Describe The World You Come From. Are you kidding?


The University of California asks the following of all of their potential Freshman:

Describe the world you come from — for example, your family, community or school — and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.

I have been spending a lot of time contemplating this directive over the past few months as a great many of my students are applying to the University of California’s various campuses. Well, actually, only three of the campuses are Hong Kong Approved [meaning they have enough name brand appeal]: Berkeley, UCLA and UCSD (go me!) But a lot of students are applying to those three.

And so here they sit, seventeen and strung out on college applications: “The World They Come From.” How best to approach such a task? Can you answer the question with a single answer? Can anyone definitively say, “I am From X” anymore? The students I work with are (generally) multinational, multilingual, transoceanic, multiracial people. Few of them could say they have lived in one place for their entire lives. Where are they from? Is it where they were born? Where they started school? Where they finished school? The country from which they received their [first] passport? The country their dad is from? The place their grandparents are from? How about where their mom is from? A very smart man once told me, it is always a question of scale. [I ♥ geographers.]

And that is only the first step.

I gotta say, I am truly envious of these kids in some ways. This topic is one I have dreams of writing a dissertation about. Seriously. I find it fascinating.

Consider this: Are you representative of a place, or do you define a place? Do you have a place with which you fully identify? Why? When you find yourself in new places, what sets you apart from people there and what links you to them? In other words, what are the things you carry with you, and where did you pick them up in the first place? These are big questions, and for multinational, multilingual, transoceanic, multiple-passport-holding, mixed-race teenagers it is a real conundrum.

In his novel, The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien tells the story of his Vietnam experience in the context of the things that the soldiers carried with them, some of them tangible and others; love, fear, guilt… not so much. While O’Brien uses this strategy to tell a complicated and emotional story of deeply personal, yet freakishly public experience, I think of the metaphor often as a way of explaining the nature of who we are. As an American (Sorry Canadians, United Statesian just sounds too ridiculous) living abroad, I think a lot about what has contributed to the way I see myself and others in the world. And of course, being from California, I rarely say I am from America anyhow, I say California. And why do I say this (aside from the obvious part that it is true)? If I were from Kentucky, would I say that? I cannot say, as I am not from KY… but I can say I have a special sort of pride (yeah, I know… sinful) about being from California. So, what of California do I carry with me? That may best be answered by others. How has California shaped me? I have an old friend (hi Fockler) who I taught with at Sparks High School, who used to rant about the lameness of the Golden State. Oh, he would carry on. From linguistic habits to traffic, to attitude to economics. It was a favorite target. [Though, it could have been me that inspired the ire rather than the Golden State… I may never know.] But through his ranting, I just smiled more. Yep. My state. California:

The pioneering megastate that gave us microchips, freeways, blue jeans, tax revolts, extreme sports, energy efficiency, health clubs, Google searches, Craigslist, iPhones and the Hollywood vision of success is still the cutting edge of the American future — economically, environmentally, demographically, culturally and maybe politically. It’s the greenest and most diverse state, the most globalized in general and most Asia-oriented in particular at a time when the world is heading in all those directions. It’s also an unparalleled engine of innovation, the mecca of high tech, biotech and now clean tech. In 2008, California’s wipeout economy attracted more venture capital than the rest of the nation combined. Somehow its supposedly hostile business climate has nurtured Google, Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Facebook, Twitter, Disney, Cisco, Intel, eBay, YouTube, MySpace, the Gap and countless other companies that drive the way we live.

Umm… yeah. So those might be some of the things that have shaped me.

I carry lots of stuff with me too… a penchant for Mexican food, Spanglish, clean air, hippies, live music, productive bohemianism (yeah, I just made that up), free thinkers and crazy people, idealism, true multiculturalismridiculousness, poets and politicians, dichotomies and contradictions. And, like, everything in between, totally.

The world I come from? It has shaped me in every way. Can I articulate this better than a seventeen year old? At the moment I am not sure, but you can bet I am going to be working on it. I am glad I do not have a November 30th deadline though.

Or, wait, maybe I do…..

{ps: yeah, I was at this show.}
{pps: please appreciate Bobby’s shorts.}


About Amanda

I am repatriating expatriate trying to work it all out. Well, to work some of it out anyhow. I am writing here for sanity, focus and general over-sharing.
This entry was posted in Education, Geography, Home, Perception and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Describe The World You Come From. Are you kidding?

  1. Tom says:

    The Things they carried, is among my very favorite stories; I heard it being read aloud some years ago while setting up my room at CV. Made me stop. Sit down and be sad all the way through.
    The narrator of the story, Ed Markham was on KPFA – he has since died. I wanted a recording of it, so I paid Blair at Zone to record me reading it.
    It is a huge story about “place” and how in war, people bring some part for of their home place with them.
    Your blogs are terrific Ames.

  2. DT says:

    Your students are lucky for your guidance.
    The rest of us are lucky for your blogging, and for the general sense of far-outness to which you introduce us.
    Don’t stop.

  3. Pingback: (Absolute) Location [is] (Relative) | No, THIS is how you do it…

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