I sat on the beach in Honolulu, watching the sun set, letting the waves gently roll over my feet before retreating back, only to return seconds later. At the time, I was reflecting on what I then viewed as a crushing failure of a senior year in high school. I had devoted the vast majority of it to an academic competition called Academic Decathlon, which tested students on ten different categories, ranging from art to economics, from mathematics to impromptu speech. Our team placed 3rd instead of the 1st we had been hoping for, and I had placed 4th overall in my category instead of the 1st I personally had been working towards. At the time, all I could do was wonder if it had all been a giant waste.
Time and perspective proved that it was not. Among other things, the experience had taught me to refine my study skills greatly, turning what had been perhaps a master of the art of procrastination to one of efficacy. I made friendships that would last me to the present moment, and perhaps most of all, taught an underachiever with a 3.6 GPA in high school what it feels like to want something and go after it with everything you have. It showed me the delicious fruits of hard work, and the lessons learned in defeat. But oddly enough, perhaps the most significant thing I took away could actually be found in the pages of that year’s topic: China.
Everything we read about China pointed to the future. The recent developments of Reform and Opening were the gradual drawing back of the bowstring that would launch China into the future and onto the main stage of the world. I couldn’t help but research with curiosity what changes were taking place in China’s legal and economic system, and speculate about the future that they would bring about. Simultaneously, I was captivated by the grand tale that was China. The rich history and unimaginably intricate culture fascinated thoroughly me. China had me spellbound past, present, and future. But not even the Great Sage Kongzi (Confucius) could foresee the role China would play in my future.
With extra room in my Sophomore year, I took a three credit course in introductory Mandarin and began a journey that would involve years of learning Chinese, and eventually take me, after my junior year, to Tianjin, China.
Three years and some odd months after the beach on Hawaii, I was in a market in Tianjin, desperately trying to get something to eat. I had come slightly lacking in Mandarin speech skills, which generally longer to acquire than their Romance counterparts. I was getting very frustrated with a restaurant-owner, pleading for him to make me a sandwich. After repeating the words over and over, and trying to imitate a chicken in hopes this may help, I failed to produce anything but confusion, and the store-owner sighed and went back in his shop. I thought to myself “what is this guy, and idiot?”
It turns out the idiot was the one flapping his wings and asking for three Buick’s at a restaurant. (in Chinese, sanmingchi vs. sanmingshi)
It turns out the shop-owner had only went inside to fetch his daughter who could speak some English and with her help, we fixed the misunderstanding and got me fed. However, the store-owner insisted I not leave until I had some tea at his expense. Shirking inwardly at my previous frustration with a man who I now discovered to exceed me in patience and generosity, I accepted. We sat and talk, half with the help of his daughter, and the other half in my very average Mandarin. I was stunned to find that even though our encounter began in cultural difference, our conversation found our similarities. He was interested in western philosophy and law, and as I was majoring in philosophy we had plenty to talk about. I learned that he viewed many of the issues in China surrounding free speech to be startlingly similar to my own, and a stance on foreign trade policies between the United States and China also very familiar.
Since then, my Mandarin had progressed far enough to take second in a prestigious Chinese speech contest, and I have gained new insight into myself. It is such instances of cultural bridging that I found in China that lead me towards international law. It combines my passion of culture with my love for logical, reasoned argument that is found in philosophy (and hopefully will be employed in my thesis I am currently writing on free will). As I make plans for the future, hoping to fuse my critical thinking and passion for basically all things China, I know I could tell the kid getting his suit dirty sitting in the sand that he has no idea how meaningful that senior year actually was for him.
(Personal Statement Examples, Advice, Critique, . . . )
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sounds like a resume brah.
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