Background

It is important for the University to understand the context of each applicant’s accomplishments, both academic and nonacademic. Describe any unusual circumstances or challenges you have faced and the ways you have responded.

My first seven years were like night and day compared with the next ten. As the youngest in my extended family of cousins, aunts, and uncles, I was the center of attention, and my life felt as routine as clockwork. But that was all about to change. Moving to the States when I was seven, I did not speak any English. Until then I had never been more than 100 miles from my hometown in China, which made this country all the more foreign. I started school in second grade and was soon caught in a dilemma. The language was a major stumbling block, but I had developed a certain introversion from being coddled all these years. The shock of anonymity made soliciting help difficult. In my father’s quest for a medical license, our family has moved constantly to wherever his residency or training was. In ten years, we’ve had six homes; sometimes it was just a move to the other side of town, others it was thousands of miles across the country. Almost every move entailed a new school, which meant a new circle of friends, teachers, and academic expectations. In stark contrast to my life in China, I was always the new kid, on the outside looking in. It felt like walking into private parties uninvited, as if I were some kind of trespasser. But there was little choice. I had nothing to fall back on, no “home base”- like an Etch-a-Sketch that was periodically shaken, everything was wiped out with each move. Even with my parents and belongings, it felt like moving to a new America, over and over again. Three years ago, I finally entered the school from which I would graduate from. Having had nothing but public education, the idea of a cloistered, exclusive preparatory school did not sound appealing. It catered mostly to the children of affluent families with good pedigrees, and three out of four students were white. I was neither of these, but the academic rigor and competitiveness that came with such students intrigued me. At first, the close-knit community exacerbated my foreignness, not only by ethnicity but language as well. Although I had spoken English for nearly a decade, my unnatural stuttering was glaringly obvious in such an articulate, homogenous group. However, such a demanding environment spurred me to socialize and improve my speaking skills. Despite a bad case of stage fright, I joined a drama production during sophomore year to practice enunciating and projecting my voice better. I also joined my school newspaper; not only did it improve my writing in English, journalism got me used to approaching total strangers for interviews and asking meaningful questions. Starting as a reporter, I am now the editorial page editor. These past few years, I’ve found myself going even beyond English. Thanks to foreign language classes, I’ve since been able to speak five languages while exploring other foreign cultures. These activities have broadened my horizon of understanding even further, and as I spend more time at this school, I’ve felt more included among people that I once saw as unwelcoming. Sometimes, I wonder what it’d be like if I had lived in the same house, known the same friends, and spoken the same tongue for my entire life. As comforting as that may seem, I doubt such an upbringing would be as rich or meaningful as my own. In hindsight, the frequent moves have unexpectedly prepared me for a future, to seamlessly adapt to different environments. I am certain that my motley childhood, while trying, will prove to be an asset.

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