If you’re wondering what I’ve been working on, here’s a peek at one of my recent essays for Columbia School of Journalism.
China-related: I took a practice standardized test today – the Business Chinese Test – and it was HORRIBLE!!! Talk about speaking quickly about statistics!
Thanksgiving-related: I’m going to the Kapinski hotel tomorrow for a Thanksgiving buffet with Americans and non-Americans. I’m really looking forward to the mashed potatoes and gravy. But, Thanksgiving is all about family – no, wait…it’s all about giving smallpox blankets to American Indians…
Here’s the essay for your perusal (it’s probably the most interesting one…):
Essay A: Autobiographical Essay In a short autobiographical essay, tell us about yourself. You can write about your family, your education, your talents, or your passions; about significant places or events in your life; about books you have read, people you have met, or work you’ve done that has shaped the person you have become. Our only requirements are that the essay be informative, well written, and reflective of your own voice; our only cautions are that you avoid poetry, purple prose, or writing about yourself in the third person. (750-word limit)
In my junior year of high school, I spent many a night consuming Virginia Woolf’s novels. When I had the chance to study her works in college, I leapt upon it without a second thought. Unfortunately, I had forgotten that critically reading a work of literature requires detachment, not love, and I had found it almost sacrosanct to read The Waves from a critical lens. Yet, when I began to read the work from a postcolonial perspective, I was excited, even giddy. This process, from consuming to critically “reading,” and, hence, contributing, is one that I have had to apply inside and out of the classroom. Four years ago, I began a similar transition at my second home for the past nine years, sleep-away camp.
On my first day of camp, wide-eyed and smiling, ‘N Sync posters in hand, I greeted all of my bunkmates with an emphatic, “I am so excited to be here!” But despite my desire to meet new friends and climb trees at the ropes course, a lump obstinately formed in my throat, and that night all I could think about was going home. This was common; growing up, most of my sleepovers had ended early in the morning with a desperate call home. Luckily, with the help of my brother, new friends, and counselor, as well as long nights stargazing, afternoons boating on the lake, and those notorious camp dances, I successfully rose out of my homesick funk. Ten days later, I came home with a newfound confidence in myself; and so I went back, summer after summer.
In the following years, I developed the role of verbose overachiever during the academic year and silly adolescent in the summer. Nothing came in the way of the two until the summer after my freshman year of college. After graduating from an unusually diverse high school, I had entered an institution where students displayed disgust towards “affirmative action students” and only students of color felt it necessary to join diversity clubs. I had begun my studies hoping to pursue finance; two semesters later, my primary focus was on systemic racial issues.
My new outlook was pervasive. When I returned to camp in the summer of 2006, I couldn’t help but shift my perspective of camp towards its problematic aspects. That summer, “camp” stood in stark contrast to its previous image, and I realized that it was not impervious to its own systemic problems. When giving camp tours, parents asked me about the Caucasian demographics. Within camper circles, the overweight and socially awkward were excluded just as they would be at home; counselors tried in vain to thwart clique formations, but were often unsuccessful. Moreover, the counselors themselves existed within a strictly-bound social hierarchy: the support staff didn’t mingle with counselors, who, in turn, couldn’t comfortably associate with supervisors.
I left that summer without my usual goodbye tears, and proceeded to sorely tell my friends and family that “camp had changed.” But the truth is that I knew camp hadn’t changed; indeed, I was aware that camp doesn’t cater to adults as it does children. That year, while debating whether or not to return, it became clear to me that the real “truth” was that I hadn’t dealt well with being disillusioned, at camp or in college. With this realization in mind, I knew that I couldn’t make a habit out of turning away from the unsavory. Situations will always come into focus, I told myself, and you’re going to have to deal with them.
Because camp is a small, intentional community, comprised of no more than four hundred individuals in a given summer, “dealing” was an achievable task. Before returning to camp, I was promoted from counselor to waterfront director; I took the opportunity not only because it came with a pay raise, but because I knew that in my new role I would be better able to actively participate in the camp environment. That summer, by listening to and collaborating with my staff, I made a point of establishing the waterfront as a welcoming and safe space for campers and staff alike.
Over the last two years, I have continued this process of reestablishment. Even though I do not plan on making a career out of camp, I know that without my specific experience there I may have never engaged in moments of passionate critical thought before making the choice to contribute to an environment that is as malleable as it is constructed.
This entry has been revised to reflect my most recent edit of the essay. (12.09.2009)