I will have you know that this is a little embarrassing to put up, as it always is when you look back at something personal you wrote so long ago, and it was emotional for me to read my college essay again. But here it goes.
I was a Fresh Air kid. Growing up on the cement streets of Hong Kong and New York City, I was unfamiliar with fresh air and green grass. In the industrialized cities filled with stores, buildings, and busy traffic, I was constantly moving and neglected any space or time to enjoy nature. However, when I was 9, a year after immigrating to the U.S., I participated in a 2-week program hosted by the Fresh Air Fund to live with a host family in the tranquil suburbs. As I stepped aboard the Fresh Air Fund coach bus, the scenery slowly changed from a gray landscape of cement and dull skyscrapers to a forest of green earth and countryside. As in an ordinary family, I called my host parents, Maida and Lonnie, “Mom” and “Dad.” In the small borough of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, their spacious house was a drastic change from the cramped apartment buildings of my childhood. During those two weeks, I discovered opportunities to explore new experiences and new people that inspired me to reach out for more.
My visit with Maida and Lonnie to the Amish community was a breath of “fresh air” that revealed an entire world I never thought existed. Technology was essential to my daily living, whether it was catching the school bus or preparing a PowerPoint presentation. However, the Amish lifestyle juxtaposed the society I grew accustomed to. They grew their own foods, walked barefoot everywhere, and survived without modern inventions, while I lived amidst fast-foods, long lines, and traffic jams. In spite of their seemingly archaic lifestyle, the Amish not only survived, but thrived wonderfully by selling their fresh produce and unique wooden furniture. The Amish lived at a different pace that exposed me to “fresh air”, the new perspective of a world without the endless hustle and bustle of cities.
“Fresh Air” also connected me to people from different backgrounds. At Doylestown’s local swimming pool, I befriended a young girl named Lauren. Lauren grew up in the peaceful white suburbs with privileges I do not share. Unlike me, Lauren did not experience language or cultural barriers, and had easy access to all the resources she needed. Lauren was a great swimmer, while I had just learned how to swim. Despite our different realities, our paths crossed that summer, and we slowly discovered commonalities between us. Separately, Lauren is white and I am Asian; she is from the upper class and I am from the working class; and she is from the suburbs and I am from the city. But together, our friendship united us as two ordinary young girls who loved swimming. The differences that initially separated us were simply imaginary walls that we categorized ourselves in; and as we became friends, the differences proved to be meaningless. The walls crumbled and fell, exposing me to a breath of “fresh air.” Our friendship encouraged me to embrace diversity, and allowed me to realize that there are more opportunities for me to cross paths with new people and learn new things.
The Fresh Air experience liberated me from the economic and emotional burdens of my family and dramatically expanded my world, from riding a crowded public bus to riding a horse, from rushing out of the house to school to casually strolling in nature, and from confronting hostile city-dwellers to greeting friendly suburb neighbors. After returning to New York City, the new values motivated me to embark on a quest to find a high school that would provide me with diversity, new experiences and guide me to more challenges. At Bronx Science, I learned history through the eyes of middle-eastern, Jewish, and African-American peers, and I learned to be a public speaker and leader through debate and student government. But my quest does not end here. Just like my aunt signed me up for a Fresh Air Fund experience that my family could not provide, I will show other low-income inner-city youths that our circumstances are not permanent by providing them with the opportunities and support they need to transform their worlds, whether it is tutoring or a weekend away from home. As for me, I look forward to breaking down social and economic barriers to form new friendships in college, because I once was, I still am, and I always will be, a Fresh Air kid.