Sample Essays

Phillip Racies

I've always been a late bloomer. I was almost three years old before I decided to speak. I haven't shut up since. I was the middle kid who had trouble finding his way home from soccer practice-which was four blocks away. Yet now, much to the amazement of my mother, I've traveled all over Asia and some of Europe. My weak navigational skills back in Florida didn't stop me from exploring all corners of New York City every summer, when I'd go off to visit my dad, who was a cameraman for CBS. New York City-virtually a different planet from small town Florida, my place of residence the rest of the year-served as my gateway to the world. When I wasn't struggling to keep up with Dad and his crew, I was unknowingly getting an education of a different sort, hanging out with the local street kids near my dad's lower west side apartment building.

My teachers all said I was gifted and I even was moved up from 6th to 7th grade. Despite "my aptitude," my grades started slipping in junior high school. Perhaps it was my cry for attention or maybe it was due to the lack of stimulation. In either case, things got past the point of any quick and easy remedy, which is why I did so miserably at the prep school my mom and step-dad sent me off to my senior year in hopes of a miracle. After barely graduating, I returned to Florida to go to a community college and had what most would call an unsuccessful semester, unless we're counting girl watching (from afar) and beer guzzling. Discipline was what I needed, so I up and joined the Navy. It seemed like the honorable thing to do.

In boot camp, in addition to learning when to shut my trap, I also discovered that I really enjoyed helping and motivating people. Running hard and fast for extended periods of time came easy to me-it was a skill developed out of necessity as my older brother was quite a hot-head and I was never lacking in verbal instigation. At any rate, my physical abilities were put to good use as I was assigned to be the "Physical Fitness Petty Officer." My successful leading of our entire company on the final mile and a half run paid off in more than just the meritorious promotion I received upon basic training graduation; it triggered a rebirth of self-confidence that had somehow been lost in my tumultuous childhood. I would need every ounce of this precious self-confidence at my next assignment.

My entrance exams showed an aptitude in languages, so off I was sent to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. Before I knew what hit me, I was spending five days a week, eight hours a day studying Chinese (Mandarin). After all my training was completed, I was sent to Hawaii to finally start doing the job that I had been so extensively trained for. I'd tell you exactly what I did but all that stuff is classified and if I told you then I'd have to kill you. (1 doubt this is the first time you have received death threats from a prospective student.) All kidding aside, let's just say I monitored a bunch of stuff and then translated, decoded and reported on said stuff as appropriate. Hard work and long hours paid off as I received outstanding evaluations and a few awards to boot. Three and a half years after joining the Navy, I was promoted to Petty Officer 2nd Class (E-5) but things were becoming a bit monotonous for my taste.

Then in the fall of 1988, I was selected to go on a coveted special mission to the Republic of South Korea. I went on the mission and returned three months later smitten with worldly travel and infatuated with all the magic that a foreign exotic land holds for those who care to truly partake. Not sure what I wanted to do with my life, I extended my enlistment one more year in exchange for an assignment back in Korea.

Life in Korea triggered something reminiscent of the buzz I had experienced back in the Big Apple. In April of 1990 I separated from the U.S. Navy but decided to stay in Korea and continue my language studies. It was like leaving the nest for the second time as I no longer had the perks of being a U.S. serviceman in a foreign country. Nevertheless, I was a man on a mission-to learn as much as I could about this quirky country and people. Within a year, after practically starting from scratch, I had made and saved enough money to move from the small town of Song Tan up to the metropolis of Seoul. All the while I was furiously studying the Korean language, striking up conversations with everyone from taxi drivers to Buddhist monks. More times than not, the taxi drivers had more universal truths to share than the monks.

My Korean language ability soon helped me network my way into a teaching position at a prestigious Korean high school. Hopping on a plane and checking out a nearby country was the way I put my extra salary and vacation time to use. More memorable than the temples, mountains or beaches were the personalities and cultural nuances of the different people in the different lands. I found irony in the fact that I learned more about myself from interactions with these people than I ever was able to back in my own country.

The Koreans' fascination with Caucasians who spoke Korean well enough to tell silly jokes allowed me to have my (first) fifteen minutes of fame. After a chance conversation with a fellow onlooker at a movie shoot, I was cast as an extra in the film. The guy turned out to be the director and the rest became history. I did work in film, radio and TV. In addition to my performances, I contributed to other more creative aspects of the business: writing and directing. Amazing times though they were, I often wondered about my potential in my own country.

It was mostly these thoughts that continued to haunt me, causing the identity crisis that prompted me to return to America and go back to school. Despite my surprising successes in Korea, the gnawing discomfort I felt when I couldn't interact the way I truly wanted to in intellectual conversations just got to be too much! Though I felt intelligent, I knew if I were ever to fully appreciate and understand my vast experiences up to that time, I needed to go back and build a stronger educational foundation.

My desire to help people is still strong, as is my love affair with a good story or film. A new buzz has taken hold as I look forward to my next level of educational growth: my further cultivation of critical thought. I'm anxious to apply the insights plucked from my life journey onto a larger context of academic based knowledge. I believe I was put on this earth to entertain and enlighten, perhaps through the penning of my thoughts in a book or screenplay or perhaps in the direction or creation process of a film. Predicting what I will do with my new discovered passion for education would be premature. That would be like commenting on a flower's beauty before it has fully opened. Yes, I think it is still time to concentrate on proper (brain) food and sunshine and water before this petunia is ready to go for his next fifteen minutes of fame.

After earning his A.A. in 1999 from Foothill, Phillip transferred to UC Santa Cruz to study film.

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Stephanie Olari

I first ran away from home at fourteen--not to become a famous actress (that would come later) or to join the circus. No, I ran away to join the convent.

Growing up in the fifties, I had only two types of female role models: submissive, self-sacrificing wives and mothers (mine, for example) and strong, self-sacrificing nuns. Of the two, I much preferred the nuns. Unlike my mother, they didn't have to worry about their hair and wardrobe or about pleasing their mates. No diapers to change, no houses to clean, no meals to prepare. The nuns contributed to the world: they were teachers. I resolved to be just like them. Poverty and chastity came easily to me--after all, I was only fourteen--but obedience was a real problem. After a year, I returned home.

Public high school was a shock, but I adapted quickly. Upon receiving my diploma, I ran away a second time--this time to college. It was 1969. Without my parents' moral or financial support, I quickly became a child of the times. I abandoned my dream of a teaching career for a life in the theatre. My sojourn in that world was short lived. New York was full of talented college drop-outs; the closest I came to an acting career was as a plainclothes security guard at Macy's.

A few years (and jobs) later, my work with developmentally delayed children rekindled my desire to teach. A second attempt to complete my college degree came to an abrupt but serendipitous halt. I was offered a managerial position in a New York "State School" supervising the very teachers I had hoped to become one of.

Three years later, personal circumstance encouraged me to move to California (read: I ran away again). Lacking a degree, I found work in sales and finance management. Successful but bored, I moved on--to aviation, to catering, to massage therapy. Continued success and California sunshine weakened my resolve to continue my education, even though my need to teach surfaced in each career. I trained sales people and dispatchers, taught food service and stress management.

But providence had other plans for me. During my first two years of recovery from a devastating and debilitating car accident in 1992, I began each day by reading a quote from The Scottish Himalayan Expedition that I had kept with me for the previous ten years--above my desk, in the cockpit, on the refrigerator, and over my massage table:

Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans--that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then moves too raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamt would have come his way...

As I struggled to regain mobility and function, I began to understand the true nature of commitment. My original dream of becoming a teacher resurfaced. I enrolled at Foothill College in the summer of 1994.

This time, there is a difference: I am committed. I will be a teacher, a writer, a spokesperson for the rights of women, of the disabled, of being human. "Unforseen incidents" have included the opportunities I have had to work with my fellow students as a tutor in preparation for a teaching career; to speak at both Women's History Month events and at the Annual Foothill Writer's Conference; and to participate in the community of persons with disabilities here at Foothill. "Meetings" with devoted teachers and talented colleagues have encouraged and motivated me. "Material assistance" in the form of need-based grants and merit- based scholarships has allowed me to continue my work here.

But it is now time to move on, to become part of a larger community. For I too, have learned a deep respect from one of Goethe's couplets:
Whatever you can do or dream you can begin it
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.

After leaving Foothill, Stephanie transferred to UC Santa Cruz where she is earning her B.A. in English Literature.

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Yuka Kashiwase

Before I moved to America by myself at the age of twenty-two, I lived in a Japanese society which encouraged me to be the same as everyone else. First, I come from a very strict traditional family; my grandfather controlled everything in my family's house. Second, in Japanese education, through hours of drills, I learned to develop memorization skills rather than critical thinking skills. I did not have any chance to think about things on my own or to write essays. Teachers only lectured. If we asked questions in class, we were considered disturbances. If we wanted to raise our hands, we were expected to give only the accepted answers. If we gave the wrong answer, the other students would stare at us. Thus, I was too scared to speak out in class and never felt confident about myself. Peer pressure discouraged me from taking their class time away from them to ask questions of the teachers. During breaks or lunch time, I was expected to be with my friends, so I couldn't go to the teachers to ask questions out of class time either. To develop myself and to become an individual, I came to America where people are encouraged to speak out and have their own opinions.

Through writing English essays at Foothill College, with much encouragement and the personal warmth of my American teachers and friends, I have gained a better understanding of myself. Whenever I get discouraged by the language barrier and the hardships of adjusting to a new culture, they always comfort me, saying "You are doing well. You can do it," and hug me. They have taught me the importance of knowing myself and expressing my emotions and opinions freely, and also the enjoyment of being able to succeed if I have my own opinions and can support them. For example, I gave a presentation a couple of weeks ago, analyzing a poem, "Silence," by Robert Hayden. I prepared what I wanted to say beforehand, and I was a little nervous when I stood up in front of the class. But afterwards, I was happy because everyone seemed to like my explanation of the poem. This American style of encouragement and personal warmth suits me; I now have more self-esteem and rely more on myself. Through my experiences living here, I have become secure and self-actualizing rather than selfless.

While I study here and struggle with hardships and cultural differences, I keep asking myself who I am in order to challenge myself and become stronger mentally. I have been practicing assertiveness by speaking every day in my English and linguistics classes. I have found that I can best express my feelings in English. Ironically, I realized that I cannot express my feelings in Japanese because of the indirectness of the Japanese language and culture, which emphasize respect for authority figures, uniformity over individuality, and group goals rather than individual goals.

In the future, I want to apply these American techniques and methods to teaching in Japan. I want to take back to Japan the encouragement, personal warmth and focus on self-reliance that I have learned from my American education. While I am teaching Japanese students English as a second language, I will strive to do so with a big heart to serve their academic and emotional needs. I want to teach students the love of learning as well as academic skills. Furthermore, I want to help them become more confident and develop critical thinking skills. Not only will I lecture them, I will also learn from them. For example, in the beginning of the school year, when I hand out the course description, I will explain the importance of participation. I will stress that participation means speaking up during group and class discussions, expressing their own ideas, asking questions, agreeing or disagreeing with others and supporting their views. Before discussing topics such as "The Significance of Your Life," I will first ask students to write down what comes to mind when they imagine the word, "Life." I will then ask them to discuss the topic in small groups before talking about it together in class.

To succeed as the kind of teacher I want to be, I need to become a more confident writer and speaker of English. I have promised myself I will practice becoming more assertive, something we were never taught in Japan. My choice of English or possibly Linguistics as a major seems logical to me for I want to feel increasingly comfortable in reading, comprehending, and writing English so that I can share my knowledge with my future students. My volunteer work as a tutor helping American students learn Japanese has helped me to learn to teach in the American way--with patience, humor and encouragement. I want to study in the University of California system where excellent faculty in this field teach bright, insightful students from both inside and outside California. Your university is the best place to learn the educational methods I need to take back to Japan.

After earning an AA degree from Foothill College in 1997 with high honors, Yuka Kashiwase transferred to San Francisco State University where she is majoring in Speech Communication and minoring in English.



Top of page March 07, 2011