common app prompt:
Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
I sat in the backseat of a car, sandwiched between two girls from a private school, on our way to Ontake-jinja shrine near Osaka, Japan. Moments after our homestay mother briefed us on the historical significance of the site, the vehicle unexpectedly halted. We piled out, then registered the situation at hand: the hood of the car was deeply wedged into four feet of compact, glistening snow.
That is how I found myself 10, 000 feet above ground on February 15, 2017 - stranded, freezing, and petrified on a mountainous volcano in Osaka, Japan.
Reflecting on my early childhood, I was engulfed by this same sense of frigid fear and isolation. My strongest memory from elementary was standing in the cafeteria, lunch tray in hand, wondering why those girls were so cold when they flatly denied me a place at their table. As rejections like this became commonplace, I'd chalk them up to me not fitting in. The girls in the cafeteria were fair, blonde, and blue eyed - cute in a way I never could be. These feelings alienated me throughout elementary and then through junior high, where I hesitated to join student government because I felt abnormal amidst a room full of girls like those in that cafeteria.
My low self-esteem extended far beyond appearance. At six years old, when I was in a car accident that shattered my kneecap, with the corresponding surgery indebting my family, I became resentful at our finances for depriving us of basic care. After this, I was increasingly aware of the luxuries and privileges other students possessed that we didn't. When picked last for a PE team or excluded from a birthday party, I'd feel my dark skin or my wardrobe's lack of Hollister clothes were to blame.
Too anxious to pursue the choir and leadership groups my school offered, my freshman year of highschool, I gravitated to the quiet atmosphere of the empty choral room to study; one day, the director, Mrs. Hall suggested I attend the first meeting afterschool that evening. I was hesitant at first, but she eventually chipped away my resolve. That evening, I meekly opened the doors to the once familiar, but now daunting, choral room. Drawing in nearly thirty people from a spectrum of different 'cliques' at our school, the room was filled with diverse, excited students who all appeared as nervous as I. In that same meeting, students shared jokes and stories with each other and the longer I was there, the more my anxiety melted away. Corresponding practices were just as welcoming. My experience in this dynamic space of affirmation and engagement shaped me into a more confident person. After joining choir, I felt my capabilities double in size. Equipped with this newfound confidence, I initiated my school's first global affairs club to encourage discussion about issues plaguing communities around the world. The club, with its mosaic of ideologies, races and faiths, not only stimulated honest discourse that added new facets to our knowledge as a small community, but also provided a warm environment for people who may not have fit in elsewhere. I strive to continue this devotion to increase multiculturalism, promote diversity, and make other students feel welcome.
By expanding my comfort zone, I realized my previous self-victimization was stagnating my progress. The girls in that cafeteria may not have wanted me to sit with them, but that wasn't indicative of my worth and capabilities. Exposing myself to an unfamiliar environment ultimately shaped me into a friend, classmate, and student who expands perspectives, is willing to be challenged, and takes action.
On February 15, 2017, on top of Mount Ontake, I needed the help of others - we utilized our collective strength to dislodge the vehicle and escape our situation. Joining choir helped me gain the confidence I needed to expand my comfort zone and the experience in Japan was much the same. By opening myself to others, I could leave the freezing, isolating mountains behind for the warm communities I'd built at school.