Prompt: 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.
If I could any feedback or thoughts that would be very appreciated!
growing up in an immigrant Chinese family
I was recently introduced to Nahnatchka Khan's 'documentary' series Fresh off the Boat, where amidst the stereotypes and exaggerations, there are incredible parallels between the Huangs' comic story and my own experiences growing up in an immigrant Chinese family. Indeed, I find myself as a seventeen-year-old boy relating most of all with, not Eddie's accurate simulacrum of the conventional academically abused Asian boy but the character of the over seventy-year old woman Grandma Huang.
"I wanted a dinner where I wasn't the only one who spoke Mandarin."
Despite my mindless leisure being destroyed by existential reflections about my heritage, I found myself more enraptured by Lucille Song's simple lines than those of Dostoevsky and Pynchon. Grandma Huang reminded me of my childhood: my mother bringing warm cups of 'honey doodoo' [tea] when I was ill, with a bowl of 'optus tang' [octopus soup] heated up from the night before; one where the word 'jam' didn't exist, instead replaced with a more accurate 'red stuff.'
My bilingualism was a gift in two ways. Not only was I fortunate to be able to insult my peers in two tongues by the age of four, I also realised how important language was as a medium for communication. My parents turned to great writers like Charles Dickens and Aristotle to be my teachers in English, unable to teach me themselves. In fact, they saved to purchase Britannica's Great Books of the Western World where I was introduced to the literary and intellectual prowess of these thinkers, engendering my enchantment with language and philosophy. I remember spending each holiday from the age of six, following my mother to work and wasting hours away in the bookshop beneath her office, pouring over thoughts and stories that had manifested on print and paper. The authors all inspired me with their ability to express themselves - to tell a story or idea through their language. So, at the age of nine, I declared to my parents that I wanted to become a lawyer, not because of the Asian stereotype, but because I remembered my childhood where a man once walked up to my father to say, "go back to where you came from," only for my father to look down at me, asking for a translation. I wanted to be someone who would speak out for people when they couldn't themselves. I wanted to be a voice for the voiceless.
I was lucky, my love for reading and a natural affinity for mathematics got me a scholarship for a prestigious private school. I remember my father's words on my first day, spoken in English.
"Take this time, do and learn all."
I listened, finding surprising aptness in a plethora of diverse opportunities and activities that my parents never had. However, I always returned to my nest, never letting go of the naïve dreams I had as a nine-year-old. Following my passion for language and advocacy, my time as a writer, public speaker and leader only strengthened my resolve, finding new ways to help others and myself find our voices.
I watch as Grandma Huang smiles at the simple joy of speaking with her family in her native language and I'm taken back to when I was eleven. It's my first debate. My stomach is turning. "Just imagine everyone is naked," my coach offers. I ignore him, instead anchoring myself to the sight of my parents in the sea of faces, a reminder of why I'm able to speak out loud in the first place. I sit like Grandma Huang, talking in mandarin with my mother, father and sister jovially around the dinner table. Yes, Fresh off the Boat does perhaps tell the common story of a family struggling to adapt to a different society, but it's this common story that inspired my simple love for language and expression - a joy we often taken for granted.