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Admissions Essay Plus a Letter of RecommendationEssay

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¶ … mom and I huddled in the corner when the police came. They banged on the door, shouting for my father. How did I get here? Why was my family running from the law? My dad had simply joined the Chinese Democratic Party in the United States, but this was a forbidden membership in China. The Chinese Democratic Party in the United States voices its criticism of the Chinese government openly, something the Communist Party cannot tolerate. We are still waiting for our application for political asylum to be processed. As if the troubles with the government were not enough, my grandfather, the one who gave me the model plane, passed away during this time. My gap year was filled with terror. I felt hopeless. Finally, the United States granted our request and we were able to leave China.

My early childhood was uneventful. I was materialistic and cared mainly about things like Hello Kitty. When I turned thirteen years old, I was expecting nice new clothes, so when my grandfather handed me a model airplane. I pouted. I thought it was boring even though my grandfather had labored at this model in his free time after working as an aviation engineer. This was something that had bits of his soul into it, but at the time, I was too young and immature to realize it.

When my grandfather died years later, I would remember that moment with great sorrow and shame. Yet my moment of awakening came years before my grandfather's passing, when I was in middle school and our extended field trip was to the "hermit kingdom" of North Korea. As a student in China from a mixed Korean-Chinese background, this was to become one of the most powerful and momentous occasions of my life. If ever a person receives a wake-up call, it comes after traveling to North Korea.

I was with a group of student representatives from China, and we travelled with our teachers. As the only one in the group who spoke Korean, I also served as the only translator. It was a greater responsibility than I had known until that point, and while it eventually built me a foundation of leadership and people skills, at the time I was frightened. North Korea was a mystery country to all of us, myself included, and what I saw there shocked me. We spent the day observing North Korean education. I noticed that the school day began with exercises, mainly marching on the spot military-style while saluting an image of the Leader, all performed to a medley of populist songs. I then noticed that for North Korean students, learning to read means learning to read about Kim Il-sung, and that learning to play music class involves singing patriotic songs. The life of Kim Il-sung forms the focal point of much educational content, and pedagogy is based on Kim Il-sung's 1977 Thesis on Socialist Education, which emphasizes the political role of education in developing the revolutionary spirit. Of course, the possession of any foreign book or media is strictly forbidden. I was left with the indelible memory of Pyongyang as a ghost city, for after 10PM, most electricity has been turned off, there are no more cars on the already empty roads, most people are in bed, and there are no entertainment venues whatsoever.

Our trip to North Korea was the first time I knew how little it was I did know, and it was the first time I became hungry to learn and see more of the world, broaden my horizons. I then thought of my grandfather and his model plane. Could it be he wanted me to fly -- anywhere -- traveling the world with my dream? The model airplane symbolizes the soaring of my dreams and the expansion of myself into someone beyond the sheltered girl I used to be. I wanted to become a more ambitious and mature girl who thinks critically about the world rather than growing into a spoiled, passive consumer. While I did undeniably feel angry that the children of North Korea do not have the right to learn what they want to and cannot speak what they want to say, my father would later experience (and continues to experience) tremendous political troubles being persecuted by the Chinese government and is currently seeking asylum. It is safe to say that there are a lot of new things I need to learn about the world, and that I have grown by leaps and bounds since that day my grandfather gave me a model airplane instead of Hello Kitty.

Good-day, Australia!

No one ever forgets the first time they see a kangaroo jump onto the highway. Australia opened its huge, warm heart to me. I attended high school there, and I smile just thinking about it. It was not as difficult fitting in as I thought it would be. I found myself elected President of the International Student Club, I suppose because I recognized that other foreign students shared similar fears and hopes even though we were from many places around the world. We bonded together frequently over the stories of our food cultures, something that invariably helps break down language barriers and reveals our common humanity. The freedom of Australian life encouraged me to explore new hobbies and I quickly discovered my passion for photography.

My high school years were spent at a home stay, something that was severely intimidating to me initially because I was living with total strangers. In a matter of days, I had fallen in love with the glamor of Australia-its people smile genuinely and its nature unfolds magical secrets. I learned how to cultivate a raucous sense of humor, and to appreciate the way Australians seize life and live it to the fullest. The Australian attitude spilled over into my life, and I became obsessed with fashion and photography. I joined clubs and met a group of Korean students who shared my love of Korean fashion.

Over one winter break, we as a club traveled together to South Korea and visited fashion studios there. Meeting the artists, designers, and photographers, I started to tell my own story authentically through my lens. This was the time of creative flowering for me. As a club, we dedicated ourselves to daily street snaps and posted them to our blog. On my own, I photographed individuals who had personal stories to tell and gave them those photos as keepsakes: from families with aging grandparents to newlyweds.

The Gap Year

Life was simple and easy for a while I was in Australia, but it would not remain so for me. Almost immediately after I started University, my life changed as we received some shocking news. At first, I did not know what was going on, only that my phone calls with my mom became increasingly frightening. My mom wanted to protect me by not telling me everything, but eventually she admitted that our family was not safe, that the police had been hounding her because they were looking for my father, who they considered politically dangerous.

Although my mom told me to stay in Australia, how could I possibly concentrate on my studies knowing my parents were not safe? I therefore returned to China and stayed with my mom during these dark times, when every single day the police came to the door and threatened my mom. For a while we tried living somewhere else, but the police found us. That was when I was huddled on the floor in a corner with my mom.

Adversity is Good Discipline

Instead of dwelling on the troubles that besieged my family and me during the darkest year of my life, I would like to talk about how I have thrived in the United States. It was like being reborn, starting over in New York. I decided to move on from the past and become stronger with each and every day. Working in the "real world," with "real people," I got a "real job" -- essentially my first -- at Macy's. I worked hard, on my feet all day in retail sales. It was a work experience that made me appreciate commerce and fashion in ways I never could have achieved otherwise. I learned to hustle. I learned to work both harder and also smarter, seeing what it took to truly get ahead rather than get stuck in the position. I knew that standing on my feet in retail positions was not my life goal. At the same time, I recognized that working sales in high volume store like Macy's teaches lessons that cannot be learned otherwise: lessons like no success comes from sitting around waiting for things to happen. I knew I would have to go back to school and rejoin my career path -- to soar like my grandfather's little plan.

I started small, by attending classes at a community college. I got a new job, this time at an accounting firm.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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