Prompt 3: Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
“Open your biblia to John 5:24” directed the Chilean pastor to the absorbed congregation. People flipped quickly, they knew that page, that verse, by heart. I picked up mine, unsure I had understood the Spanish correctly, and tentatively thumbed through the pages. Before I finished, a hand covered the words and harshly snatched the book, leaving me staring at my palms. I swallowed and looked at Ariel, my pudgy, stubble-faced, scowling host father, who angrily flipped to the correct section, red rising in his brown complexion. He shoved the bible into my palms, and turned his cold eyes back to the pastor while I turned my eyes to John 5:24. When I went to live in Chile for my junior year of high school, I was wholly unaware that my agnosticism and my belief system would be so profoundly challenged. My host family would take hold of these things they saw as flawed, and intimidate me into faith and submission, or so they hoped.
Growing up, I spent months in different countries and cultures with my own family. Traveling has been something integral to me and my brother’s development. We were encouraged to assimilate to other cultures and help them to shape our own. The continual ability to have our beliefs challenged and encouraged in different cultures left me with what I thought was a fairly clear understanding of my personal belief system. However, when I went to Chile, alone and with no other allies, I soon realized that my beliefs, up until that point, were largely based on those that my family held. And in Chile, I no longer had that safety net. I no longer had those shared beliefs. I had a foundation, but I had to create beliefs that felt authentic to me in order to survive. I was expected to define my own beliefs and embody them through my actions alone. When my beliefs were inevitably challenged, it was my responsibility to validate them, or realize their faults and adjust them accordingly.
Walking into my host parent’s home, a gruesome crucifix silently screaming into the room, I knew I had walked into a world with little room for dissent, but room nonetheless. I had stepped into a family that was fundamentally different from my own. It would be easy to cling to my family’s beliefs, but how could I create my own and use this flexibility to understand theirs? As my time with them continued, it became clear that their belief system was fully developed. It was rooted first and foremost in religion, then with conservatism, masochism and tradition. It became apparent that my host father was determined to assert his dominance. Sunday after Sunday he took me to church, and I attended with the fading hope that I was making the choice to be there. Every time we came home, he expectantly drilled me on my impressions, waiting for the epiphany he thought would undoubtedly come.
As I interacted with their beliefs, I felt the impact they were having on my own. While they tried to force their beliefs on me, they were having the opposite effect. Seeing the fear, anger and power their beliefs incited, I actively began to stand in my strengthening beliefs in liberalism, acceptance, and humanism. I began to notice the way I embodied my own change. Instead of assimilating to theirs, I had used theirs to understand myself, to become myself. When I finally left that family, after being ostracized and beaten down, I left stronger than I ever had been.
While my beliefs are ultimately very similar to those of my own family, they are wholly mine. I now have a belief system that is authentic and true. I found power in my identity that will allow me to travel to new countries and interact with new cultures with the confidence to uphold and explore my beliefs.
Being asked to encapsulate all that one is in a concise essay is daunting. Writing my college essay was much more challenging than I had anticipated. My main problem arose when I was faced with picking a prompt. Within the Common App process they provide 6 different questions that you may respond to. I struggled with picking one and hastily decided on one with the hopes that it would push me in a productive direction. Because I chose Prompt 3, I decided to talk about a time in which my beliefs were challenged while on exchange. Although this topic had a lot of potential, someone had suggested I talk about those experiences and answer this Prompt. Because of this, it did not feel authentic. This lack of buy in showed through in my writing. In my first essay I focused predominately on how my religious beliefs were challenged. In my closing paragraph I wrote “When my religious beliefs were so harshly scrutinized and I was ultimately ostracized by the very people labeled my “parents” because of those beliefs, it took resolve to remain confident in my own thought process and belief system.” This is valid but I realized that I was only talking about half of the experience, focusing too much on the religious and not enough on the rest of the story. While this draft of the essay was received well by my peers in the critique session, I felt very uninspired. I turned to Lori in a very helpful writing conference, she voiced some of the things I had been feeling. It was surprising how well she verbalized what I had feared about my essay. She said it sounded uninspired, vague and that it did not show growth. I left with new motivation and jumped into major revision. In the final draft, I write “I now have a belief system that is authentic and true. I found power in my identity that will allow me to travel to new countries and interact with new cultures with the confidence to uphold and explore my beliefs”. This sentence illustrates the broader approach I took on the cultivation of my belief system as a whole and not solely my religious beliefs. I came out of this process with an essay that felt authentic, answered the prompt and felt much more inspired. Although I don’t know if this will be the exact draft that colleges receive, the critical revision I did allowed me to come away with a strong essay.