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Common App Essay Example #1

Prompt #1: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Watching the news with my parents one night, I heard a story about Japan, which included an interview with a man speaking Japanese. Suddenly entranced, I struggled to make sense of the incredible sounds tumbling out of his mouth and immediately knew that the language was a puzzle I needed to solve. The next year in eighth grade, I signed up to study Japanese to fulfill my language requirement and have since fallen in love with both the country and culture. In fact, learning Japanese has become part of my identity and I associate with both American and Japanese culture now.

While many of my classmates started studying Japanese because of their interest in anime or manga, I find the language itself to be the most exciting aspect of the country’s culture. Like the orderly society for which Japan is famous, Japanese has just a handful of grammar exceptions, unlike English, which has hundreds. To compensate for this ease of learning the rules, Japanese also includes three writing systems: hiragana and katakana, which each contain 46 characters, and kanji, which contains thousands. On top of that, each character has a specific stroke order that must be adhered to, making writing an art form as well as a means of communication.

Beyond the joy of stringing together tonal sentences and scratching out letters no one nearby can understand, the most striking aspect of Japanese culture is the stark dichotomy of old and new. Last summer I spent four weeks abroad living with a host family in a small town called Kosai. On festival days, Japanese teenagers walked the streets in summer kimono while texting on smartphones far beyond what we use in America. After-school activities include clubs like tea ceremony, flower arranging, and archery, yet the country is always on the cutting edge of electronics and technology. In Tokyo, I saw towering buildings with flashing signs erected directly next to centuries-old Buddhist temples. The country’s appreciation of history while constantly keeping an eye towards the future is both mind-boggling and fascinating to me.

While Japanese certainly wasn’t a part of my identity growing up in suburban America, it has definitely become a part of who I am as a young adult. The more I learn about the language and culture, the more I seem to learn about myself. While it’s debatable whether a Westerner can truly ever “belong” in Japan, I know that I couldn’t belong anywhere without pursuing my passion of mastering the language and learning all that I can about the Land of the Rising Sun.