Now that the first week of the quarter at UChicago is over, I thought it might be fun to celebrate by looking back at the essay I wrote which helped earn a spot at this institution.
The University of Chicago is known for its wacky essay prompts which include statements such as, "What's so odd about odd numbers?," "So where is Waldo, really?" and "Find x." Some even go as far as to have writers create their own idiom or describing a portal to an imaginary world. For my essay, I picked a more straightforward prompt: "What is square one and can you go back to it?" Here is my response:
"This fall, I went back home after a year studying abroad in Germany. Before I left the USA, many people from my exchange program told me what a serious commitment studying abroad is. They mentioned that there would be times when I would feel more loneliness than ever before, would have to fend for myself in a foreign environment, and would have to essentially begin my life over again. But what everyone failed to mention, was that the most difficult aspect of studying abroad was not my time spent in the program, but rather, my return 'home.'
On the outside, at first glance, Pittsburgh should be my square one. I am familiar with the city, am a good student and have both close and extended family there. My life in Pittsburgh certainly feels very comfortable. I go to school every day, enjoy what I learn, socialize with friends, and partake in my activities outside of school. After living in the same place for 16 years, I had developed a routine. Yet, somehow this routine was not enough, and, on the inside, kept me away from square one. Don’t get me wrong—I enjoyed my life and was very grateful for what I had—but still, I found myself feeling drawn elsewhere. That feeling brought me to Germany.
On the outside, at first glance, Germany should not be my home or my square one. At the start of my school year abroad, I was missing three essential aspects there; I was unfamiliar with the city, I was not fluent in the language, and I had no family there. I was thrust into the second largest city in the country and forced to rely on a complex system of public transportation, something completely new to me. I was taking all my classes in German, and pushing the boundaries of what I knew in each subject both with content and vocabulary. On top of all this, I was trying to assimilate into my new family, something that did not always go off without a hitch. These three aspects combined to place me, on the outside, about as far away from square one as it gets.
Interestingly, after some time, Germany started to feel comfortable. The challenges appeared less daunting. What at the beginning of my time in Hamburg seemed to be a system of transportation designed only to confuse foreigners eventually became a means of access—I was free to travel and bike around the city—more freedom and responsibility than I ever had before in my life. Early in my first semester, I struggled to maintain relatively high grades in school, and I failed a few exams despite my extraordinary efforts to prepare. Taking classes in a foreign language forced me to rethink my goals and set new ones; specifically, trying to focus on learning instead of earning perfect grades. Initially, I also faced a few problems with my host family. Due to our cultural barrier, my host family had been hesitant to tell me that my habit of keeping my door shut—something that I thought would save on heating—was actually leading them to believe I wanted to be isolated and spend less time bonding as a family. However, by turning toward the problem, I was able to create more dialogue with my host family and ultimately form a stronger bond.
While these challenges made me more uncomfortable than I ever had been before, paradoxically, I was also more myself while I was in the midst of overcoming them. I realized that I am the best version of myself when I am able to prove that I am capable of doing something which I did not think I could. This feeling is what I lacked at home in Pittsburgh. Despite the fact that I initially struggled to navigate the city, to succeed academically, and to build a connection with my host family, overcoming these challenges in Germany ultimately brought me to square one. While Pittsburgh is still, on the outside, my home, Hamburg is the place that gave me the confidence that I am trying to go back to.
So, in a sense I did return to square one, when I went home to Pittsburgh; however, that feeling of internal longing for a challenge did not go away. Here at my old square one, I am looking forward to the discomfort I will find as an undergraduate and welcome the opportunity to prove to myself that I can overcome it. I want to get back to square one, and I believe I can at the University of Chicago."
I think these essay prompts capture part of the UChicago experience so well because of their zaniness and their clear enjoyment in outlandish academic pursuits, which force you to think differently.
The photo is of Tan Tan Bo Puking - a.k.a. Gero Tan from Takashi Murakami. I saw this piece as part of the The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.
While on the NESA Expedition in South Africa, Ethan and I explored and surveyed numerous caves. Perhaps the coolest part of this experience, was the promise from the Wits team that they would choose one of the caves we visited and name it after us! Here is the map of my cave:
It came as quite a surprise as they only mentioned this to us in the last few minutes of our time on the University campus, and to be honest, I thought they were mostly joking at the time. However, a month or two after returning, Ethan and I now have our own caves! I guess this will just give us one more reason to go back for a visit.
Speaking of our own caves, I think it is a very interesting tendency we have of naming things after people in general. The logical way to name something would be based off of its attributes or location, rather than who discovered it. However, we have been naming things after ourselves, our leaders, or historical figures for centuries, if not millenia. Does it have something to do with our pride, or a feeble attempt to inflate our own egos? Regardless, I think it important to take a moment's pause and consider why we name things in the manner that we do.
"Who should we believe in times of Trump and fake news?"
This article comes from my friend in Germany, Johann. He is the Head Editor for the student newspaper, GO Public, at Gymnasium Othmarschen. I hope it will help you to consider the crucial role the media plays in a democracy from a new perspective.
"'The truth: it's probably somewhere between Tagesschau (a German daily news program) and Russia Today'. When it's getting late and there is nothing else to complain or gossip about, then such sayings can become common. The era when one trusted the major newspapers or even the Tagesschau (literally: Today Show) is now history. A distrust of the press and the main-stream media has established itself in many young adults. This idea is verified by the survey 'Generation What' that was commissioned by the Bavarian and Southwest Broadcasting Corporations. Twenty-four percent of German teens don't trust 'the media' at all, and forty percent are skeptical of the media's reliability. If you look at the numbers for all the people in Europe between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four, the lack of trust gets even larger.
In a democracy, critical thinking is imperative. For all intents and purposes, these numbers should be reassuring, because they show that most people won't simply accept what's placed in front of them as always true.
Sometimes people will ask me why the URL for my blog is "justleap." Well it all started off a few years ago when I was creating my old blog/website in preparation for my year abroad in Germany. I knew I wanted a URL that was short, easy to remember, and relevant to the content of my blog.
I happened to be at a local shipping store when I came across the following magnet.
This magnet seemed to encompass what I hoped would become a key aspect of my blog: encouraging others to follow their dreams, even when they seem scary at times, with the knowledge that in the end things will most likely work out, often times just requiring that first step.
However, this summer my friend Nathan Vislosky did intern at the NASA Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) Facility in Fairmont, West Virginia.
So what exactly did you do at NASA this summer?
I ran a training feasibility study.
My friend from high school, Alexa, is now attending college at the University of Virginia (UVA) in Charlottesville, Virginia. Charlottesville is the site of the Unite the Right rally that took place about two weeks ago.
The far right groups including Neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members were protesting the removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The protestors turned violent and attacked the counter protestors in acts of terrorism which even resulted in the death of one woman.
UVA is a state run, liberal arts university, and as such, was very strongly against both the protest’s ideals and the violence.
For the other half of the weekdays we weren't exploring, we worked at the Malapa Fossil Site. This was the site which originally brought Lee Berger to fame, when his son Matthew found a hominid clavicle back in September of 2008.
When we first arrived at the site, we were given a brief tour of the building's architecture. I could try and explain it all here, but I am sure I would not do the building justice. Just know that it includes features ranging from movable legs, to BMW experimentally produced sheet metal which was donated to create the thatched appearance of the roof (BMW wanted to see how the material would hold up under no-maintenance, high environmental stress conditions). For a detailed description of the building, I would recommend the one found on the South African magazine, Visi's write up.
The main tasks at the site were split into three main parts: excavation, sorting, and documenting. A typical work day would last about 5 hours.
1. Excavation consisted of using a small brush and trowel to clear the dirt in the square meter grid sections. This was at times a painstaking process, but also one of the most fun in my opinion. If any of you have done those kits for children with the toys hidden inside, where one has to brush away the sand until something is revealed, you will have a sense for what this was like.