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College essay season is always my favorite part of the year. I find the personal statement to be a vehicle of self discovery and reflection. Although many teenagers don't think they have something to say, most do. Adolescence is a time of identity development. Putting feelings and ideas about personal growth can be useful in your own journey of self-awareness. It can even be cathartic. Here is another voice of a Schuler Scholar discussing her own journey in discovering part of her identity. Susan is currently a sophomore at a highly selective private university in New England.
My mom often tells me that the first words I ever spoke were in Spanish- dame mama (give me it mom) - yet for a long time I couldn’t find it in myself to identify with my Peruvian roots. Sure, I knew that I was different than most of my friends: I spoke only Spanish as soon as I stepped into my house and took off my backpack, I ate ceviche and arroz con pollo, and huaynos and marineras were the only music that sounded throughout my house. Yet, whenever my parents, aunts or uncles, or grandparents reminisced about Peru my mind drew a blank and I couldn’t picture anything apart from what I had seen in pictures. That’s why when my parents decided to take a month-long family trip to Peru the summer before my freshman year I was caught completely off-guard. I wasn’t really scared or nervous: I was just anxious to experience for myself all the things my parents had always talked about and to finally know where I came from.
The time I spent in Peru has to include some of the best memories of my life. Since the first time I traveled there, I’ve gone back twice so I’ve become more and more accustomed to the family members I met for the first time that summer before freshman year, the food I tried for the first time that summer, and the environment I felt. I never knew before then how much family I had that I’d never met and how different the pace of life and standard of living were compared to the U.S. People there had so much less money but seemed so much less stressed and less rushed; everybody was surrounded by those they loved and no matter what- even with work and school and others of life’s stresses- they made time to laugh, dance, and drink together. I started to notice that even though my cousins and I were blood-related and looked alike, we couldn’t be more different. In every new situation I encountered I was totally lost and confused while they were old pros: it seemed as if nothing fazed them. At every family get-together or party we went to my brother and I would awkwardly stand at the sidelines gawking at our cousins dancing and laughing while we both had not even the slightest clue of how to move our feet or hips to the rhythm of salsa or merengue. My uncles and cousins would take me out to dance and I remember turning red with the embarrassment of not knowing the first thing about how to move properly: I would stand in the middle of the dance floor and not budge an inch, mortified at what everyone was thinking about the American girl with two left feet. I started to think about what I would be like if my parents hadn’t immigrated to the U.S. I imagined being able to effortlessly move myself to the sound of music, to haggle my way through any marketplace, to dodge around oncoming traffic carelessly, to have that confidence of self everyone seemed to have, to have that intimately close connection with my cousins that only comes from having grown up together, and to feel that comfort in knowing that everyone else around me was similar to me in at least their ethnic background. At times I really wished my parents had never left Peru and even resented them for it, thinking they had robbed me of having a true cultural identity and a true place to call home.
As time passes, though, and my trips to Peru seem to become more frequent and normal I realize how much my parents had to sacrifice to come to the U.S. and how much of a benefit it is to me. They didn’t rob me of having a cultural identity: they, in fact, gifted me with many. I will, of course, always be Peruvian and I will always be able to enjoy the fact that I come from such a warm and tight-knit environment. The aspects of Latin American society I don’t know about I can learn- including lessons to correct my desperately in need of help dance abilities. Yet, I am also American and I cannot only accept it, but I can rejoice in it. There’s no reason to resent my parents- I should thank them for giving me the opportunity to choose and switch between two cultures that differ in so many ways. I soon noticed that just as my brother and I stared at our cousins’ seemingly superhuman dance skills, they looked on as we spoke English in the same way: not knowing what was going on and feeling that same frustration I felt on the dance floor. Even though where we came from was several thousand miles away, my brother and I and our cousins shared in similar experiences and came to know each other very well. We are cousins and although we didn’t grow up together, we’re still family and no period of absence could change that.