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College and Scholarship Essay Writing for TCKs

04 Mar
This is our first post by Kara Banker. Kara works with TCKs in Beijing and blogs on life in China at The Middle Kingdom.
A while back, one of the students in our youth group asked for my help on a college admissions essay she was writing.  She just couldn’t think what to write.  This was the prompt: “Describe the world you came from–for example, your family, community or school–and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.”

Even before reading the whole question, I thought, “Jackpot!  This question was made for this girl!”  She’s a TCK, has grown up in America then China in a Korean family, and attends an international school where she has been highly involved in Model United Nations, school council, and various others leadership positions.  The kicker?  She aspires to do something with international relations.

Sometimes, our amazing TCKs forget that their unique experiences are a powerful tool in situations like this.   I asked her if her experiences as a TCK have affected her desire to go into international relations.  “Yes… Oh, so I should connect the two?”  I laughed.  Yes, by all means, use the fact that you have loads more international experience and perspective than 90% of the other applicants!  If a question gives even a small opening to mention your knowledge of the world from living in a foreign place, take advantage of that; it will set you apart.

Bringing up your TCK experience when first making friends can be alienating.  Doing it while writing essays can be an edge that gets you into your college or that much-needed scholarship.  In general, you have to put aside your humility for these essays, but especially for TCKs, it’s a chance to brag on all the things you’ve learned not to mention to other people, all the cool things you’ve done and seen and learned from just living the crazy life you have.

They have already been given the material to make their essay far more interesting and surprising than the average “I grew up in suburban America with my parents, siblings, and a dog.”  If you find yourself guiding a TCK in writing essays like this, here are some things to remember:

  1. This is the perfect place to be as unique as possible, so remind them how crazy-cool they are.  Other than growing up in a foreign country, they’ve probably developed friendships across cultures, learned some distinctive skills (navigating the NRT, INC, or HKG airport in five minutes flat), and developed a large worldview that encompasses a number of subtleties.
  2. These essays are not long-term commitments.  Almost everyone is clueless about their future career when they’re seventeen, so when the essay prompt asks about your future plans, it just means that you should answer something that you’ve thought through.  College is about discovering more of yourself and learning how wrong your initial direction was, so write something solid and forget about it because everyone else will, too.
  3. They do not actually expect you to solve world hunger or war.  The same student I mentioned earlier had another essay where they asked about free speech (another jackpot for a girl growing up where she did).  She had obviously spent much more time thinking about this than the average highschooler in the States and got hung up trying to fit her overarching theory and solution in the 250-word limit.  I pointed out that this college essay wasn’t actually asking for a solution, just an opinion that is well-written and thoughtful.
  4. The essays, the applications, the scholarships, the schools—everything is ultimately secondary to Christ. Seniors freaking out about getting into their first choice university won’t easily listen to this point, but as you help them through this process, cover it in prayer and gentle reminders that God is guiding the process in a more powerful way than their written words ever could.

Helping a student write these also gives you new insight into their lives and provides a place to tell them all the strengths you see in them.  Take full advantage of that!

Note: I write as an American primarily about the American university process.  I think these principles are still highly applicable to writing essays for other things, but I just wanted to make sure to point out that my experience is strictly American in this instance.

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Posted by on March 4, 2011 in Leading Youth, TCKs

 

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