Posts Tagged ‘Travel and Culture’


  • “The workshop helped me to feel comfortable writing about myself and to work through my ideas to see what would work. It proved to be a crucial way for me to figure out what was most important to me and how to express that to the colleges I was applying to in the most articulate way. I highly recommend it as learning experience.”
  • Sophia Toles
  • Martha’s Vineyard Workshop Attendee
  • Class of 2012, Friends Academy
  • Class of 2016, Princeton University
  • “David Dent does a great job of helping students come up with revealing topics of their very own to consider for their college essays. He takes the time that is needed to transport your child beyond the routine parameters of his/her thinking to get there.”
  • Lisa Boldt, Mother
  • Alden Boldt
  • Class of 2014, Berkshire School
  • Class of 2018, Union College
  • “When Cameron came to Write for the Future, he was at the bottom of his class in writing and literature. In about 26 sessions, he has gone from a bottom to an A. It is so exhilarating to see this work-in-action. David and Write for the Future have proven that what they say, they do. Write for the Future is a testament to itself. … Now my son can analyze things, he can write things; there are not words to express the things he has done since he has been working with Write for the Future...I would recommend Write for the Future offers to anyone. You are investing in your child’s future,… and you will see the outcome of the product. Write for the Future has done wonders for my son. On Sundays, he always looks forward to his session…. I think it’s amazing.”
  • Lynn King,
  • Mother of Cameron King,
  • Class of 2016, Elisabeth Irwin High School

Brown Supplements

Brown Supplements

by Zoe Armstrong

zoearmstrongWhy Brown? (200 word limit)

I was eight years old when I described to my mom the kind of college I wanted to attend. She said I was describing Brown, and the school has been my first choice ever since. I have not upheld most of the ideas I had at that age, nor all of mother’s advice, for that matter.  However, my feeling that Brown is the right place for me has only grown stronger. I was excited to attend summer at Brown in 2013 and devour the works of Martin Seligman in my Positive Psychology class. During those four weeks on campus, I experienced a strong sense of belonging. I felt the Brown spirit when I joined a counter-protest against the Westboro Baptist Church. The hateful messages from the protesters were disturbing, but the passion of the students displaying their support for gay rights was overwhelming. My passions and interests range from music to biology to politics and, as I learned at Brown, psychology. So the open curriculum is perfect for me. I am eager to participate in campus traditions like Spring Weekend and the midnight organ recital on Halloween and expect endless opportunities to express my values on social issues at Brown.

Why are you drawn to the area(s) of study you indicated in our Member Section, earlier in this application? If you are “undecided” or not sure which Brown concentrations match your interests, consider describing more generally the academic topics or modes of thought that engage you currently. (150 word limit)

Office hours, please! If I became a Brunonian, I would devote much of my first week to finding the office hours of the professors at the Watson Institute for International Studies. With faculty from a range of disciplines, the center is quintessentially Brown and a ripe place for my interest in international relations. I am attracted to the interdisciplinary nature of the concentration and to the mix of professors from Glenn Loury to Nitsan Chorev. I hope to take a class or go to one of Brown Visiting Fellow Timothy Edgar’s lectures. His research on cyber conflict fascinates me, particularly given ISIS’s recruitment of teenagers through social media and China’s use of iCloud to monitor civilian activity.  Though I have visited more than 18 countries in my 17 years and have taken classes in four languages, I long to expand my understanding of the world through my experiences at Brown.

Tell us where you have lived – and for how long – since you were born; whether you’ve always lived in the same place, or perhaps in a variety of places. (100 word limit)

I spent the first 15 years of my life taking for granted New York City’s looming skyscrapers and seemingly ceaseless excitement. Although I lived in the same apartment and attended the same school for most of my childhood, my days were far from banal. From that constantly changing environment I received an unusual combination of stability and unpredictability.

Then, in August of 2012, my parents and I moved to a small city in Switzerland. Basel is quiet and predictable and as different from New York as a city can be. But I adapted, and now consider both places home.

Zoe Armstrong, a 2015 graduate of the International School of Basel, will be a freshman at Brown University in the Fall.

My Global Gateway: Food

My Global Gateway: Food

by Asha Hinson


The aroma of sweet jerk chicken and oxtails consumes my nostrils, blocking any scents of urban pollution the second I exit the 2 train. I always feel at home in Flatbush during the afternoon rush hour. I immediately see signs advertising the best beef patty or roti in Brooklyn. People line up outside little hole-in-the-wall restaurants, waiting for their favorite Caribbean delicacies–even during the winter.

If Mom picks me up at the train, we join a line and I suddenly get a lesson in cuisines and cultures of places far beyond Brooklyn. Markets sell all kinds of meats and fish, which stir my curiosity. One day we stop at a restaurant without a name on the door but with a menu displayed on the wall.

“What are doubles?” I ask Mom.

“You have had doubles before; a sandwich with two deep-fried flat breads stuffed with a chickpea curry.”

I experience the diversity of my identity through food. I easily find my mom’s Grenadian-Bajan background in cuisines on Flatbush streets. On weekends, I explore my dad’s Southern roots. Grandmother Rita came to New York from Georgia sixty years ago. When I enter her Bronx apartment, I immediately face a plate of fried chicken and collard greens over lots of laughs at old pictures and stories of Daddy’s youth. On school days, I come from a comfortable bed in a Brooklyn brownstone to a Manhattan progressive school where food becomes part of our curriculum in studying the world. Last year, my friend, Mirwat, bought Kissan jam and shared stories from her native country, India. She described classes taking place on railroad platforms or in small cabins and students walking along a bamboo bridge to commute to school.

Food also helps me strengthen my bond with my summer brothers who live in Texas. As an only child, my four younger cousins–Quentin, Marley, Maxwell, and Cameron– fill my void of not having siblings. For as long as I can remember, I have spent a chunk of every summer with them in Dallas. Over barbeque, we experience the world of rodeos. I love taking them to aquariums, pools, and their favorite, amusement parks, in between feasting on Italian Ices.

My brothers teach me to treasure the differences in people the same way I appreciate varieties in food. Yet I also understand that some divides run too deep for a meal to bring the two sides to a toast. For example, rewind to an amusement park last summer: my six-year-old cousin, Marley, stares in awe at a monstrous structure before him. As usual, I try to imagine what is running through his mind. I see the fear in his face grow as he analyzes the bright blue slide, glistening in the scorching Texas sunlight. He is excited yet frightened.

A man tall enough to play Big Bird gives Marley terse instructions. “Lay down on your back, little boy, and cross both your arms and feet! Okay?”

Marley stares upward with wide eyes fixed on the impatient slide attendant.

“Hurry up, kid, we’ve got other kids waiting. Go down already!”

Food can not bridge this gap. I wish the giant slide attendant could read the articles I devour on If he understood Marley’s differences, maybe he wouldn’t be so impatient. Marley is on the autism spectrum and inspires my appetite to learn as much as I can about child psychology. I draw him close, bend down, and look in his eyes.

“Marley, don’t worry, there is nothing to be afraid of, I will go to the bottom and wait for you.”

Unfortunately, Marley chose to walk away from what could have been the ride of his life. If he faces the top of the slide next summer, I will try again to inspire him to try something new as easily as I sample a different kind of fish or meat in Flatbush.

Asha Hinson, a 2015 graduate of the Little Red Schoolhouse and Elisabeth Irwin High School, will be a freshman at Smith College in the Fall.

The Summer Wind of Change

The Summer Wind of Change

Kennedy Austin-Headshotby Kennedy Austin

The summers I knew were gone. Instead of flip flops, I wore sensible pumps. Instead of immersing my toes in the cool waters of the Atlantic Ocean, I dipped my feet into adulthood.

When junior year ended, I didn’t feel that same tingly sensation of freedom and excitement. Instead I felt nervous. Ahead of me was a leadership conference, an elective summer-long math course, and an internship at South Bronx Health Clinic. All would be incredibly rich experiences moving me another step closer to my goals of combating economic inequity and a public health career. With a lump in my throat, I leapt forward, feeling eager yet anxious about how I might fit into new worlds.

My summer officially began with a train ride to Washington, D.C. Nominated by my dean, I was selected to be an AnnPower Fellow and attend the Vital Voices Leadership Forum where accomplished female leaders mentor 50 young women. My application included a plan to develop a high school course on economic inequity for privileged youth. Over the past two years I have become increasingly sensitive to inequity in my environment. Traveling around New York City, I’d gone from seeing extreme privilege to seeing people scraping by within minutes. Following Hurricane Sandy, I carried non-perishables to families stranded in public housing while replaying in my head television images of people with resources sheltering in luxury hotels. Seeing people struggle while others wined and dined made me angry. Why should different income levels afford different solutions in times of disaster?

At the Leadership Forum I talked to women from all over the world: a congresswoman from Argentina, a presidential candidate for Cameroon, and a graffiti artist who uses art to prevent domestic violence in Brazil. I encountered the go-getter lifestyle by workshopping elevator pitches, developing platforms, and networking.

The encouragement of mentors and other fellows was life-changing. I cried every day because I had never felt such empowerment. I came home with stars in my eyes looking at my passion to tackle economic inequity and health disparities. I began my internship the following week.

I made the 90-minute trek from Brooklyn to the South Bronx Health Clinic in one of the nation’s poorest neighborhoods. I sat for hours at a lacquered wooden desk. My job was to approach strangers and cheerily ask them to sign up for trips to the farmers’ market, Zumba classes and nutrition workshops. Some said yes and never came. Others were forthcoming, politely saying, “Oh, well, it says you can’t bring kids — necesito a llevar mi niño,” or “I have to work.” To that I smiled, though it probably looked more like a grimace, and said, “That’s a shame.”

After weeks of incessantly pitching programs, participation was low. I told my supervisor that potential clients were forced to choose work over activities and urged her to change the activity times. She refused. I had to accept that I couldn’t change her agenda because this was her job and I was just an intern. However, it didn’t defeat me or the fervor I had gained from AnnPower. I still loved speaking to patients about programs every day.

Previous summers now blur together like dream sequences. I move freely from  tightrope-walking on a college campus in between classes to manning a four-woman canoe in camp regatta, and eating Chipotle until my stomach hurt. Last summer, I didn’t frolic like I had in the past. I did not indulge myself in the ephemeral bliss of unadulterated liberty that only a child knows as vacation months. Rather, much like diving from a cliff, I plunged into the realm of career-building and risk-taking, and I grew. I put myself out there, spoke my mind, and pushed myself forward.

By summer’s end, despite their drabness, my sensible pumps had become more comfortable. So comfortable that I haven’t rushed to put my flip flops back on.

Kennedy Austin, a 2015 Graduate of the Berkeley Carroll School, will be a freshman at Wellesley College in the fall.


The World School Lens

by Forrest Sprague

I feel at home whenever I travel with my camera. I am in my living room when I capture pieces of the world with my lens.

I was homeschooled. Actually I should call it world-schooled. My mother, a former travel agent, literally turned the globe into my classroom. We spent months in Maine planning trips, studying languages and the next country to visit, making me anxious for adventures beyond Yarmouth, Maine. I have lived and studied in Guatemala, Italy, Spain, France, New York City and 43 of our 50 states.

I was 13 when my father became the Technical Director for NBC coverage of the Olympics in Beijing. My mother hired a Mandarin teacher to prepare us to travel there with my father. I fell in love with Mandarin. Perhaps it was my strong interests in music and the seeming melodic tone of the language. There were also the compelling stories of Chinese literature and history that our teacher, Zhou Li, shared. For my family, studying mandarin was merely preparation for the trip. For me, it was a passion that became more intense during our two months in China, traveling to Xi’An and Suzhou in between exploring Beijing.

A couple of years later, I became as passionate with photography as I was with Mandarin. It happened when my dad gave my mom a Nikon DSLR for Christmas in 2009. Her camera would become my new traveling partner. As I started using the camera more, I saw the world around me as the 16/9 dimensions of a photo. Soon after, I was on a two-month cross-country American road trip. From the frigid winter wonderland of Yellowstone to the windy and barren landscapes of the Grand Canyon, my friend, the camera, was with me.

The size and grandeur of the Grand Canyon amazes people but my camera failed to capture this natural wonder of the world in a way that satisfied me. It was too massive for my skills as a photographer. I ended the journey with lots of pictures that depicted small pieces of a large place. I was disappointed.

My failure to tell the story of the Grand Canyon through photography pushed me when I traveled to China for a second trip. I was 17 when I returned to Beijing for my first trip abroad without my parents.I arrived jet-lagged and a mix-up forced a two-hour wait for Xiao Chunzhi, my teacher and host. After a 45 minute, bumpy cab ride, we finally arrived at the small apartment in an old rundown government housing project. I made myself comfortable on the small futon in the alcove and fell asleep only to be continuously awakened by Xiao who was offering me food. My sick and jet-lagged body only needed sleep. However, as culture and customs dictate, Xiao’s sole mission was to feed the guest out of kindness and duty.

I saw that it sometimes takes more than mastering a language to communicate across cultures. By then, I had studied Mandarin at Bowdoin College, Hunter College and the China Institute in New York. Just as photography challenged me at the Grand Canyon, my linguistics skills faced a cultural hurdle in China. Xiao continued to poke me and point to food and I started to wonder if this trip was really a good idea.

I am so glad I did not surrender to any impulses to go home. Eventually, I picked up my camera and was at home again. I became recharged with a new mission: to integrate the amazing people I met into my pictures of architecture. I soon traveled to Guanghan, where I spent three months teaching English. In the city, I became acquainted with people who would soon become lifelong friends. I captured them next to the San Xing Dui Museum and the City Hall, two of the most famous sights in Guanghan. I expanded my photographic focus of architecture to bringing portraits of people and candid moments prominently in the shots of monuments. I now know what may have been absent from my attempts to document the grandeur of the Grand Canyon. The mission of my lens is now to augment the views of monuments, architecture and sites of the world with the beauty of humanity.

Forrest Sprague, who was home schooled, is a freshman at Pace University.

Africa in Maine

by Forest Sprague

I was 12 when I helped unite the cultures of Maine and Uganda to expand a school in that African country. My home, Portland, Maine, has a growing community of African immigrants.  My family organized a benefit concert in Portland with performances by a Ugandan youth choir. The singers spent a week in Maine and I was responsible for helping them adjust to the state. I also set up arts and crafts tables at the concert while watching the arrival of more than 1,000 eager members of the audience. A standing ovation celebrated the melodic tunes. The smiling faces of the performers and the crowd united the room. We earned $2,000 that night. I have carried the lessons and skills I acquired in the concert into several community service efforts. This concert became a fundraising model for the supporters of the school. The choir used some of the funds raised to finance on fundraising concert in New York. The additional wings have been added to the school, which serves orphans in Uganda.

Forest Sprague, who was home schooled, is a freshman at Pace University.

Escapes to Myself

by Vivek Kunnath

Fresh air! Loud cars! Big people! That man on the corner who sells ice cream!  These thoughts rushed through my infantile mind as I wove through the throngs of people that crowded the sidewalks of Singapore. I was three years old and free. I had escaped from the place where I had been interred—preschool. When nobody was looking, I slipped out of the classroom, crept down the hallway, pushed open the front door (which took a minute since I was so small) and just left.

Was this dangerous? Yes. Was it successful? Yes. But why had I escaped and walked two blocks home? Simple, to find my book on dinosaurs; a captivating volume with illustrations and facts on creatures like Velociraptors and Brontosauruses. I had just discovered the joy of reading and carried that book almost everywhere. Every time I opened the book, I felt that I was uncovering something amazing. Years later, I realized that what I felt was the thrill of learning.

It’s been a long time since that escape and my love of knowledge has only grown. I remember days in libraries—sequestered from the world, poring over volumes on all kinds of subject matter. I read fiction by such authors as Isaac Asimov and biographies of people like Nikola Tesla and Mahatma Gandhi. I buried myself in scientific texts such as Cosmos and The Demon-Haunted World. By the time I was twelve, I knew more about mythology and atoms than my hometown. This isn’t surprising since I never lived in a place long enough to call it home. I was born in India and moved to Singapore when I was two. By four, I was in Pittsburgh and a few months later, Michigan. I turned eleven in Delaware and thirteen in New Jersey. At fourteen, I ended up in McLean, Virginia.

I coped with unfamiliar environments and a lack of friends by immersing myself in reading, a familiar anchor that comforted me through my loneliness. But at the same time, I hid from the world in a cocoon of books. I relied on myself rather than other people. While I became more independent, I had trouble interacting with other kids. As I grew, my independence and depth of knowledge increased but so did my isolation. Authors like Stephen King and Neil Gaiman gave me foreboding impressions of the world and I began to avoid crowds and conversations, afraid of being hurt, but knowing that I would have to approach them eventually.

I emerged from my shell when I discovered ways to use my knowledge to connect with others. In a brave attempt to make friends as a Freshman in high school, I joined a quick succession of after-school activities including a lonely season with the football team which ended with the coach telling me that if I didn’t “get angry” I would remain “just a bookworm in a linebacker’s body.” Through great perseverance, and some luck, I found a niche in the Diplomacy Club, a small group dedicated to discussing subjects ranging from fantasy authors to international relations. The name really had long since ceased to have meaning. Whatever reservations I may have had were overshadowed by my astonishment at the intelligence and versatility of the members themselves.

On the very first day, I walked into a heated debate on the plausibility of Faster-Than-Light travel. Somehow, I managed to jump right into the discussion and make several points relating to Einstein-Rosen Bridges and how they could be used to facilitate travel between worlds. It was the first time in a while that I had managed to actively participate in a conversation. I cracked jokes, made observations, and argued points better than I ever had before. These classmates were the first friends I made in a long time and I would make many more after that meeting.

Where once my knowledge fostered isolation, it now allows me to connect with people and actually interact. I actively participate in all my classes and hang-out with friends on a regular basis. I’m no longer an introvert but I’m still independent. It’s a long way from, yet incredibly close to, the child who ran away from school for a book.

Vivek Kunnath, a 2013 graduate of McLean High School in McLean, Va., will be a freshman at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the Fall.

Lesson from a Bully

by Marquis Lockett

Death is the only word that could explain the looks on their faces. I wanted to know who died, but was too scared to ask. My father’s Acura in the garage at three o’clock on a weekday was the first clue something wasn’t right. When I walked into the house, a tension slapped me in the face as I noticed my parents’ looks of sorrow. Was it my grandparents? My sister? A close family friend? No. It was my father’s career at Johnson and Johnson that had been put to rest after nineteen years. At this moment I met my first bully: the recession.

My dad’s unemployment threw me into the ring against the heavyweight champion of America: the economy of 2009. My hometown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, was the kind of community that shielded you from seeing beyond good schools, large colonial homes, and the renowned reenactment of George Washington crossing the Delaware River. I soon realized that this view of life was not free.

Instead of seeing Public Enemies in the movie theater, I relied on my friends’ descriptions of John Dillinger’s robberies. On hot summer days, I walked passed Rita’s Water Ice with an empty wallet. Worst of all, my parents could no longer afford my trip to Europe as a student ambassador.

Until then, I lived by a common American ethic: work hard and opportunities materialize. I began to question this idea until my grandparents came through at the last minute. They worked for some 120 years combined: Granddaddy as a teacher and my Granny as a U.S Postal worker. To help out, they dipped into their retirement savings and sacrificed a trip they were planning to finance mine.

I traveled to France, Greece, and Italy the summer before my sophomore year. In Italy, I spent three days with the Rossis, an Italian family. I first struggled with the language barrier when I met Arianna Rossi, the family’s teenage daughter. We discovered we both spoke Spanish and communicated through that language. In doing so, we crystallized our commonalities. We both loved hanging out with friends and both confronted the same “he said she said” teenage drama.

The Rossis’ family dinner was always first priority and I learned to “properly” eat pasta. The parents and the kids were not the only ones at the table; Arianna’s grandparents were there as well. Unfortunately, my grandparents live in California so dinner with them every night isn’t an option. However, these moments with the Rossis touched me because I owed this very experience to my grandparents. Living with the Rossis helped me see the cross cultural power of family.

When I returned home, the recession blindsided me once again. My mom announced that my father found a new job and we were moving to Boston in a month. As soon as I heard “moving” I stormed out of the room.

A month passed in a day’s worth of time and I found myself waking up in a small suburb called Hopkinton. I went from a school of more than 3,000 kids to one with barely 1,200 where “wicked” was the most popular word. I no longer heard words from my Bucks County vocabulary: “cool,” “nice,” and “ill.” I also noticed that my Philadelphia Eagles’ jersey triggered frowns in New England Patriot Nation. Once again I was experiencing culture shock but this time in Hopkinton, Massachusetts.

In Italy, I learned that speaking a different language did not have to divide people. Using this thought process, football became my vehicle of assimilation into my new school. Like math, football doesn’t change geographically so I dove into the program. It was difficult going from a playoff caliber team in Bucks County to a losing one that had finished 3-8 the previous season. My days with the Rossi family gave me the confidence to search for similarities with my new teammates. I made new friends with new accents and our team improved to a 6-4 record last year. Through my battles with that bully, the recession, I have became a stronger person and learned a lesson. No matter where you are, people are people. With that knowledge, I can succeed anywhere.

Marquis Lockett is a Freshman at Morehouse College and a 2012 graduate of Hopkinton High School in Hopkinton, MA.

Nature and Engineering

by Lance Garrett

When I was a boy, nature was boring.  Or maybe I should say for much of my boyhood, I saw nature every day and it never changed in my eyes. The struggle between a crow and a sparrow was as understandable as unadulterated Pearl Poet.

Nature however would revolutionize my naive perspective.  In seventh grade, I joined  troop 119 of the Boston Minuteman Council of the Boy Scouts of America, the best decision I have made thus far in my life.  With the survival skills, the brotherhood, and heightened awareness came something else: an awakening to nature. The sparrows became champions of survival, fighting off death, the crow. The sparrow was trying its hardest to survive and so was the crow with the life and death stakes only a window away.  Nature was no longer a picture, but a play in which I had a supporting role. I, like the sparrow, was trying to do my best to survive against adversity.

In high school,  I found a new interest tied to a question, how do machines work?  When I saw a high end sports car, I saw both an art form with thousands and thousands of working parts producing enough to propel the car 253 mph despite weighing nearly a ton. That was an amazing thing to me and I decided I was going to build something like that one day. However that was only a bonus. I saw being an engineer as the most profitable option and tied to my interest in building things.

I would learn from a forest what being an engineer really meant. It happened when a student ambassador organization offered me a trip to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji at the end of my junior year.  I jumped at the opportunity. Three weeks into that trip I found myself in Cains, Australia on an old logging path in a rainforest.  The undirected chatter of my fellow ambassadors filled my ears.  I did not dislike the chatter, but when we came to the rainforest, some 90 or more miles from our hotel, nothing could take my attention away from the forest.  I started to walk slowly as I could to absorb the sound of the moment.  My distance from the group increased while the sound of the forest grew.  I stood still not to make a sound; the forest was a symphony of the most beautiful sounds.  Each bird, falling fruit, and shaking leaf was magnificent and distinguishable.  But as they came together, it was something higher than the human senses.  You saw things by hearing them.  All of this was happening at the same time, creating a scene beyond words.  But when I closed my eyes, it was even more beautiful.  The rustling of leaves revealed the forest’s depth and diversity.  The far river became a mighty thunder echoing its power across the land.  All of this was working together to create this Eden before me.  Perfect harmony. One element driving and affecting the other in real time.  I sat there in awe at such an unachievable feat by human methods. This forest, built of the ancestry of ancient seeds, 325 million years in the making, transcended all human capacity.

That complex forest was built on the struggle of those very first plants.  I want to be like those plants. I want to live my life and add my part to it.  To toil in the mud and strife in the world to provide better for the next in line. I want to make sure that my children and their own can live in the best and greatest possible world I can build for them. Becoming an engineer is the most direct way to do this–to build tomorrow.  In the forest, I realized the true role of an engineer.  Engineers create things that make tomorrow so beautiful.  Pollution gone, clean energy there, wonder machines on the way.  I want to build things that make society as beautiful as the forest, one that is without a sea level rise, and with secure and abundant energy. In this world, the next generation won’t have to worry what is going to happen in 30 years. That is the best gift I can ever give to society. That is why I want to be an engineer, to do those same things those first plants did in the forest.

Lance Garrett, accepted at The Coast Guard Academy last year,  is a 2012 graduate of McLean High School in McLean, Va.

Angel the Outsider

by Morgan Pilgrim

In the mass of brown-skinned and dark-haired children, a small speckle of bleach blond hair and vanilla latte complexion caught my eye. This little speckle was Angel, an outcast in the Nicaraguan village of Chacraseca.  While the other children played soccer, Angel sat by himself and watched. In that moment, I saw my past as an outsider and desperately wanted to help him.

I was, I still am, and I will always be Morgan: assertive, curious, outspoken, energetic.  These qualities shape me. Yet they often kept me on the outside, just as Angel’s ethnicity did him.  We were ostracized for reasons that made us…us.

My “Angel” moment came in seventh grade when I jumped from public to private school. My peers could not withstand my outspoken energy. My bright, talkative personality made it easy for me to make friends, but keeping them was difficult.  I have never been one to conform to the “norm” and many tweens do not like a blunt brainiac who says the first thing that comes to her mind. Thus, my spunky personality caused some problems in my social life. For example,  when my “friends” rushed to ostracize a peer, my lone voice defended the victim. “Who votes to kick Casey off the island?”  Every hand at the lunch table shot up except for mine. All eyes darted in my direction; I stated my case without hesitation.  “Casey didn’t do anything bad.  She just has different interests. Y’all have no right telling someone they can’t sit some place.  This is unfair. Just stop.”  My defense shocked everyone including Casey, who looked bewildered. I paid for my actions when I was the next one voted off the “island.”

What could I do?  I needed social interaction but suppressing the ball of fire that bounces inside of me would force me to explode.  I begged my mom for help, but she could only dry my tears and tell me to figure it out on my own.

I learned to channel my fire in a positive direction. Today, I frequently engage in debates with friends on technology, politics, and pop culture. During the 2008 presidential campaign, I debated the Iraq War with Eric, a staunch conservative. The debate started reserved and polite, but soon our voices escalated. When the bell rang, our classmates could not leave their seats; everyone wanted to continue watching the debate. The spectators were shocked when Eric and I stopped, gathered our things and walked out of the room together as friends, talking about our plans for the upcoming weekend.  Despite our differences, Eric and I have created a friendship based on our shared assertiveness.

That first time I met Angel, I looked into his eyes, and said one of the few Spanish words I knew: “Hola!” Immediately, a small spark ignited inside of him.  I took Angel’s hand and ran over to the soccer game.  He was apprehensive to join in but I reassured him by mouthing “Esta Bien.”  Angel’s face lit up; he ran toward the ball, jumping and screaming.  I saw a glimmer of confidence in him. Or maybe it was just the excitement of the soccer game.

I may never see Angel again, but I hope our small interaction helped him gain more courage to embrace his differences. It will be a struggle, but he must trudge through it and remain true to himself as I did. People may have seen me as an overly confident individual, but fortunately I did not let those views suppress this fire in my belly. I have found the place and the people that accept me for me. I hope that one day Angel finds this comfort.

Morgan Pilgrim is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania and a 2012 graduate of Long Island Lutheran High School.

Multiple Homelands or None at All?

by Ravi Popat

I have been homeless for almost 18 years. Or maybe, I should call it “homeland-less.” I am a citizen of France, was born in England, am living in the USA, and am of Indian origin. And so my opportunity or dilemma starts with my lack of a definitive home country.

I have the opportunity to make my own culture, picking and rejecting elements from the different places of my upbringing. For example, I am an Indian as I declare that my parents will never see the inside of a nursing home. I am English and American, knowing I will never exist in a caste.

I face a dilemma when I allow other forces to dictate the choices for me. I realized this when I met “John.” I was 12 years old working at my uncle’s convenience store in England. The shop was calm as usual on this Tuesday morning, with a steady trickle of men from the nearby factory coming for newspapers and cigarettes.

“Good morning John, can I get a pack of Marlboro’s as well?” asked one of his regular customers.

I looked around the shop, searching for “John.” My name is Ravi and I know my Uncle as Ramesh. Who was John? My uncle responded by happily handing his customer the pack of cigarettes. I realized that John was the name that regulars used for my uncle. I was bewildered, yet I still accepted my uncle’s Anglicized name. As I grew older, I came across more “Johns.”

John was not just a name; it was my uncle’s effort to keep his English customers comfortable with him. My first personal “John” moment was in a hostile place: the school bus on the way to Bedford. On the bus we often laughed at the latest episodes of The Simpsons. One conversation veered towards Apu, the show’s Indian shopkeeper. His arranged marriage–once a cultural staple of the Indian community–attracted my friends’ laughter. “Are you going to have an arranged marriage Ravi?” I had never really thought about the question of marriage before, but understood that saying “yes” would be totally un-John. “No way,” I replied. I was keeping my western peers comfortable.

At 13, I moved to New York. The city’s cultural diversity makes it an ideal place to be a cultural chooser. In New York, I learned to choose or reject in a way that strengthens my individuality and outgrew that “John” model, which forces one to choose names to please others and reject customs merely to fit in with peers. Rather, I choose and reject based on my view of the world. As a global cultural chooser, I am forced to think deeply about values and morality in a fresh way. I do not automatically embrace or reject something because it is Indian, American or English. I often deeply consider if something feels compatible to my taste. In doing so, I have grown to control many of the cultural influences of my identity.

My embrace of my religion challenged the “John” template. It started with a question in my English class junior year: “Do you think people look down upon you if you’re religious at Trinity?” My classmates hands flew up to answer “yes.” Why? The answers were antithetical to my sense of religion as a force of morality in my life. “Most kids at Trinity think that being religious doesn’t make logical sense, and so those who are religious are kind of seen as illogical.” For the most part, all the kids in the class felt this way. I felt cornered because I was amongst the minority; I did not agree at all. I had chosen Hinduism as my religion; my parents had left the decision up to me. To me, it seemed logical to choose this part of my family’s Indian culture, because I related to many of the principles. How could my peers think that intelligence and religion were incompatible when I myself underwent such a logical process of choosing my faith?

A year later, I stood on stage in front of my whole school in a special assembly presented by the South Asian Society about Diwali and Hinduism. The topic of my speech? The role faith and doubt play in religion. I spoke about faith in front of an audience who were dismissive of its value because I am not “John.” I no longer need to please my “customers,” although I am interested in hearing their ideas as well as mine. I try to pick the best aspects of all the cultures at my disposal, in order to create my own “homeland.”

Ravi Popat is a freshman at Tufts University and a graduate of the Trinity School in New York.