The white yarn slipped off my aluminium crochet hook, adding a single crochet to rows and rows of existing stitches, that looked to be in the form of a blob. Staring at the image of the little unicorn amigurumi lit up on the screen of my laptop, and looking back at the UMO (unidentified messy object) number five, I was extremely perplexed.
This had seemed so easy. Round 1, construct a magic circle with 6 single crochets. Done. Round 2 was an increase round resulting in a total of 12 stitches. Also done. The remaining rounds were blurred into hours and minutes that should have resulted in a little white creature in the likeness of a unicorn, but sitting on my desk (much like the four days before today) was a pool of tangled white yarn. It was not until day seven that a creature with a lopsided head whose horn was the only identifier of the mythical being emerged.
Very much like learning how to crochet, my journey in forging my own path and finding a passion was confusing, messy and at times infuriating. Even in primary school, I had heard all the stories of individuals finding their own route in life. I had been told stories of those who found their passion at a young age and were exceptionally proficient at their craft, of those that abandoned their interests and pursued a lucrative career, even those who chose their dreams but regretted it afterwards. This weighed heavily on me, as I was determined to have a success story as many of my other family members had. The only problem was that I did not have a direction.
In the years following primary school, I stepped out of my comfort zone in a frenzy to find a passion. I joined the school orchestra where I played the violin, and a debate class to practice public speaking and become much more eloquent. At my ballet school, I branched out to contemporary and jazz dance. I stuffed myself with experience similar to an amigurumi engorged with batting. I found myself enjoying all of those activities but soon enough, I was swamped with extracurriculars. Just like the tangles of white yarn on my desk, I was pulled in all directions. I still felt lost. To make things worse, it seemed as if everyone else had found their path in life, and they had all become white unicorns while I was still doubting the stitch I just made.
It was not until high school that I realised that I could view this mission to find a passion from another perspective. While successfully completing a crochet project is an accomplishment itself, the motions of making slip knots, single or double crochets takes you on an adventure as well. The knots that I had encountered in my craft were evidence of my experiences and what shaped me as an individual. My exploration of various paths through detours may have sometimes resulted in roadblocks, but I continued to persevere and learn from my experiences, applying the skills that I have gained to future knots. The mini adventures that I went on were all crucial to me in the greater journey of life.
Through trial and error, the current adventure that I am on resonates the most with me, taking me down the path of service and environmental activism. However, I have learnt that no one path is static, and I can be on more than one path at a time. While I may only be halfway to the proportionate unicorn amigurumi that some others may have already achieved, I still have so much to learn and so much that I want to learn, and so my journey to grow continues.
Stepping Out of my Comfort Zone
If you told me I would be playing a sport called squash at 11 years old, I would call you crazy. But in seventh grade, I was at a new school 10 times bigger than my last one. I felt like a little fish in a big pond. I was quiet, withdrawn, and very introverted. A lot of the time, I stayed where I was comfortable.
During the first week of school, a group of people visited the school and they introduced themselves as Squashbusters. At that time, I’d only heard of Squash once before, but I didn’t really know what it was. Because the program combined the sport of squash with academic support, mentoring, and service opportunities, I decided to sign up. It’s been six years and this program has made a monumental difference in my life.
Being a part of SquashBusters is a program that really pushed me out of my shell to the point where I’ve grown accustomed to challenging myself. In SquashBusters, they tell us to push ourselves past our limits on the squash courts, but that mindset has transferred to other areas of my life as well. From team trips and tournaments to cringy karaoke moments and participating in eccentric traditions like our annual SquashBusters Olympics, my comfort zone has steadily grown larger. My peers brought out a side of me I didn’t even know existed. I haven’t transformed completely from introvert to extrovert, but I’ve become more social as the years go by.
At Hopkins, I want to do something similar. I want to try new things and embrace the campus traditions. Even though I will develop intellectually from the many academic classes and clubs/activities offered on campus, I feel as though a true community is birthed from exploring beyond what one’s used to. From traditions like Blue Jay Opening Day and the Spring Fair to the many world-changing clubs like the Amnesty International club and the Foreign Affairs Symposium, the different ways to be involved in the Hopkins community is limitless and invigorating and I can’t wait to be a part of the Hopkins family.
Red Over Black
“Bring the ace of spades up,” my Grandmother said as we started our first game of solitaire after I got home from school. “Now, put the black eight onto the red nine.” We played solitaire often, working together to reorganize the cards most efficiently. While it was meant to be a single-player game, solitaire was the one thing we did together, moving and dealing the cards in a symphony of order: red to black, red to black. Pulling the pattern out of the random array of cards.
For hours, we sat at our glossy kitchen table, playing game after game. If there were no more moves to make, I would always sneak a card from below a column without my grandma seeing. She always did. I couldn’t understand- What was the big deal of revealing the cards? We might win one out of ten games played. But if we just ‘helped ourselves,’ as I liked to call it, we could win them all. I didn’t understand her adherence to the “Turn Three” rule. Why not just turn the cards one by one? It was too frustrating to see the cards go by, but turn exactly three and not be able to pick them up! After one game we lost, I asked my grandma, “Why do we play this way? There’s a much better way to play.” In response, she quickly explained her adamancy to the rules, what before had made no sense to me.
Her polished fingernails scratched against the cards as she shuffled them and told me. “Solitaire isn’t just a game for one person.” Her deep brown eyes sharply glanced at me, “No.” It wasn’t just a game for one person, but rather for two sides of a person. It was an internal battle, a strengthening of the mind. One playing against oneself. “If one side of you cheats, how would either side get better?”
Red lipsticked lips slightly grinned as my grandma saw me trying to understand, but I didn’t agree with this thought at once. The cards rhythmically slapped down onto the table as my grandmother, small yet stoic, effortlessly moved the cards with frail hands. I watched her. I thought about any other way to understand this idea. I desperately wanted to. Trying to think, I couldn’t imagine another instance where this sense of tranquility, bringing the melody of organization out of a cacophony of random cards, came from such intense competition.
The slow manipulation of life around her precedent made me think back to my grandma, to what she told me, and made me understand. Two years later, pushing myself harder than I ever had before in a field hockey match, I realized how much I had been cheating myself and my team by not putting this effort in before. Four years later, I was helping my parents clean after dinner when I saw the value in not taking the easy way out. Five years later, I found once again the difficult ease in pottery. Lifting the pot off the wheel, I found satisfaction. Looking back, I hadn’t realized that this notion of self-accountability appears in almost every aspect of my life.
Seven columns. Four aces. Fifty-two cards. Laying these down, I’m brought back to playing solitaire with my grandmother. Through time, her inner spirit never crumbled as her body began to deteriorate. Her mind stayed strong and proud. I admired her for that more than she could’ve imagined. Each challenge I face, or will face, in life, I think back to her lesson one inconspicuous afternoon. Never let myself cheat. Always hold myself accountable. Work hard in every competition, especially the ones against myself, as those are the ones that better me the most. I did not understand what my grandmother meant that day. Now, with each day, I do more.
Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
1 Use rhetoric to engage your reader
“How prone to doubt, how cautious are the wise!”
I’m not a philosopher; eloquence eludes me, the meaning of life is unquestioned, and thinking, beyond what is required to carry out a potential, is postponed to a more leisurely time. I’ve experienced doubt, and proceeded with caution; and in my experience, I’ve learned to discard unnecessary thought and conventional wisdom in favor of progress. Philosophy amounts to nothing unless it results in action.
“You’re kidding.” Scanning my schedule, my classmate shakes her head. “Why didn’t you take Dual Credit?” During Junior year, my high school began to incentivize Dual Credit courses with a GPA multiplier. Advertised to be less demanding than an AP class, Dual Credit was extolled as the wise man’s curriculum. So, mustering all the wisdom I had, I took 6 AP classes, and frankly, I enjoyed their depth. When it comes to education, I’m not cautious – and I’m prone to doubt. I just act. If I want chemistry, then I get chemistry; if I’m intrigued by psychology, then I pursue psychology. There is no point in pondering the inevitable; I am determined to take educational opportunities. I’ll judge the difficulty for myself after I complete it.
The practice of prioritizing action has proved useful in my pursuits. In ninth grade, I could have doubted my capability; instead I ran for office in the school’s health club and earned a position in the eleventh grade. That year, there was a debate amongst the members over meeting schedules: if the Technology Students Association meeting coincided with ours, how would we attract new members? As the club officers weighed the costs and benefits amongst themselves, I left the meeting and signed up for the technology club, discussed an agreement, and voted for the technology club to move its meetings to the second half of lunch before scheduling the Health club meetings for the first half. Did it require thinking? No. Eloquence? Hardly. Contrary to the anticipated speeches and club-based patriotism, it only took clear action and a request to solve the conflict. Attendance increased, and as a bonus, I enjoyed a continued membership with both organizations.
Beyond the sphere of public education, doubt-free determination facilitated my impact in the community. I am seventeen; I cannot vote in the upcoming elections. However, that does not mean I will hesitate to make a mark with my city. Small actions, from teaching addition to a church member’s kindergartener to tutoring three classmates for the SAT, matter in the long run. Can a teenage end world hunger? Doubtful; but by pulling weeds from the community garden, I can further progress one step at a time.
Not all actions end successfully. However, between cautious wisdom and failure, I choose action. I don’t fancy myself as wise; I’m not prone to doubt, nor am I perpetually cautious. I simply pursue my goal. As the wiser Homer has taught America, when torn between success and potential peril, one must simply “D’oh.”
2 Analyze your changed opinions
Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s, “Crime and Punishment”, the character Sonia is metaphorically linked to Christ. After prostituting herself to feed her family, she covers her head and face in shawls, before lying on her bed face down and sobbing– through this, she is linked to the death of Jesus. Her mother, Katarina, kisses her feet while she sobs, the same way people in the churches of that time wept and kissed at the feet of idols to Christ. In this situation, Dostoevsky is implying that even something such as prostitution that might be deemed a sin can instead be that which allows one to be a Saint.
As my mother choked up while I described the above anecdote, I was filled with confusion. What could lead her to be so upset over this philosophical question? I asked if there was something she wanted to talk about and to say there was would be an understatement.
She described to me the process by which my Father, in pursuit of a sexual relationship with a young woman, had demolished our family’s house, and all of my Mom’s identifying documents, before successfully taking away both me and my brother. While my father wasn’t on my birth certificate for a Welfare bid, and my mother regained custody of me, my brother had to remain in the care of a man who put little emphasis on caring for his sons at that point in his life. My mother was left with no money, no place to live, and no friends who would lend their support. She turned to her sister for guidance and instead of love and compassion was met with cruelty, deceit, and greed.
My mother found a parallel between herself and Sonia. Both were faced with a problem the likes of which seems unsolvable and were thrust into a patriarchal system that far too often values little of women beyond the most primitive desires. Despite constant attempts to get herself onto a more admirable path, the system resisted her. She could not afford to purchase new identifying documents without missing rent, and I couldn’t handle being paraded through 105-degree weather. She was stuck. My dad came back and offered to continue their relationship after more than a year of abject poverty and lack of bodily autonomy. And she accepted the invitation into the man who had ruined her life for me.
After going through a phase of alcoholism and an instance of domestic violence against my Father, I viewed my mother as immoral, or misguided at the least. I was wrong. Despite experiencing some of the worst things a human can experience, and being able to tell nobody about it, she remained in a household with a man who intentionally hurt her beyond belief, for my well being. If there is a God above us, he views Sonia and my Mother not as sinners, but as Saints, and in that conviction, I could not be more absolute.
Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
3 Demonstrate your unshakeable curiosity
Most airplanes are constructed with seats in rows of two or three. Mathematically, that means no matter the configuration, someone in my family of five has to sit by a stranger. Ever since I was little, I always asked to be that person. Perhaps it’s the optimistic middle child in me, but I always considered the greatest possibility was that I could meet someone remarkable, and that the conversation could be anything on the spectrum from slightly interesting to life-changing.
From the time I could speak, I began to realize that overcoming communication barriers was an integral key to unlocking the enormous potential in constructing meaningful relationships with others. My father is a successful scientist, but he has also been profoundly deaf since birth. My childhood was spent understanding his intelligence while still struggling at times to convey basic needs because I was choosing words that were too difficult to lipread and that I couldn’t yet write. As a kid, I learned how to continually recalibrate my own approach to overcome the challenge of constantly being misunderstood. My ability to build a relationship with my father was contingent on spending a lifetime navigating around the communication barriers that exist for someone who cannot hear. At the time I didn’t foresee I was developing an aptitude for communication skills that would be critical for succeeding in so many other important areas.
Since kindergarten, I have loved Chinese culture. My mom got tired of me requesting panda birthday cakes year after year and seeing me dressed as a panda each Halloween until I grew out of every costume. In second grade, I convinced the owner of a noodle house to give me two Chinese lanterns that still hang in my room today. In my junior year of high school, I earned a competitive scholarship from the U.S. State Department to study abroad for the summer learning Mandarin and immersing myself in eastern culture. Being dropped into Chengdu, China when you don’t speak the language fluently and being cut off from all communication back home was not all the cuddly pandas and Tai chi in the park that I had fantasized. Once again, I found myself a toddler, unable to communicate basic needs. I wondered, “Are humans really supposed to eat all the foods you’re giving me?” I quickly learned the Chinese education system is one of unparalleled expectations, not for the meek. With every grade a student receives, they can see their successes or failures broadcasted on a board in front of the class. Each new day tested my adaptability, my resilience, and my digestive system. I, for the first time, realized what it must feel like to be my father on the other side of the communication barrier, not just trying to express my needs, but trying to really understand what others are saying. At the end of the program I was told I had been unanimously voted by my school administration in China to represent the scholarship recipients and deliver a speech on their behalf to over 500 people… in Chinese. The flight was now descending after so many remarkable experiences and conversations with strangers.
Throughout my life, I have learned that the path to overcoming communication barriers is to will oneself through them. One must embrace it all and say “yes” to every new and uncomfortable experience. In the end, I returned home with a cultural awareness beyond expectation, possessing lifelong friendships with former strangers whom I now communicate with in their native language, and surprisingly loving the taste of rabbit eyeballs and cow intestines.
I am so grateful to have learned and confirmed in my life that stepping out of my comfort zone can, in fact, lead to experiences anywhere on the spectrum from slightly interesting to life-changing. On the flight home from China I, of course, chose to sit next to a stranger… and it didn’t disappoint.