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Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.
"Ni jiao shen me ming zi?" asked the interviewer in Mandarin. Puzzled at first, I quickly answered back in Chinese, my native language: "Wo shi Alvin"(My name is Alvin). Eager to relieve my anxiety, I began playing with my hands and glancing at the certificates covering the walls. I was being interviewed for a counseling position in the International Exchange Foundation, a program that invites students from around the world to come and study in America. My interviewer explained to me that some of the students, all who are arriving from China, may present discipline problems. Although I qualified to serve as a counselor, my initial excitement soon turned into a feeling of apprehension.
On orientation day for student counselors, what my interviewer had told me about the students still haunted me. Nevertheless, I focused on my duties. I was to accompany the students to historical landmarks, to translate the English that confused them, and to prevent inappropriate behavior.
During the night of their arrival, I began to witness the students' disrespectful behavior. As they stepped off their coach buses, some expected the counselors to carry their bags to their dormitories. Believing the students were tired, I obliged and helped them. However, they began to complain about the modest living conditions as well. Apparently, the students were not satisfied with an air-conditioned room with clean bathrooms and organized beds. Even when I presented the freshly cooked foods to the students in the middle of the night, I received complaints and refusals. One student even threw a hard-boiled egg at me! Despite the cantankerous students' remarks, I believed a good night sleep could cure their grumpy attitude. I was too hopeful.
Waking up at six in the morning was not a pleasant way to start the day. Everyone seemed cranky, yet I continued to assist the students in anyway possible. After eating breakfast in the campus's cafeteria, I was asked to organize the students into five equal rows based on the given roster. Occasionally, they were cooperative and manageable with the presence of adult counselors, but rarely would they listen to me alone. As I arranged the students into single lines, each began to run around and disobey my instructions. Surprised by their energetic moods in the early morning, I was too tired to track after them. This hectic atmosphere began to trouble me. Never did I expect such rudeness from these students. The realization of my interviewer's ominous words now came true.
Aware of my vulnerable position, I could not let the students take control of me. I was the counselor, not them. By nightfall, I announced bedtime, yet I was met with more complaints and refusals. By locking me out of their rooms, they told me to scram. Disappointed, I slowly walked back to my dormitory. Never did I envision helping people would result in such distress. Somehow, I needed to gain their respect, but how? In China, it is common for adolescents to address their elders with terms of respect. Yet ironically, I was not getting any deference from these students. As I pondered the merits of participating in this program, a girl approached me with an ambiguous smile. She quietly asked, "What's your name?" Puzzled that it was not another student yelling in my face, I was caught off guard by her frankness. I answered back just like I had with my interviewer. However, each answer led to another question and another. Intrigued by her curiosity, I patiently answered her questions: "What do you do for fun?" and "Do you like living in America?" In return, she told me experiences of her life in China and her dreams of studying in the United States. At that moment, I realized why the students had alienated themselves from me: a lack of communication.
Growing up in different environments meant different approaches. These Chinese students had lived in China their whole lives. Respecting a stranger from another country had never crossed their minds. By communicating with this new student, my conversations began to slowly permeate through other students. Casual conversations that included the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, recreational shopping centers, and even my stories of an Asian-American teenager had attracted their attention. In exchange, I learned more about each student's likes, dislikes, fears, and inspirations. They even taught me how to pronounce my Mandarin words more fluently. I realized a strong bond began to form.
After a week of talking to the students, they subtly began to respect me. With this in mind, my negative perception of the students changed as well. I had gained the attention and courtesy of students who originally had no regard for anyone but who now learned to listen to me. Not only did they obey my instructions and behave properly, but also we learned to have fun together. During karaoke nights, the students and I would sing "Wo Ai Beijing"(I love Beijing) as a tribute to the 2008 Olympics. Finding myself enjoying this experience and this program, I had completely forgotten they would soon return to China.
Watching the students board their busses for their journey back home, I subconsciously realized that this was possibly the last time I would ever see them. As I cheerlessly waved good-bye to them, I heard these five precious words: "See you later Big Brother."
Honestly, who would think a twelve year old girl from a foreign country could have had such an impact?