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Common App essay - Uniquely "Un-Asian"

lali 1 / -  
Dec 25, 2008   #1
Hi, I would really appreciate constructive feed back on my essay. I stand at about 1000 or so words now, and I'm having difficulty in cutting it down (I tend to fall in love with my sentences). I'd be more comfortable with chopping off at least a little more.

I do kind of like the structure though. Anyway please give me your thoughts. Did I represent myself well? Thank you in advance!

My prompt is : Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.


I am your quintessential modern Asian city girl. I barely speak my native tongue, and I have no idea why I celebrate a multitude of festivals and celebrations. I always wear jeans and eat at McDonalds, I watch Hollywood movies and I only quote British and American literature. I am far too liberal in my thoughts and I am proud to have no emotional attachment to my culture because it is backward, overly constrictive, traditional and leads to a deeply unsatisfying lifestyle. I think I am far superior to others because of all this, at least, that's what so many people have come to assume about me.

For as long as I can remember, I was never Malaysian "enough". My unconventional interests and endeavors always pointed to a deeply rooted non-Asian influence. Because I was a product of my society, I constantly grappled with my personal identity as I grew up. It is deeply ironic how as much as my Western appeal was lauded by those around me, I was also alienated for not falling into line or attempting to bring myself into the fold. The perceptions of society augmented the way I viewed myself, as I slowly became more and more detached from my roots and accepted that I was greatly different and totally Westernized. The idea that I firmly belonged in that corner hounded me and the more I pursued my passions and interests, the more I somehow managed to establish myself as a non-Malaysian in people's eyes, and also in mine.

In my quest to further pursue my interests (and therefore automatically securing myself more double edged praise) I took a scuba diving course in December of 2007 to acquire a diver's license. Scuba diving, in a sense, was meant to be the pinnacle of all the adventurous things I had done. It was dangerous, it was costly and it was uncommon among Malaysians. In other words, it was perfect. I knew it would be an empowering experience seeing that I had a slight phobia of live fish and if anything I could prove to others and myself how adventurous I truly was. Almost immediately I discovered that scuba diving was the most contradictory activity I had ever done; my expectations rapidly sank to the bottom of the sea.

I was an outsider, as I quickly realized during my first dive. As a beginner I was not adept at balancing myself underwater. While eels slithered through the rockbeds and giant rock garoupas weaved sleepily through waving rainbow coral my skin burnt and itched from the stinging plankton and salt water. This was not my place, this was theirs. Eventually I ceased my attempts to master the situation and stayed stationary, just observing. I did not reach out to feel the soft pink anemones between my fingers or lure small fishes closer with bits of coral. I just watched.

It was the loneliest feeling in the world. In a completely alien surrounding, where nothing belongs to you and everything belongs to the earth. You owned nothing, and all that you could claim to yourself was the thin layer of salt water caught between your skin and the exposure suit. One would think I would relate to this feeling of isolation seeing that so much of my life has been just that, but it was just the opposite. It was deeply humbling. My presence did not matter there, there was no crowd to offer me their cynical applause. I was an outsider, but not entirely. After becoming at peace with the environment, I gently began to kick my legs very slowly, keeping my arms close to my body. I glided past floating turtles and carefully avoided soft coral, smiling to myself when I saw the tiniest clown fish ever that reminded me of Finding Nemo. It was impossible not to be in awe of the sheer magic of the natural world. It stoked the fire in me that spurred me on to become more involved in environmental issues until now. But just as importantly, I learnt an important lesson about myself.

I had gone to obtain a diver's license, but I had also gone searching for a glorious international experience to further brand me as a global citizen. Sitting around a campire on the beach with my instructors, they regaled the other new divers and I with amazing stories of "Ibu", referring to the seas as "Mother" in the Malay language. We laughed at their hilarious encounters with "Mat Sallehs" (a local terms for Westerners) as we munched on local delicacies like "ikan kering" and "ulam". In the end I was served a deeply humbling and truly Malaysian experience. I had gone all the way to look for the rest of the world, but my journey had brought me right back home.

The ocean showed me that no one is an outsider in this world as long as we appreciate what is around us, learn what can help you in your life and respect the will and way of others. I had succeeded at being at peace in a completely unfamiliar, almost out-of-this world environment, what more sense of belonging couldn't I find among my own people and culture? I am not defined purely by my pursuits and interests, rather I am shaped by them. There is plenty of grey area in my personal identity, and that is okay; I am uniquely modern, with modern pursuits, but with a strongly Asian affinity for my culture and all the little details that make it so stunning. I need not agree with everything that is Eastern or Western nor place myself squarely in one corner, instead my purpose is just to find my place. 18 meters below surface level off the coast of Payar Island, I began to find just that.

I no longer distance myself from the cultural trappings that I do enjoy just to avoid the chides of those around me. Yes, I wear jeans and eat McDonalds but not on Fridays when my family is vegetarian. I still quote Western literature but so many of my favourite writers had a typical Asian upbringing. I do yoga because it is healthy, and I read academic books on ancient forms of Indian art. I am neither entirely here, nor there, but the spot I stand is where I belong. Although it might shift along the spectrum as I lead my life, I can confidently say there will never come a time when I will say I am not intensely proud to be uniquely Malaysian in every way.


QUESTION : Should I change my use of the word "Asian" to Malaysian always so its more consistent?

pikezander144 2 / 1  
Dec 25, 2008   #2
It's a good essay but it's definitely too long. I also had problems with length and was advised to make it a maximum of 600 word long... I think mine was around 550 or so.

and yes, you should change "Asian" to Malaysian
Kikozang - / 14  
Dec 25, 2008   #3
malaysian definitely, because asian sounds like a stereotype
kids_jessy 8 / 34  
Dec 25, 2008   #4
Hi, I do have a suggestion here for you to cut short your essay. Since the essay prompt is about a "significant experience..", which in this essay will be the scuba diving experience. Thus, I suggest that you could try to condense the first 2 paragraphs into 1 short para. Focus on the experience itself. Also, since the last para talked about "jeans..McDonalds..Western literature", you might want to keep that in your opening para so that there will be this link throughout the essay.

Yup, just my two cents worth of opinion. Hope it helps and all the best :)
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,334 129  
Dec 26, 2008   #5
Yes, change it to Malaysian, so it is more specific and descriptive. Words and phrases are like employees; the really good ones can multi-task, attend to detail, and strengthen your whole business.

Separate the two halves of a compound sentence with a comma:

I am far too liberal in my thoughts, an d I am proud to have no emotional attachment to my culture because it is backward, overly constrictive, traditional and leads to a deeply unsatisfying lifestyle. I think I am far superior to others because of all this, at least, that's what so many people have come to assume about me. (what do you mean? They think you believe yourself to be superior?)

Sentence fragment here:

In a completely alien surrounding, where nothing belongs to you and everything belongs to the earth, I owned nothing. All I could claim to myself was the thin layer of salt water caught between my skin and the exposure suit.

I understand why you fall in love with your sentences. I don't like to edit my work down either! Stephen King calls it having to "kill your darlings." you write very well.

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