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"the land of the east and west" - my personal essays

Angela629 9 / 86  
Dec 4, 2008   #1
Here is the prompt:

Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dillema you have faced

My topic is: the land of the east and west

Growing up in two different countries is a precious opportunity. While travelling around China, I finally had the time to sit back and review these fabulous pages of my life. At Hong Kong, where I summerized the different places and systems that I have been to and experienced. I have decided to put it as the topic of this essay: through my eyes, the land of the east and the west.

To get a true vision of who I am, you should know what I have experienced and the unforgettable memories I hold. These are the things that shaped me who I am today, and without them, I would be totally different. My experience abroad since ten has taught me a lot about everything that's happening. I am very passionate about going through new and different cultures and feel thrilled at the same time to have the chance to experience all these different places along with all the different social interactions.

I'm originally from China and when I was ten, I moved to the United Arab Emirates and lived in Dubai for four and half years. I returned to China earlier this year, visited many places, and saw how my motherland has progressed for the past years. After the tour, I came to the Unites States of America, and continued my exploration of new and different cultures.

I have experienced a lot of different school systems and societies, and honored to be able to participate in this wonderful trip. I have studied in different school systems, public, private and home school; I've also studied in different types of school, non-boarding and boarding. Moreover, I have experienced different communities, both small towns and big cities, and in different countries, China and the UAE. These valuable journeys have very much shaped me who I am today, and unconciously, I have fallen in love with all the different cultures I've been to.

I grew up in a small town where I studied in the Chinese public school system, one of the strongest and firmest elementary educational systems in the world. The public school in China has built a very firm ground for my future studies. When compared with other systems in teaching skills, I don't think the Chinese public system is any different from others. Yet, why it achieves such a high reputation in teaching is the approach it takes in making students excel in academics. This system counts on the numerous practices that students receive from all subjects to build a sound foundation in their basic knowledge. By using them repetitively in practices, students will not forget them. For instance, my math teacher use to assign the class a lot questions each day and the Chinese Language Arts teacher assigned us to write one composition (e.g daily journals, short essays) every day. In my opinion, I think this is a good way for students to build a firm base as a short-term goal, but in the long run, I don't think it's a very interesting way to learn.

One thing this system focus on is students' grades. Due to the insufficient budget and the large student population, the system policied to award students only based on merits in academics rather than needs. They hope in this way, students would work harder toward a higher grade. However, the system has gone too far from what they intended to do. Teachers would severely criticize students for not getting a full mark and students with grades below certain range are even called the low-performing students. They also demand students to completely focus on school works and give them a lot of homework, which can also discourage students to pursue other hobbies. I used to stay with my piano teacher, who taught me a lot of interesting things. After school everyday, I really wanted to learn more from her. However, everyday homework would wear me out before I had a minute to be with her, and I felt irritated due to the limitations. Back then, when the government putted forward a proposal on how students could improve more by giving them more homework, many people opposed to this idea and some protested that burdens today's children face is not child labor, instead it's school works.

I was getting tired at school. The same lessons, the same homework and the same critism if I didn't get a perfect full mark. While on the phone with mother, I complaint to her about how the school constrained me from extracurricular activities, personal interests, and how much I would like that to be changed. I would really appreciate it if I were in a place where I could study and do other things at the same time. She said that I needed a more flexible environment, and send me to FuZhou YangGuang International Boarding School to study. She told me the idea of a boarding school is to learn how to live independently. I guess it's pretty much like college life, because now you have to learn how to manage yourself when you're away from the people who usually do this.

My first day at boarding school was fantastic. Everything seemed so fresh to me and looked so promising. I decided to take a tour by myself when I realized how big the school was. There are at least thirty buildings in the campus, and before I got lost in the confusing school grounds, I decided I'd tour again when I have a map. After spending 2 weeks in this school, I felt much happier than I was. in fact, this is school is completely unlike my old school, it does not lay a strong emphasis on school studies. Rather, they ask their students to pay special attention on extra-curricular activities such as drama and diving. Since all their students will be studying while residing in the school, there will be a lot of spare time when a student can choose to participate in a club activity. I was very happy with the school that I could finally be free to engage in these activities without any pressure from the system. The school also has a no-blame policy, which states that teachers will not blame students for not achieving a perfect grade because the school does not want its students to be under the stress of perfect academic accomplishments. I was very pleased to know this policy because I don't think it's right to be blamed for having more in my life than just academics and I was also glad that I could finally study and take part in other things at the same time.

I actively participated in many events at school such as the annual singing event, swimming competition, drama club, and an essay contest, which I won for my last piece of bread and cannibalism essay. I had no idea that this weird essay earned me a full mark and when the teacher told me to read it aloud in front of my classmates, everyone said I was a strange kid. Nevertheless, I was happy about it because I got a full mark in a subject that I never expect to accomplish.

I had so much fun in the school not only in its activities, but its daily life as well. My typical day starts at 6:30, when I wake up and go to dancing lesson. I ate my breakfast in the empty dining hall and skipped assembly. After morning sessions, I went to the dining hall for lunch, and then back to dorm to take a nap, or skip it to refresh my piano skills. I join the class in the afternoon and go to the dining hall before the evening session. I'd spend an hour at the drama club after dinner, and later can choose to go to either the evening session, reviewing today's lesson, or the Olympiad club, learning technical Math. My day usually ends earlier than others because I wake up the next day earlier. My routine at school is unlike anything I experienced before, because during this period, I shaped an important part of me. I successfully managed myself without my parents or guardians.

It was a turning point for me in 2003 when mother asked me to go to the UAE and live with her. I was excited for I began to love how it feels like to live in a new place, learn new things and meet new people. It would be so much fun to know how the educational system in UAE differs from the system in China. From a very young age, I was known as adventurous and energetic, a kid who loves to experience novel things that not a lot of people have tried or done. I enjoyed these adventures very much, and always welcome more excitements.

The UAE educational system is so different from the Chinese system and their lifestyles, cultures and everything are not the same as those in China. UAE is the Middle East's global village with people coming from all over the world. Most people come here because its prosperity. Being the business center in the Middle East and one of the world's fastest growing economies, UAE has turned itself from an Arabian desert into the modern world of business and entertainments. If you have ever been to Dubai, you would tell that it's certainly not the Middle East people usually think of. As you walk down the street, you'll see skyscrapers all around you instead of two-storey buildings. You would find amazing number of cars going up and down the streets instead of camels in the desert. You would also find a lot of shopping malls and entertainment spots like Wild Wadi, Global Village, Emirates Mall, World's only seven-star hotel, Burj Al-Arab, Ski Dubai, and World's tallest skyscraper, Burj Dubai.

One of most important things I have learned when living in that country is to see things from different perspectives. When I was in China, I thought and lived inside the box and had no idea what the world outside was like. When I first experienced UAE, I actually thought all the people there were crazy because they had a completely different style of thinking than the Chinese. There, people have the freedom of speech. Some people say that their government has a lot of flaws, and others complain how this country don't fit them. I was shocked by their words and even thought that the authority would arrest and press charge against them. Later, I found out it's okay to point out flaws of a system, so that they can be fixed. This is completely different from the Chinese system that I once lived in, where everything you do must fit in such a way that it's either controlled or approved by the government. Most of the schools are government-funded, the buildings belonged to the government and everyone is working for the government. While I lived in China, I didn't know how to think differently because everyone's logic goes the same way: government is always the best and it's always wise to listen to them. But ever since I lived in the UAE, I started to see things from different perspectives and hear other's opinion. For instance, the Lama riot that happened earlier this year in Tibet has caused a lot of controversy because the Chinese government refused to let foreign reporters to enter China to propagate about what is happening around this country. Most Chinese think there is nothing wrong with the government not being open about its internal affairs, but after changing my point of view, I thought how unfair this is, denying and preventing others to comment the event from their angle of opinion.

Everything is so different in the UAE, even its educational system. In the Chinese system, whether the school is public or private, grades are often one of the most important things at school and everyday, all students were pushing themselves to another limit. However, the American system that I took course in was not. They prefer to teach kids in such a way that they don't put a strong emphasis on grades, insisting on that learning is only interest-related and not under influence by any person. It's like the line you want your life to be, the Chinese public system represents a single straight line limited inside the box, where everyone is taught in a restrictive way and was not allowed to think outside the box. The Chinese private system is a little different from the public one; unlike the single straight line, this system has lines that are zigzag, but they are still inside the box. The American system can be described as free lines outside the box, yet the home school system is the most flexible, where learning is unlimited and the lines are free in the space.

While in the UAE, I studied in Dubai Natinal School, a private school that implements American Curriculum. It used Arabic and English both serve as institutional and spoken languages; usually main subjects such as English, Math and Science are taught in English, while other subjects such as Social Studies, Arts, and Arabic are taught in Arabic. I'm very happy with the fact that the school system I studied in Dubai can provide me with much more flexibility than that in China. It weighs the power on the hands of the parents to decide which field is the interest of the children, whereas in China, teachers are the ones who decide that. This actually seemed ironic to me because these two different countries actually have completely different strategies on an issue.

I also enjoyed the festivals and events at school; Arabs is a nation full of talented dancers and singers, and since the school is intended to have native students as the majority, there were always a lot of entertainment events during any school year. For instance, when I was in sixth grade, they held eleven events in various fields: the National Singer, Beauty Dancing, Open day, Fashion Show and much more. I have to say that one of the reasons that I understood and embraced this culture within such a short period of time is their friendliness toward others.

However, I was truly immersed in this culture after I began learning Arabic. When I first saw Arabic letters, I thought they looked like the doodle worms that creeps backward; and not to mention that I have never in my life seen worm-like writings, a right to left writing is already driving me crazy. During my sixth grade, I took courses that were suppose to be in Arabic in English, and learned Arabic starting from textbooks of grade one. Since the first day my teacher taught me how to pronounce the alphabet, I was attracted by this exotic language. There are many letters in Arabic that can not be translated into English due to their special pronounciations. Last week, one of my American friends tried to explain to me how she sees Islam, and she kept mention a name that I never heard of before and it sounds like Korea. When I asked her about it, she was confused that I didn't understand. She explained to me that it's the name of the holy book in Islam, and I suddenly understood. Arabic people (or native speakers) pronounce that as "Qurran", which is very different from the American saying of "Koran".

I also learned the Arabian culture from their religion. These desert people practice the religion of Prophet Mohammad, Islam. I enjoyed learning this religion because it helps me to understand the rituals and behaviors of these people. Throughout the Qur'an, the equivalence of Bible in Islam, I have learned almost everything that, as a Muslim, should do in a daily life and how the society works. A muslim should pray 5 times a day, sunrise, noon, afternoon, dawn, and evening. For a Muslim family, the man should be the one responsible. He should work, pay everything in a household, and take care of his children and his elders. However, women are treated differently. The Muslims pay a lot of respect to women because we are the ones to give birth to the children and often the ones who teach you the first lessons in life. Muslim women are noble and they are actually protected from men by wearing black robes and black veils called "Hijab". They are also separated from men in everything. Muslim schools have separated sections for boys and girls. When I first went to the UAE, I was afraid that these women would suffocate in those veils during hot summers and felt strange about the rule that a Muslim married woman can only show her face to her family. However, it is the curiousity that truly led me to know this society.

I was happy at the school and had fun with all of my friends. However, there is always the dark side of the sun. I encountered some problems that I was not expecting at all. In the seventh grade, I eagerly tried to fit into their culture. I didn't wanted to be isolated from the group due to my physical appearance, which set me apart from the rest of my class. I wanted to blend into this place and decided to master into the regular Arabic class. When I announced the news, everyone was in shock and disagreement instead of joy and cherish. The teachers said that I was progressing too fast, jumping from first to seventh grade arabic; some of my friends were in disbelief and some even said I was insane. I was very hurt, not because of what they said to me, but that I have come to another place where limitation exists.

That's why I told mother that I might need a new environment. It wasn't the first time that I had this in mind. Everyday at school, it would takes me at most twenty minutes to do the math exercises but I would have to spend the rest of the class doing nothing because the teacher was not willing to give me new lessons. I thought I was wasting time because others can not keep up with my pace. However, I don't think this is my fault because the teacher only teaches at the rate which the whole class can understand. So when mother told me about homeschool, where I can progress at my own rate, I was thrilled, and gave it a try in the summer. While others had their break, I was studying hard to progress into a new phase. But it was worth the time; I've found a more suitable way of learning and a new world where I am the only limitation.

Two years later, when I was done with the entire high school series, mother and I made a daring choice to apply to college. I tested myself using the standardized tests in the American system, SAT Reasoning. Considering that I only learned English for exactly three years and seven months, I got a 1590 out of 2400. I was disappointed and strived for it again in December 2007, and got 1610. I realized that's probably due to the speed at which I could read and write. For a beginner who is so new to this language, I think that is the best I can do when I need to write an essay within 30 minutes and answer a reading question within approximately 40 seconds. However, when away from the tests and stress, I can communicate very well. A lot of people were very surprised to know that I got such a low SAT score but can speak oral English very fluently. SAT Reasoning is not the only test that I took last year, I also tested myself in SAT Subject, which I got 2090 out of 2400 in Math, Biology and Chemistry.

This year, I also have had many opportunities to do many interesting things. First of all, when I went back to China, I took lab lessons with chemistry and physics lab assistants at a local high school in my hometown to make up the missing laboratories that I should have done while I home schooled. I also traveled around China and summerized this amazing part of my life bit by bit. While in Beijing, I had a chance to teach small kids who want to learn English, and had an experience in my mind that I will never forget. Then, in Hong Kong, I took a SAT Subject and TOEFL test, and got 2170 out of 2400 and 106 out of 120, perspectively. Finally, mother and I decided to travel to the United States to understand and embrace the place where I hope I can spend the next four fabulous years. I was very grateful that she made this decision because, after experiencing two of the world's most prominent cultures, my thirst for fun and excitement is yet filled. The nearly absolute freedom, flexibility in studying, intercultural society and state-of-the-art technology in this culture all became the center point of my attention. I'm really looking forward to understanding this community better since after all, this is my new adventure.

EF_Kevin 8 / 13,334 129  
Dec 5, 2008   #2
These are the things that shaped who I am today. Learning about cultures is one of the things that fascinates me the most. My experience abroad since I was ten has taught me a lot about everything that's happening around me. I am very passionate about going through new and different cultures and feel thrilled at the same time to have the chance to experience all these places along with all these different social interactions.

This essay will be better if you go back and take out unnecessary words in order to shorten the sentences. To say more with less makes a powerful essay.

I am originally from China, and when I was ten I moved to the United Arab Emirates (usually known as UAE) and lived in Dubai for four and half years.

In the Chinese system, whether the school is public or private, grades are often one of the most important things at school and everyday life, and all the students were pushing themselves to exceed standards.

For instance, when I was in grade six, they held eleven events in various fields: the National Singer, Beauty Dancing, Open day, Fashion Show and much more.

Wow, no, you don't sound like a 5th grader!!! The writing is very clear, and bilingual students should be expected to make a few mistakes here and there. Personally, I can only speak one language. Good luck in school!!!!

Kikozang - / 14  
Dec 22, 2008   #3
Umm I couldn't finish the whole essay which is why I wanted to comment on it.
Well there ain't a clear word limit (you writing for common right?) but I think people tend to loose interest after, I don't know, like 1000 words?

Correct me if I'm wrong, the essay is about one significant exprience or achievement or such, but I'm not sure where your focus is: the education systems, your boarding school experience, your test scores or the other things I missed in between?

So I think it's probably too long and a little scattered.
However it is a good essay with good descriptions, I just think condensing is needed.
OP Angela629 9 / 86  
Dec 22, 2008   #4
Well, I know my essay is probably too long, but there is no way that I can cut it. I have already cut the 7page essay into 5.

You're right. I don't think that, after viewing thousands of letters each day, the admission officer would give a credit for such a long essay, but what if i'm a home school student?

I mean when I was at the admissions, an adviser told me that as a home school student, i should elaborate as much as possible.

But anyway, thanks for the comment.
Kikozang - / 14  
Dec 22, 2008   #5
Umm have you requested an interview? I know you can do that in some Unis. Tell them as much as you can then?
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,334 129  
Dec 23, 2008   #6
YES! You are right to cut it down. When you write something, just like when you do anything else, keep your specific purpose in mind. Obviously, your purpose here is to make a good impression, and you do that by writing something that is GROUNDED in a theme.

Look at all 21 of these paragraphs, one at a time, and write a word or phrase for each that captures the meaning. Then, get rid of all that is unnecessary/

Sometimes, you need to write a long stream of consciousness piece before cutting it down to the actual essay. See what your underlying theme is, for this whole thing, and cut out much of the unnecessary stuff. you do not need so much description of the boarding school, for example.

Refine it down so that in a single paragraph you can convey the meaning of several of these paragraphs. Call the Admissions Office and ask how long a personal statement should be for their school.

Try to give this a meaningful, unifying theme. Your theme might be that a variety of experiences can give you heightened perspective on education and life.

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