2017: Mostly same same, but a little bit different.

In the dearth (I’m sure) of blog posts about the new year, I want to share with you a little story involving college level reading material, a thirteen-year-old, boarding schools, and character limits.

At the beginning of December I got hired for my second tutoring job in Taipei (the first being a pair of twins I’ve been with for over a year).

This time the job is kind of surreal. I’m helping a girl and her family apply to boarding school – reading through essays, helping the girl study for her prep tests, helping her build writing skills, etc. As such I’ve gotten to look over some of the questions that boarding schools ask of thirteen-year-olds to write.

Of important note in this process is that thirteen-year-olds (who are applying for 9th grade admission next year) hold a stark difference to the college and grad school applicants that have also been struggling with applications that were likely just due this past month (mine were).

Boarding school applications require parent statements. And this implies that the parent, you know, will read all the student’s essays. So in addition to the horror of splitting yourself open for the world (admissions office) to see your bared soul, you’ve also got to show this to your parents.

And the questions aren’t easy. “Please describe a challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it” in 500 characters or less. “Describe a time you had a conviction that you no longer had. What changed?” “What is a pressing issue facing your generation today?”

When I was a wee toddler being trained on how to get into college (I’m only exaggerating a little here) by my father, he told me and my sister something that amazingly has stuck with me through the years. It’s something everyone tells you that boils down to the same thing: everyone applying everywhere has the same test scores etc etc etc what makes you different?

Well, according to my Dad, beekeeping.

See, when my Dad applied for grad school (and all of this is his account, so all of it is probably pretty not true) he put in his application essay that he was a beekeeper. The admissions officers remembered him because one of them was an apiarist and this was supposedly the reason my Dad got in. Now this is neither here nor there, but even if it’s not true it holds an important lesson: things that are unique about you stick out. Things that are the same about you don’t.

Not that it’s really bad to stick out or blend in. We all need to be able to do both sometimes. But for the last month I’ve been counseling a girl in what her so-called “beekeeping” is. I’ve been working with her to fine-tune her essays. I’ve been helping her study vocab. I’ve been making her read stories that I didn’t read until after graduating college (whoops) that she’s been a good sport about trying to get through. I’ve reread stories from early high school with her. We’re working on it, and she’s working hard, and she’s making a lot of progress.

It’s a new year, and I went to see her again today. Not much has changed. I took the same route. I dressed the same way. The weather was much the same. People act like there’s a magic around New Year, but there’s not, really. The same way that 2016 is behind us, so is everything. So is pre-8pm January 1st for me. Every second is behind us. And yet here I am still, writing on my blog.

Last year I had 14 goals for 2016, and I completed 10. While (only slightly) inebriated, I came up with a list for 2017 that is much the same. Read 12 books. Dance when I feel like it. Try to self improve.

And Jesus. When I think the world is against me, think about if I had had to share my grad school essays with my mother, and if grad school had required a parent statement.


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