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'Silence in the house' - common app: Topic of choice

jamespotter_z7 2 / 17  
Oct 8, 2009   #1
Hi guys:D This is my first common app essay so I really want as much feedback as possible from all of you:D Thanks in advance

I am lounging on my bed, at 11 o'clock at night, thinking randomly during a state of insomnia. Outside, I hear a squeaky sound in the living room, probably my host father checking if all the doors are locked. So cautious, he reminds me of my dad at home. Everybody else has gone to sleep. Silence permeates the whole house. The night here is so cold! A gentle breeze flows by, slightly disturbing the photo of my family on the shelf. The fragrance of pine brushes up against my face. Pleasant, yet I can't stand the chilliness. I get up to close the window. Suddenly there is a strange noise, coming from above the house. I lean over, look up to the sky. It's an air plane, appearing as a tiny light-dot. It flickers and draws my attention; it pulls my memory back to the night I first spent outside of Vietnam.

It was the 26th of August. After flying 6 hours from Vietnam, I had to transit at Tokyo. My first time going abroad, especially alone, I felt ... free. My curiosity rose up. I had 6 hours to explore everything, which I thought was so little time with so many things to do. Carrying my backpack and my laptop, I "travelled" all around the Narita airport, which is ten times bigger than the airport at my hometown. I took the airport bus to both of its terminals, I tried as much Japanese food as possible (unfortunately I could only eat three dishes). I even gave directions to the tourists when they thought I was Japanese, which one time earned me three candy bars from a lovely Swedish lady. However, after only five hours, I finished and exhaustedly took a seat in the waiting room.

Having less than an hour left, I simply sat there and looked at people passing by. I saw a family of four walking through, talking and giggling. The daughter jumped on her father's back. Unconsciously, I smiled and kept watching them until they got into the elevator. Then there was a group of teenagers, a boy and two girls. They laughed and seemed to have lots of fun; they chased each other through the whole room, ignoring the world around them, until they got caught by the security.

I watched them and felt something strange, vaguely inside my heart, but I didn't know what it was. The feeling stayed until I over-heard a man sitting near me. He was calling his mother to tell her that he was fine and his trip in Tokyo had been wonderful. His ebullient voice, his mother's caring questions, the sound of "mom" and "son", etc... made me feel a pang in my heart. I felt a flip-flop sensation in my belly. At that time, I discovered the truth. It was not freedom or independence here, it was loneliness.

With one hour left until departure time, I reminisced the times I was in an airport with my family. I saw myself, a 4-year-old boy, the first time having been to an airport. Desiring to discover new things, I ran away from my parents and would have got lost if my dad hadn't found me. He brought me back to our standing and scolded me. I was really scared. I just stood there, rubbed my hands; my eyes were moist with tears. I remembered looking up, the ceiling was so high and far away that I said to myself it would be so scary to get lost, and I would never stay here all by myself. And there was the time I was in the third grade. I lost my birth certificate so the airport officers didn't allow me to get passed with my family; instead I had to be interviewed about some basic information to confirm that I was my parents' son. I was only 8. Standing alone with three strangers, I was so nervous that I couldn't even say my date of birth. From ten meters away, my mother noticed my difficulty. She smiled cordially, came towards me and said "Just stay calm and tell the truth. Don't worry because we are right beside you." And yes, I passed my first ever "oral test" with the most self-assurance in me. And there were many other times we travelled together. We might not always laugh. Sometimes we argued about the best way to carry a luggage. But we were happy because we were there, all of us, together.

My flight was about to take off. Making sure I got all my belongings, I stood up and walked to the airport gate. It was 11 p.m. I looked up in the sky and saw an air plane flying over my head. Leaving behind the "home" where it was sheltered and all the air-traffic controllers always standing by, it held its head up high and made its way to its destination. I wondered how it was when my parents saw me off like this back in Vietnam. Were they sad because their baby son had left, or they happy to know that I was about to take a journey full of knowledge and experiences? I didn't know. But I hoped it was the second one. Because I knew I was.

The plane has flown past Mount Rainier. I can no longer see or hear anything of it. I close the window. The room goes back to its silence. Lying back on my bed, I run my eyes over its emptiness. My clothes are folded tidily on the wardrobe. My "house of friendship" - a cotton-made, colorfully painted, four-bedroom house with funny drawings - is hung nicely above my desk. It was made by my best friend and given to me right before I left. And there is my family photo. It stands proudly at the center of the shelf, distinguishing itself among surrounding books and paper. The scenery of Muong Hoa valley under the resplendent sun makes the photo look so brilliant! Everyone standing in front of it has to gaze with great veneration. Inside is the beautiful scene of the four members of my family. On the left of the photo, I see a lanky 16-year-old boy, taller than anyone else, smiling gently at me. Full of cheerfulness, optimism and confidence, he brings to mind of my past and foreshadows my future; a reflection of my-past-self and an example of my-always-should-be. He stands there, enduringly, to remind me that: being alone isn't necessarily synonymous with being lonely; it just means having to stand on your own feet and manage to do things by yourself. It is not comfortable. But only when you're there will you learn how precious what you had was, and you will know to treasure it.
EF_Stephen - / 264  
Oct 8, 2009   #2
My viscera seemed to go up and down disorderly.

The essay as a whole is very good. But you must watch for this kind of construction. 'Disorderly' is not an adverb, it is an adjective. You can't modify a verb with it. I think that 'viscera' is a little extreme there, too. We usually use 'viscera' to describe non-functioning guts, not living ones.

Good writing isn't just about using high-sounding vocabulary. It's more about being clear, direct and creative with simpler language. A good rule of thumb is that if you don't use the word in your normal life, don't use it in a paper. Practice with it in your speaking first, then it doesn't sound forced or contrived.

Nice work, though, otherwise.
OP jamespotter_z7 2 / 17  
Oct 8, 2009   #3
Thanks for your comment:D I'm a little afraid that adcoms may not like the type of " emotional", do you think so?

So how can you say when you feel like something is wrong in your body? Like sometimes when you watch a very emotional movie, you feel something strange inside, how can you express it?
indianperson12 - / 1  
Oct 8, 2009   #4
Very good essay, i love the description you give!
poorna 1 / 3  
Oct 9, 2009   #5
wow a beautiful essay!i guess you are a natural !!i feel inspired to write more honest essays like yours.
hera246 3 / 10  
Oct 9, 2009   #6
slightly swaying the photo of my family on the shelf.
Perhaps you could divide your first paragraph into two to give a better impact.

take care of the minor mistakes of the choice of words and parts of speech.

Overall essay is impressive
EF_Sean 6 / 3,491  
Oct 9, 2009   #7
You use adverbs quite a bit, especially at the beginning of your essays. Adverbs are often best avoided, though. Mostly, this is because, in English, unlike many other languages, there are generally a plethora of very specific verbs you can use instead of the adverb verb combo. So, for example, in some languages you can only "jump." If you want to describe how someone jumped more specifically, you would have to add adverbs before it (or after it, depending on the language). In English you can just find a stronger, more specific verb, such as leap, hop, bound, spring, vault, pounce, and probably any one of a dozen other choices.
OP jamespotter_z7 2 / 17  
Oct 9, 2009   #8
Thanks four your comment:D
Most of my adverbs are like at the beginning of a sentence or standing alone in a sentence ( pleasantly, yer chillingly). Do they affect that much?
Jeannie 10 / 214  
Oct 10, 2009   #9
As funny as it may seam, we have a saying for what you are trying to express; it is "I have butterflies in my belly." I thought of this as an amusing irony after reading Stephen's reply about the literal meaning of "viscera." He will probably write back and say there is no way butterflies can be in ones belly. Haha! (just kidding, Stephen).

You could also say "I had a strange flip-flop sensation in my belly..."

Stephen is right about the word, viscera, though, and it is so weird, when I read an ESL essay, to discover how complicated and contradictory the English language is!

Your essay was so visceral (look that one up, haha!); I wouldn't change a thing past the normal grammar checks. I cried, and I remembered how lonely it felt when I traveled alone throughout my many adventures. I feel ya, bro, great story! P.S. I really appreciate that you are learning the English language so well because I am afraid I will be a while learning Vietnamese! :D

Blue skies!
Jeannie 10 / 214  
Oct 10, 2009   #10

Regarding your question about verbs and adverbs and their uses (as Sean pointed out), Yes, it does matter about the adverbs. The suffix ,-ly, describes the action.

In your example of the sentence, "So pleasantly, yet so chillingly.," you are describing nothing because you did not make a complete sentence...there is no verb (action) to describe. It was pleasantly and chillingly...what? Furthermore, chillingly is an adverb that roots in the word "chilling." I believe you were trying to describe how chilly it was in the room - meaning it was cold - and "chilly" is its own description as Sean related in his post. You could use adverbs like "amazingly" or "really" or "very" to further describe chilly, but it is already a perfect adverb. Why spoil it?

Instead, you could make a sentence with just the words "chilly" and "pleasant." A little twist of punctuation helps. Note the semi-colon.

A gentle breeze flows by, swaying the photo of my family on the shelf (was your family on the shelf??). It wafts the scent of pine over my face; pleasant but chilly.

Does that make sense?
Blue skies!
OP jamespotter_z7 2 / 17  
Oct 10, 2009   #11
No, it's the photo that's on the shelf:D So I have to change the expression of that sentence, since it's not clear enough.

Anw, many, many thanks for your comments, especially for the "viscera" thing, I have struggled to think of another way to express it but I've found out that I don't even know how to express it in VNese=))
EF_Stephen - / 264  
Oct 10, 2009   #12
Well, Ms. Jeannie, since 'butterflies in the stomach' is figurative and not literal, and refers to feeling rather than to the butterflies, of course it is ok to use. But since viscera was used, it seems that the feeling was stronger than just butterflies. More like thunder in the stomach.

EfSean is right, too, (Jeannie too) about the adverbs. There must be a verb to modify. And since English verbs are quite precise, there is really seldom much need to modify them. So use them sparingly, as I just did.

Nice comments, Jeannie.
OP jamespotter_z7 2 / 17  
Oct 10, 2009   #13
I have one question: Is my essay too long and dull? Like is a narrative and 1K-word essay is not suitable for a common app essay?
EF_Stephen - / 264  
Oct 10, 2009   #14
It isn't dull. And unless you have a length requirement, I think it's ok. I personally never worried about length requirements unless they were stated. I just talked about whatever the essay was until I had finished.

Having said that, though, there is still the matter of conciseness. You neveer want to be wordy just to try to impress or to fill up length. everything you say should relate to the topic. I think you've done that fairly well overall.
kokujampo /  
Oct 13, 2009   #15
interesting essay. the only thing i think u should do is to read carefully your whole essay again
OP jamespotter_z7 2 / 17  
Oct 14, 2009   #16
Do you mean I should read carefully again to check for some grammar or expression errors?
And is my ending okay? I mean there are some expressions which I don't know if I have stated correctly?
Jeannie 10 / 214  
Oct 14, 2009   #17
Oh, hush! It's practically perfect...except for one thing, haha! Every time I read my own writing, I find something else. That's why it is so much better to have someone else read it; it saves me the headache...

I wondered how it was when my parents saw me off like this back in Vietnam. Were they sad because their baby son had left, or were (missed a word there, ANh:) they happy to know that I was about to take a journey full of knowledge and experiences? I didn't know. But I hoped it was the second one. Because I knew I was. < you were what?

By the way, ANh, since you are already proficient, here is another thing you can say:

When we speak of one thing following another, we often say the 'former' and the 'latter' to express what came before (formerly) or after (lately). The former girlfriend came before the latest, or 'latter'.

"Were they sad because their baby son had left, or were they happy to know that I was about to take a journey full of knowledge and experiences? I didn't know. But I like to think it was the latter.

Blue skies!
Jeannie I still love this story!

PS. I don't know how tough your teacher is, but I believe that this paper is very close to being complete. Don't sweat it too much or you will end up wrecking the best parts in your frantic pursuit of perfection. Just my old-age talking...but experience counts sometimes. I have a file called "beautiful stories by someone else" I hope you will allow me to copy your essay there. Thanks.
OP jamespotter_z7 2 / 17  
Oct 14, 2009   #18
Oh yes, for all your helps, of course you can:D
And actually my teacher said she loved it, but I just want to make it better. If you say so, I think I might just leave it there

For the " I knew I was" phrase, I mean that I knew I was happy, so I hoped they would think so too
OP jamespotter_z7 2 / 17  
Oct 15, 2009   #19
Full of cheerfulness, optimism and confidence, he brings to mind of my past and foreshadows my future; a reflection of my-past-self and an example of my-always-should-be. He stands there, enduringly, to remind me that.

In my ending, there are 2 phrases that I'm not sure that it's expressed correctly. Can anybody give me some advice?

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