typically overwhelmed by the things I encounter day to day, particularly new interactions I have with people. I get nervous about whether I’ll make a good first impression.

How did you overcome it?

I try to remind myself that everyone is just human and trying to do what’s best for themselves. Whenever I remember the humanity I share with everyone else, my nerves about talking to people ease a little.

How did you grow/ what did you learn?

I have finally come to the realization that I alone control the narrative I live by. Though it took a lot of work and practice to start telling myself a different narrative.

How have you changed over the years?

From high school to college I definitely grew into my queerness in college. I

finally became comfortable with the fact that my queer identity is everchanging. In high school, I was so stressed about labels and figuring out who I was and what I liked. Now I realize that I just take every interaction that comes day by day. It may change how I define my queerness or it my not but either way that unknown is no longer a source of stress for me. From freshman to current year, the biggest change I have seen in myself is my shift in confidence. I think it is something my loved ones have noticed too. But I didn’t grow an inch. I am just finally standing tall with better knowledge of my worth.

Plans for the future (near or far)? What are you gonna do with that $300,000 degree?

Next step is grad school! I will be using that expensive degree to go get another! I am applying to graduate school to get a doctorate of audiology. I just love school that much I guess. Not really, but I am excited to get my degree and become a practicing audiologist. I am just excited to diversify the field and provide cultural component healthcare.

How would you describe/ define yourself to other people? How would they describe/ define you?

I would describe myself as a kind and silly life-long learner. My partner describes me as passionate, curious, and caring.

Can you give us a hot take?

If you can parallel park with ease, I don’t think you can be fully trusted.