Prompt : Common App Essay Prompt #5 (A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community, or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.)
"How much is it?" I ask, pointing at two slim, crimson-colored pieces of fruit. "2 ringgit." 60 cents. "OK. I'll take it." The old Malaysian woman hands me a plastic bag with my afternoon snack. I grab it, saying, "Terima Kasih." Thank you. She grins. Now I have my toothsome papaya sticks to keep me company on my way back home.
As I walk away from the fruit stand and towards the main gate, a huge crowd rustles into what we call "Hawker Centre." Chinese boys, Malaysian women, American students, Indian maids, Korean girls, and a few old European couples. I look around. No roof, no air conditioning, just a huge dining area with hundreds of plastic tables and chairs, food stalls where 3 square meters of ground functions as both reception desk and kitchen. But what keeps this place crowded every night isn't hard to find as I watch people lining up to choose from endless delicacies that cost 1 dollar at most. The heat from pans and pots fills the air, while hawkers busily move around, cooking and delivering.
Stepping out from the venue, I begin walking home. Started as a sheer attempt to save my hard-earned allowance, the habit became a priceless opportunity for me to get closer to everyday life of my neighbors.
On the deck, a short woman - with black cloth covering almost her entire body - talks with her husband. Tomorrow, he will take a stroll with his other wife, who's probably at home with the children. But the way they talk, laugh, and hold each other suggests a sense of affection and sympathy that dwells between them, which nothing - not even polygamy - seems powerful enough to interfere. Two blonde girls in tank tops and shorts come out from 7-Eleven. I look at them, and myself. Then, I remember the woman in Chador I've just passed by, who could only reveal her eyes through the garb. As my phone signals 7 o' clock, the sound of Islamic Prayer spreads through the street. Near the bench, an aged man kneels and starts praying. Right at that moment, a church van, carrying students from evening worship, passes by in a slow motion, as if not to disturb the old man's holy ritual. A hot smoke escaped an open Indian restaurant and stings my tear ducts. In the crowded, steamy dining place, people mix rice and curry on a banana leaf and eat with their hands. Hearing my stomach grumble, I deftly cross the road - a survival skill in Malaysia, where crosswalks barely exist.
The sun has gone down by the time I enter a familiar row of palm trees. Through the silhouettes of the leaves, I glance up at the antiquated, grey building that stands in front of me. I'm home.
3 and half years ago, when my dad announced the family's huge geological and cultural transition, I couldn't locate Malaysia, let alone Penang - a tiny, beautiful island I now call "my second home." To me, Malaysia was just one of those poor countries where nothing good could be found. The prejudgment about the country's poverty turned out right; however, I terribly failed to predict what I'd find at this dynamic place.
At hawker centers, I saw people drunk on life, happy with small things they have, and learned passion and content. Running the student center, working as a peer tutor, and volunteering at local homes, I came to live deep and passionately and have no regrets at the end of the day. Moreover, I savored every chance I was given with, and appreciated the experiences and people it brought into my life.
But another, perhaps more important, thing I gained stemmed from tolerance found in everyday life. Seeing people of various colors, nationalities, religions, and social origins not only co-exist but readily integrate, I naturally adopted the open-mindedness and respect they showed each other. I realized that what seemed "weird" to me at first was a respectable culture of the person next to me. Furthermore, I began to recognize and understand beliefs that I had never imagined existed before. In school, where I was surrounded by TCKs (Trans-Cultural Kids) from South Africa, Vietnam, Iran, America, and Japan, I encountered even more diverse world. But, with friends who thought and acted differently, I used the opportunity to take my tolerant attitude I had developed to a more personal, active level. I readily understood what made each one of us "unique," and embraced them as part of myself. It wasn't easy, as my limited scope of thinking was constantly challenged by new ideas and beliefs. However, I now know it was worthwhile: through the process, I have become a multi-cultural person that the various cultures of my friends have molded me into.
As time to leave Penang comes around, I'm not sure where exactly I'll wind up next. But I know that wherever I go, I'll roll in as a versatile ball of thread with bits and pieces of different cultures mixed together. And this time, with a few papaya sticks with me, the transition will be much sweeter.
I'm not sure about the title yet. Any critique or insight is welcomed. Feel free to comment! I know it was a bit long essay, so THANK YOU for taking your precious time to read it! ;)