Newton's First Law of Motion states that an object in motion tends to stay in motion in the same direction unless acted upon by an external force. Tell us about an external influence (a person, an event, etc.) that affected you and how it caused you to change direction.
Living in Los Angeles, I am surrounded by a diverse group of cultures. In order to gain a better understanding of them, I volunteered at Ability First, a non-profit organization that helps children and adults with physical and developmental disabilities improve their quality of life.
When I first began volunteering at Ability First, I felt uncomfortable. Never before had I interacted with people so different from what society views as normal. On my first day as a volunteer, as the automatic sliding doors to the building opened, I walked up and saw two children running around and yelling unintelligible words at the top of their lungs. One of them was a 12 year-old boy named Eric. To my initial disappointment, he was the child assigned to me. Eric was diagnosed with down syndrome, a genetic disorder that impairs cognitive learning. At first, I couldn't help but notice Eric's small ears and mouth and his short legs and arms. His strange appearance made me feel incredibly self-conscious. Often, I would find myself unconsciously staring at him and would quickly look away to cover up my own unease and awkwardness. To my surprise, however, I gradually began to notice Eric's physical differences less and less.
Teaching Eric how to draw animals with crayons and how to swim helped me learn the true definition of perseverance. At first, Eric struggled to draw proportionate pictures and could not draw what other people would typically call a flower. Gradually, I helped him learn how to draw a rose and soon dogs and cats. In swimming, Eric could neither swim nor stay afloat. He tried hard, and eventually I taught him how to swim a proper breaststroke and float on his back. Eric's dedication to learning how to draw a "normal" picture and swim showed me the hardships that he had to face everyday. He had trouble talking, eating, and performing other tasks, which most people take for granted. As I taught Eric how to draw and swim, his dedication, kindness and innocence taught me how to break free of my own biases and ignorance.
I am very proud of my experience volunteering at Ability First. As a result of working with Eric, not only were my preconceptions proven false, I also learned to overcome my fear of the unknown, and had the opportunity to widen my perspective. I learned that "nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood."
No longer do I stereotype or make judgments about people without getting to know them first. I was able to understand the true meaning of the phrase, "no one can judge a book by its cover." I am now more open to new ideas and ready to explore the world. Ability First's staff and the children and adults the organization serves have given me a unique perspective on the world that I hope I can share with the USC campus community.