Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
"No! I will never swallow it! Ever!" I shook my head wildly whenever persuaded to eat shrimp paste. That was also my reaction two years ago during a trip to a seaside village in Thanh Hoa, where allegedly the best shrimp paste in the province was produced.
Shrimp paste is a Vietnamese delicacy made by fermenting shrimps, used as dipping sauce or marinade. Despite people raving about how tasty it was, I had never been tempted to let my chopsticks touch that raw-pig-blood-texture, darkish purple goo (my description of the paste). Its smell was even worse: my cousin spilled shrimp paste in my room once, and days afterwards I still mistook its odor for a dead rat's. Those two things were enough to convince me not to eat it. While practically everyone I knew eagerly dug in, I dreadfully shivered.
Not surprisingly, that trip was my ultimate nightmare. The prevalent fermented shrimps' smell was unbearable. But what terrified me more were the meals. I grasped when my uncle enthusiastically announced that everything would be prepared using the "famous" local shrimp paste, "Did he say EVERYTHING?" Not hesitating, I decided to survive solely on Pringles I luckily brought along, while everyone else was immensely engrossed in the dishes. Mom said I was wasting a once-in-a-life-time opportunity and I wouldn't last long with snacks.
She was right - the second night, my life-saving Pringles supply had already depleted, and I was starving. Considering I was too skinny to lose another kilogram, I began re-thinking the 'shrimp paste-me' relationship. Why did I hate it so much? Of course for its gross appearance and smell, but had I ever eaten any? Well... no. I never knew how bad it tasted... Or was it bad at all? Questions started popping up in the desperately hungry non-paste-eater's mind. I started wondering if I was wrong, since obviously I didn't know the flavor; I only thought it was nasty. And then there was a saying: "We're afraid of what we don't know." If that was the case, then I just didn't eat shrimp paste simply because I feared something bad might happen (like vomiting); I didn't have the guts to see how it was really like. What if this whole "shrimp paste is scary" thing was only made up? What if it wasn't so scary after all?
Bearing that in mind, I decided to stop having cold feet and give it a try (and also to ease my stomach). To the surprise of everyone else, I at last joined the table and actually had the courage to dip a piece of tofu into shrimp paste for the first time. Still, I have to admit I did feel a little tense while chewing it, telling myself "Please don't throw up." I waited and waited... but nothing catastrophic happened. I didn't vomit as I expected. And in fact it tasted absolutely pleasant - not so fishy or acrid but unexpectedly lighter than I thought. I nodded when my uncle asked how it was. He chuckled, "See? You never know until you try." Smiling proudly for accomplishing what was seemingly impossible only minutes ago, I was eager for the next bite.
That incidence has changed how I look at what's new: just that I don't know how it's like to do something doesn't necessarily mean that the outcome will be awful or that I shouldn't take a shot. With nothing but the courage I found that night, I've finally dared to skate, go diving, approach a neighbor with Down syndrome, deliver public speeches, run my own club and so much more. Now I can't even imagine why anyone should refuse to engage in new things. I mean, I've been doing so for a while now, and it's wonderful. Such has my life been - always willing to discover the various delicacies the world has to offer - ever since Shrimp Paste Philosophy 101.