Amazingly, I wasn’t born a stutterer. My insecurities surfaced at age eleven, when my parents moved our family from China to Hong Kong. I enrolled in the London International School, where the language of instruction was English. Although I had never studied English, I was confident that I could master the language and succeed in an international environment. Like Icarus, I wanted to fly to the sun.
But as Icarus fell, so did I. Unaccustomed to dealing with someone “different”, my classmates mocked my Chinese accent and ridiculed me when I misprounounced a word. More than simple teasing, my peers actually seemed to relish my discomfort, calling me insulting names. I was devastated. After a few weeks, my confidence was replaced by self-consciousness and doubt. Before I spoke, I feared the consequences of every syllable. Was my pronunciation correct? Was my accent too strong? I developed a stuttering problem that further increased my sadness and isolation.
For several years, I suffered quietly, until a caring teacher became my salvation. In ninth grade, Mr. Winslow suggested that debate would build my confidence and eliminate my stuttering. At the time, I couldn’t imagine myself speaking confidently in public. I balked. Desperate to succeed, I secretly practiced by myself at home. I watched the closed captioning on CNN and carefully repeated the anchor’s words. After several weeks, my English improved and my stuttering diminished.
With Mr. Winslow’s encouragement, I made the debate team that year, which helped me to make new friends, improve my speaking skills and feel like a valuable contributor to my school. This past summer, I ranked 12th out of 360 debaters at Stanford Universitys selective Swing Lab program. Competing against such formidable international talent, no one guessed how far I had come in just a few short years.
My debating success taught me the importance of strong language skills in a well-rounded education. I also acknowledged the powerful contribution of my teacher, Mr. Winslow, to identify and nurture my potential. Benjamin Disraeli apted stated, “The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but reveal to them their own.” Remembering the pain of being teased, I was determined to help other children avoid the same fate.
Since ninth grade, I have worked as a volunteer English tutor at a non-profit educational organization near my school. Despite their impoverished backgrounds, my students are eager to get an education and to become fluent in English. They demonstrate a powerful confidence that I lacked at their age, until my debating skills opened the door to academic and interpersonal success.
I plan to join the debate team at Harvard and will work as a volunteer tutor in the local school system. I will also assume a leadership role in the Chinese-American Student Association, which helps new students from China adjust to life in the United States. From my bi-cultural upbringing, I discovered how it feels to be “different” from everyone else. I have learned to look beyond a person’s superficialities when I first meet them, preferring to focus on their true character. If I can use my talents to help other students feel better about themselves, then I will be a success. By sharing my experiences, I am sharing my greatest gift, which will ultimately help others identify and fulfill their own potential.
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