Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My Dreams Have Come True

Do you know what it feels like to have your dreams come true? Well I do.

I had struggled with depression for two years, and with dysthymia and social anxiety disorder for many years before that. I was hopeless and terrified; "this must be a bad dream, a really really really bad dream. It just can't be reality." But it was. It was like being in the middle of the ocean, floating in the cold, salty water, surrounded by vicious sharks. I thought nobody, for any reason, should be made to feel like this. This pain was inhuman and hellish. I am sill terrified at the thought of ever feeling that pain again.

I did get out of it eventually, through therapy, medication, and many days of grief, anger, and pain. I promised myself - and I felt obliged - to dedicate my life to helping others to avoid the pain I went through.

I never thought I would feel peace of mind and pleasure again, and I did. I didn't think I would graduate from UC Berkeley, and I did. I never thought I would study abroad at Cambridge University, and I did.  I wanted to teach a class (DeCal) on depression, and I did. I wanted to share my story, and I did. I never thought I would have the energy, a healthy self-esteem, and a resilient mind to handle life's challenges with such ease. I never thought I would appreciate everything in my life and be happy. Now I am. And my dreams have come true.

I love my life.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

My UC Berkeley Application Essay

These are the essay answers to the three questions asked by the UC application. I wrote it four years after I came to the US and learned English. I was accepted to all the UC's I applied, including UCSD, UCLA, and UCB. I chose to go to UC Berkeley.

UC Application Essays - Personal Statement

Open-Ended, Question 3

This question seeks to give students the opportunity to share important aspects of their schooling or their lives — such as their personal circumstances, family experiences and opportunities that were or were not available at their school or college — that may not have been sufficiently addressed elsewhere in the application.
Is there anything you would like us to know about you or your academic record that you have not had the opportunity to describe elsewhere in this application?
Tell us about a talent, experience, contribution or personal quality you will bring to the University of California.

I was born on the other side of the “Iron Curtain.” My family comes from Kiev, and the events of my childhood include the aftermath of Chernobyl and the fall of Communism. In many ways, my identity—who I am and where I come from—has been something that I have only recently come to understand. My life has made me more aware of questions of identity—and more sensitive to questions of identity in those around me.

When I was nine, my sister and I were sent to Israel via a program for Jewish children affected by the Chernobyl disaster, which occurred 80 miles north of my home city. My sister was just under a year when the Chernobyl disaster occurred, and we were moving to Israel for our health and to become more familiar with Jewish culture. At that time, I did not imagine that my stay would last a whole thirteen months.

The culture in Israel was different from the Ukraine. However, living in a camp among other Russian-speaking children, though away from my parents and sister, made it easier for me to adjust. It may seem hard to believe, but I learned about the Holocaust for the first time and visited the memorials there. During my stay, I familiarized myself with the Hebrew language, holidays, history, and the rich traditions of Israel. After I came back from Israel, I started attending a Jewish school.

When I was thirteen, my family moved to the U.S. in search of a better life and equal opportunity. Coming to the U.S. was like entering a new world. It was challenging getting used to the new and vastly different culture and school system. When my English teacher introduced me to a boy from Georgia, he started speaking Russian to me, and I froze. It was like a ghost went through me. I hadn’t heard that language in the U.S. outside of my home.

In order to meet our family’s needs, my parents had to work full time, and we were forced to move into low-income apartments. Because my parents were busy working, and because they knew little about the subjects I was taking, they were not involved in my education. Realizing that, I knew that I had to rely on and motivate myself; so I worked very hard in school, overcoming language barriers and tackling difficult classes. As a result, I became much more independent in my studies and was able to take the most challenging courses at my high school. My learning proved to be very gratifying, and I was fascinated to learn for the first time about the history of my country—the Soviet Union and the Cold War—in high school and then hear a personal account from my mother on the harsh conditions, oppression of human rights, and propaganda during the Soviet Union.

In the Ukraine, I was barely aware that I was Jewish, and I didn’t fully understand the history of the Soviet Union or the repercussions of Chernobyl. Ironically, it’s only since I’ve been in the United States that I’ve begun to learn about my past. Now, I am more able to appreciate my freedom and seize the opportunities I have. Living in three vastly different parts of the world under different conditions at a young age allowed me to gain strong independence and appreciation for different cultures. Because of this, I am more sensitive to issues of identity. In school, I am aware that many people have come from other countries and have their own traditions and values. I am eager to learn more about the different cultures and expand my world view.

Academic Preparation, Question 1

The University seeks to enroll students who take initiative in pursuing their education (for example, developing a special interest in science, language or the performing arts, or becoming involved in educational preparation programs, including summer enrichment programs, research or academic development programs such as EAOP, MESA, Puente, COSMOS or other similar programs). This question seeks to understand a student’s motivation and dedication to learning.
Freshman applicants only: How have you taken advantage of the educational opportunities you have had to prepare for college?

I love studying Math and Science classes, but I had taken all of the advanced placement Math and Science classes at my school. To challenge myself and to find out more about the world, I decided to enroll in Philosophy classes at a local community college. The first I took was Introduction to Philosophy: Reality and Knowledge. I was excited about the class since the first day; the Professor was very engaging and talked about the relevance of epistemology (how we know what we know) to science and mathematics. As the course progressed we read Descartes, Russell, Berkeley, and many other philosophers. Their ideas were thought-provoking and challenging, and the independent and engaging manner of learning allowed for reflection on the new ideas. The class required that I understand sophisticated concepts and compare them.

I earned an “A” in that course, and was inspired to take other college courses in Philosophy and Logic. These courses introduced many different, thought-provoking ideas about the world. After this course I was more open to new ideas. I have taken advantage of most of the challenging classes at my school, but my college classes represent the most fulfilling intellectual work I’ve done.

Potential to Contribute, Question 2

UC welcomes the contributions each student brings to the campus learning community. This question seeks to determine an applicant’s academic or creative interests and potential to contribute to the vitality of the University.

I wanted to become a tutor for my school’s after-school tutoring club since 10th grade, which was when I first heard about the opportunity. However, I was appointed at the beginning of my junior year, and have tutored ever since.

I receive great satisfaction in knowing that someone benefited from me. I like helping students reach their goals and potentials in education. I love learning and love helping those who want to learn. There are many things which one can learn by merely paying close attention. My tutoring experience has taught me a great deal about teaching. I learned that teaching is a challenge—a realization that made me greater appreciate my teachers’ work. I also learned that different people learn on different levels, and differ in their strengths and weaknesses in learning.

I am not limited, however, to tutoring at the club. I am always eager to help my friends, classmates, or anyone who needs assistance with a subject about which I am knowledgeable.

I always enjoy learning in a classroom, but after a day’s of hard class work, the greatest satisfaction I receive is knowing that I helped somebody.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

US-Europe Cultural Differences

The first thing I noticed when I arrived to US from Ukraine is, on the way from the airport, all the cars were very large - trucks, SUV's, and minivans. Then, there was paperwork, and a lot of it, for virtually anything, including at school and at the doctor's office. In Ukraine, the cars are small and there is virtually no paperwork - the rules are a tacit agreement. Similarly, when I studied in the UK for two month I notices an array of differences.

In the U.K.

  • "Fries" in US is "Chips" in UK
  • "Chips" in US is "Crisps" in UK
  • "Cookies" in US is "Biscuits" in UK
  • "Underwear" in US is "Pants" in UK
  • "Pants" in US means "Trousers" in UK
  • "Check/receipt" in US is "Bill" in UK
  • "To go" and "for here" in US is "Take away" and "dine in" in UK
  • The date is written dd/mm/yyyy, and they use the metric system (meters, liters, kilocalorioes)
  • Fish and chips (fried fish with fries) is almost the equivalent of a burger and fries in US 
  • Cars drive on the left-hand side of the road
  • In UK they compare your ID signature with your signed receipt, but not in US
  • It is not customary to tip in UK, whereas in US it almost always is
  • UK is half as religious as US
  • Their humor is more dry and literal than in US (UK joke: customer: waiter, what is this fly doing in my soup? waiter: I believe it is swimming, sir.) Also, they think answering "yes" to a question like, "can you tell me what hours the store is open?", is funny.
  • In UK, people try less to be nice than in US, so they are more likely to be direct - and rude. They don't smile as often.
  • UK doesn't distinguish between UK and US movies, e.g. if you ask what're their favorite UK vs US films, they won't know or don't care for the difference.
  • In UK they have smaller cars than in US in general
  • In UK they are less sensitive to issues of race and racism, but they are overtly more racist than in US (example: they have no objection to saying "nee-hao" to every Asian person they see)
  • Many things, such as clothes, groceries, and gas are more expensive in UK
  • There is less of an emphasis on consumerism in UK than in US, such as less advertising and obsession with spending.
  • UK is more sensitive to animal testing than US
  • Soccer and cricket are big in UK
  • UK food is tasteless. There is no national food, but Indian food is very popular.
  • Drinking and smoking laws and conventions are very relaxed in UK, such as drinking age of 18 vs. 21 in US, and students are allowed to bring a bottle of wine to a cafeteria dinner.
  • Healthcare is more accessible and much simpler to navigate in UK than in US, with extensive insurance reimbursement procedures
  • There is less emphasis on masculinity in UK than in US
  • There are more visible social and political protests in UK, and in general more liberal attitude
  • It is rude to ask critical questions of a Professor in UK whereas in US it is encouraged
  • UK is obsessed with Shakespear - they have professional and amateur plays frequently
  • They don't consider that pedestrian has the right of way, so cars sometimes accelerate than slow down when they see a pedestrian
  • UK has Kleenex for Men, while the US has only Man-Size Kleenex. Also, some brand names are different, i.e., the antiperspirant "Degree" in the US is called "Sure" in the UK
  • Tea and scones are a popular snack.