This is my Common App essay for the Princeton supplement, with the following prompt:
Using the quotation below as a jumping off point, tell us about an event or experience that helped you define one of your values or changed how you approach the world:
''Some questions cannot be answered./ They become familiar weights in the hand,/ Round stones pulled from the pocket, unyielding and cool.''
- Jane Hirshfield, poet, Princeton Class of 1973
Is it too long? Is it cohesive enough? Give me suggestions! Thanks!
About four years ago, I learned I was a TCK. At first I thought that sounded a little strange, like a disease you get traveling to too many far-off continents, but people assured me that it was nothing scary. In fact, the generic description of an average Third Culture Kid had a lot in common with the homeschooler stereotype back home: a smart, affable explorer who loves a challenge and is quick to develop a confident sense of self. But as a rural eighth-grader who had just moved to Albania from tiny Rosedale, Ohio, I wasn't convinced I liked the label's implications. Learning a second culture seemed like enough to worry about, and my own had been working just fine. I also wasn't sure how I felt about being called a kid.
My first year in a new culture was eye-opening in many ways, but a melting pot like Tirana, Albania's capital city, can ironically have the effect of a gated community. Diversity means that almost anyone is faced with the ever-tempting opportunity to retreat to his own kind, block himself off from the oddities of the host culture, and live like he never left his hometown. In Tirana, a nice clique of American friends almost always met my craving for American movies and football, making me less motivated to get out and experience Albanian alternatives. I really felt the shock of colliding cultures in my sophomore year, when my family moved north to the dull little town of Lezhë. There, with only a Peace Corps worker or two to break the constant stream of Albanians, Albanians, Albanians, I had to sit back and think out some basic questions that most people don't ever really need to ask: What is my culture? Do I want to be American, Albanian, or something different? What is home? Where am I from? These were tough questions to grapple with, and the fact that I could not easily answer them became a beautiful expression of who I have become through my experiences in Europe. It is a cool stone that I hold tightly in my hand on sporadic lonely nights, but when the sun rises I hold it high above my head, where it glistens brightly in the light for all the world to see.
The beauty of that question is that it has no answer, but opens the door to an identity that a normal childhood could never provide. While some come to resent the Third Culture Kid label, I have ridden it for all it is worth and very much enjoyed the ride. For me, being a TCK means having friends from every continent, but still finding that my best friends are my little brothers. It means speaking at least two dialects of Albanian but still studying German to fulfill a language requirement, and actually using what I learn when my family travels to northern Europe each year. I studied violin for a year at the Albanian Arts Academy (at first not even knowing the language), and later poured over integrals and implicit differentiation for a semester with a math geek from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, my mother's hometown. I am making a mandolin, teach two British students the violin, and learned guitar on my own. I can love Albanian food even while I research the possibilities of American fast food restaurants like Burger King (or KFC? Taco Bell? Anything?) coming to Albania. I teach almost every Albanian I meet the jukes and spins of football, and some in return show the American what they know about futboll. Everyone wants to visit Rome or Paris, but I rave about Krakow and Prague, cities where two months ago I experienced Auschwitz, ate McDonalds, and read a Franz Kafka book in the office where he wrote it.
Today as I run eight miles in preparation for the Rome Marathon in March, I jog past the office of the Albanian World Health Organization. Like many such agencies, they told me I was too young to volunteer, but I have been able to work sporadically with foundations like World Vision, Red Cross, Alo! Mik, and Samaritan's Purse this year during school breaks. Honors courses, baseball teams, and regional competitions are hard to come by, but the other opportunities more than make up for that. After all, which of these things could I have enjoyed in Ohio? If I had remained a First Culture Kid from Rosedale, my world would be disturbingly narrow. After four years abroad, I am glad, even grateful, to be a TCK. I eagerly carry the stone, embracing the complicated questions that it represents. So where am I from, you ask? Have a seat, friend, and let me tell you a story.
Being a TCK myself, i thought this was really interesting. Watch out for being overly cliche at the beginning though (or maybe i only thought it was cliche because its exactly what i've dealt with). Make sure that when you use lines like "My first year in a new culture was eye-opening in many way" and " I really felt the shock of colliding cultures in my sophomore year" you don't sound too much like you're just trying to appeal to what they want you to think as far as diversity and whatnot goes. But that shouldn't be too much of a problem because you kind of break down stereotypes with lines like, "Diversity means that almost anyone is faced with the ever-tempting opportunity to retreat to his own kind, block himself off from the oddities of the host culture, and live like he never left his hometown."
also, i really liked your take at the end, when you say, "While some come to resent the Third Culture Kid label, I have ridden it for all it is worth and very much enjoyed the ride. For me, being a TCK means having friends from every continent, but still finding that my best friends are my little brothers. It means speaking at least two dialects of Albanian but still studying German to fulfill a language requirement, and actually using what I learn when my family travels to northern Europe each year" because that will show the admissions office that you can adapt, and well. Most people hate living abroad because you lose your sense of who you are, yet you manage to turn that into a positive. oh and more than anything i love the line "possibilities of American fast food restaurants like Burger King (or KFC? Taco Bell? Anything?)" because it adds a sense of humor the admissions office will want to see, while not disrespecting albanian culture at all (also its soo true. the only KFCs ive ever been to are the ones in prague, across from the sphinx in egypt and in zurich somewhere).
good luck. the essay is really good. it shows a good appreciation and analysis of your situation. Just make the opening sentence maybe more interesting, more of a "hook" and be sure to avoid cliches