Sep 21, 2011

The Africa Passage

By Muhammad Saad Hussain

In this passage, which is a hybrid of a journal and a travel article, the writer describes his first experience of visiting Africa and strives to remove the various preconceptions that the people of the world, particularly Americans and Europeans, have about it. His tone varies from dramatic at first, to admiring and conversational in the middle and awestruck and persuasive towards the end. The writing techniques that are most evident in this passage are personification, the usage of contrast and similes and alliteration.

In the first paragraph the writer describes the African sunrise in a dramatic fashion. He personifies the sun, in the words “leaping”, “ambushes”, “glaring” and “slaps”, and portrays it as a vicious and cruel creature. The writer also uses an allusion and describes the sun as a “huge, glaring Cyclops”, a one eyed monster from Greek Mythology.

In the second paragraph a contrast is made between the African day and a day in Europe. The usage of words such as “seemly”, “demure”. “politesse” and “subtleties”, as well as a listing of pastel shades of colour in line 12 portray a European sunrise as gentle and civilized. However, each sentence in this paragraph is preceded by a “no” or a “none” which emphasise the harshness of the African environment. This is clearly evident in line 15 when even the soothing relaxation of an afternoon siesta is denied to the reader.

The description of the African sunrise comes to an end in paragraph three. Personification is again used in the form of the words “leaps”, “glaring”, “leering” and “daring” which serve to highlight the sun’s portrayal as a monster. The paragraph begins with a sudden, emphatic “No” and along with the simile comparing the sun to a jack in the box, they create an image of a beast suddenly coming out and shocking the reader.

In the fourth paragraph, the readers are introduced to the sun’s one great enemy, shade. The repetition of the word “shade”, as well as the usage of hyphens in line 20 forces the reader to pause and focus on the dramatic showdown. The writer shows the variety of regions that are under the sun’s domain by giving examples of a “nomad’s tented roof” and “verandahed pavements”. The monstrous portrayal of the sun continues through the usage of the words “detests”, “suck”, “pound”, and “stalk”.

The writer’s tone becomes one of admiration in the next paragraph as he comments on the resilience of the people and things that live in Africa. The repetition of “still” in line 28 gives the impression of overcoming obstacles. There is a usage of contrast in the words “accidental” and “learned” which are used to explain the reason behind the elegant movement of the Africans.

In the sixth paragraph the writer’s tone becomes conversational and also slightly condescending towards Europeans as he compares them to the Africans. His usage of words such as “effortless”, “elegance” and “poise” to describe the Africans demonstrate his opinion of them. This is in sharp contrast to the list of adjectives he uses in line 33 to describe the Europeans whilst creating an image of clumsiness.

African women are depicted in the seventh paragraph in an awed and admiring tone. Similes are used to compare them to models, ballerinas and even to majestic black statues of liberty. A list is used in line 36 to emphasise the burdens that these women can bear. However, in contrast to those burdens, the words “propelling” and “lullaby sway” make it seem as if this is effortless to them.

The wide variety of African landscapes is described in paragraph eight. After mentioning these varied vistas, the writes uses irony in the form of the words “a landscape of nothing” to show that the people of the world don’t care about all of this. The “solitary figure” that is mentioned is actually a reference to the isolated African people who struggle to survive on their own and are forgotten by others.

The writer’s tone becomes persuasive in the ninth paragraph as he highlights all the aspects of Africa, the good one as well as the bad ones. The paragraph starts out with a description of the bad aspects but goes on to list all the good things that are present. A list is used in lines 52 to 54 to point out everything that Africa has to offer which very few people actually know or care about.

The final sentences of the passage contain a contrast between the words “dark” and “luminous”. The emphatic “No” in the first sentence serves to abolish the negative misconceptions that are present about Africa while the second sentence emphasises all of its good characteristics that are usually ignored.

Sep 16, 2011

Essays that worked!

"Since the essay is an important part of the application process, the Admissions Committee has selected examples of essays that worked, written by members of the Johns Hopkins Class of 2015. These essays represent just a few examples of essays they found impressive and helpful during the past admissions cycle."

Hopefully this will help lots of you to figure out how and what to write in your personal statements.


Sep 13, 2011

Personal Statement

By Souha Khan

The first time I understood the true meaning of the word ‘fear’ was when I stood on the edge of the pool of Induruwa Beach Resort in Bentota, Sri Lanka. If it hadn’t been for the “10ft deep” markings on the frigid marble floor beside my foot, the water could have easily been 50ft deep. It lay there motionless and seemingly endless like a patient predator. I stood, in the dark of the night, stripped down to my costume, staring at the bottomless demon with nothing to hold on to but a sense of terror yet silent desire. While my family peacefully slept upstairs in our hotel room with not a single clue of where I was or that I was about to attempt the most reckless act of my life, one that would change me in ways I never could have contemplated.

For as long as I can remember I have been incredibly stubborn. I have been told time and again that I have a mind of my own. Most people would call it ‘rebellious’ I prefer ‘determined’. Therefore it will not come as a surprise that the day my father stopped the car because of the commotion at the side of the road while on a road trip in Sir Lanka five years ago, I stepped out and impudently followed him even though he specifically a told my sister and I to stay in the car. As inquisitive as I was, I needled my way through the crowd after him. The image of what I saw that day remains to this moment so vivid that if asked to paint a picture, I would do so down to the very minute details including the folds in the shirt and the crevices in the man’s bloated skin who had drowned and whose body had washed up on the rocks at the base of the cliff on top of which we stood. Needless to say seeing something like that leaves an impact on you, but I would soon realize how grave the impact was for me.

Standing barely 3 inches away from the daunting dark water with no clue how to swim except for the basics I had been taught in the kiddy pool, there was chaos in my mind. Voices reverberated off the back of my head, warning me of the risk I was taking. I shut them out, absolute silence followed. Kick, circle, peddle; kick, circle, peddle, chanting these words to my self I mustered up all the strength I had and dove head first into the deep freezing water. Somehow I managed to complete an entire lap of the pool, 10 ft and all. How? It still puzzles me to this day.

I learned in that moment that the worst thing that can stand in your way is fear of fear itself. The exhilaration of triumph triggered a part of my personality that night, a part that has gone on to do daring acts; bravely taken on challenges, for instance stopping at a road accident site and helping with the limited basic first-aid knowledge I have from Indus Hospital seminars; taking on the responsibility of twenty children while volunteering at the SOS Village, aware of the risks involved when we take them out on a ferry; things I never would have done otherwise.

That day remains to be the day I learned how to swim and the first of many where I found myself asserting my newfound independence and sense of, what’s the word? Invincibility. It is this very attitude that helped me push through tough situations. Skeptical times, when people would doubt if I could handle being a part of the student council, the debating club, the throw ball team and maintain good grades, back in eleventh grade, was when my hunger to discover unfamiliar territory and explore uncharted waters proved most useful. I choose to learn as much as I can today and not fear striking out tomorrow.

I am no longer afraid of the unknown; I do not dread taking risks, learning something new, learning EVERYTHING new. I would rather experiment and conclude than play it safe and miss out on the chance to be original. Just like I would rather dive head first into mysterious forbidding waters than walk on the edge with the constant fear that I might, one day, fall in.

Sep 8, 2011

Personal Statement

By Misal Shujjat

My mother almost died when I was nine years old. I’d had a very adventurous childhood before that; I fell down the rabbit hole with Alice, flew on a broomstick with Harry Potter, climbed the beanstalk with Jack and solved mysteries with Sherlock Holmes but this particular event was like a lightning bolt of reality in the rains of my imagination. It pulled me out of the pages of my books and led to the painful discovery that waving my pencil would not cast the spell I needed to clean the dishes or silence my crying four year old brother when both our parents were at the hospital. But it also led to my discovery that the best way to express all my frustration, fear and helplessness was through creating whole new worlds and characters and burying my problems and beliefs in their speech and actions. It was liberating, therapeutic, addictive.

That was the year I started writing in earnest. Literature had been part of my life ever since I was old enough to listen to my grandmother’s folk tales; her voice willing away the hours of heat filled summer power outages in Karachi with tales of flying carpets and the cool wind in our hair. The rest of my childhood years in Canada, I immersed myself in books, identifying with characters, diving into their worlds when my own got dull and loving the fact that anything seemed possible with them.

Moving back to Pakistan after a decade of living abroad wasn’t unlike being struck by lightning again. I was immediately singled out, teased by my peers for being a bookworm, for having a different accent and an over imaginative mind and the resounding thunderclap came in the form of my father’s nearly life robbing heart attack.

Through the struggles of adjusting to a familiar yet altogether alien culture, dealing with the threatening possibility of losing a parent again, and coming to terms with the realization that reading and creative writing were just not given the same level of importance as the more ‘hardcore’ subjects in my high school, my connection with books and my passion for writing gave me the fire I needed to light the fuel of my determination to prove myself.

I learnt to fight for what I believe in, a trait that later awarded me Prefect ship for three consecutive years and the title of President of Literary and Debating Club. There were always parallels to be made between my world and my beloved characters; the societal norms I was expected to act on were similar to those in the worlds of Jane Austen’s heroines, the political mayhem around me poignantly Shakespearean. I didn’t lose myself in these fictional worlds, falling out of touch with reality like I was accused of on so many occasions; I learnt from them and used my knowledge to shape my own unique views.

My craving for a formal classroom environment where I could hone my talent wasn’t satisfied until I transferred to college to complete my A levels and was presented with a faculty devoted to literature. I could finally stretch the canvas of my imagination further than I’d been able to before when I was surrounded by people who understood and shared my passion, added their own coloring to my interpretations. I was still fighting for what I believed in but instead of fighting for literature I was arguing about it; from history to politics and philosophy. Their company was like the first rain after a tiring dry spell; refreshing. That’s how I imagine my university life to be like.

Personal Statement

By Rahima Sohail

When I was younger I was absolutely terrified of heights.

When I was 11, I climbed up a park swing. It involved climbing a ladder to the top, jumping into the skylight and dropping onto a trampoline several feet below. Clearing my head, I climbed all the way to the top. Needless to say freefall wasn’t my thing. I looked down below and realized how high up I was; looking behind I saw no other kids climbing the ladder – I decided to back down. I saw no point anyway. It wasn’t like someone was going to come out and give me a medal or a certificate for accomplishing this feat. But as I was climbing back down, I realized I was denying myself an experience I’d never had before. Life’s greatest achievements aren’t measured in medals and certificates; knowing that I didn’t give up would be much more satisfying than going home and wondering how it must feel – to let go of all control.

So I closed my eyes and jumped. It was exhilarating. A scraped knee was forgotten as I basked in my new found courage.

Ever since that day, I’ve let myself fall. As a result I’ve overcome my inner fears. I’ve signed up for debating and elocution sessions. For basketball and poetry recitals. Everything I wouldn’t do. The knowledge that I won’t win, and that I may end up stuttering like a pro or become grammatically handicapped under the spot light has never stopped me.

I’ve had trouble at school. Lessons were never my strongest point. I’ve had to put in more effort than many other people to get a decent grade. My parents have been called at countless parent teacher meetings to discuss my grades. My desk holds more certificates of participation rather than medals of success. I have tripped over and fallen countless number of times. I have learnt the meaning of success only through these failures. I have learnt to pick myself up and move on ahead while overcoming the obstacles that have come in my way.

I have tested new grounds and let myself fall. I have let myself brush shoulders with failure. I have realized that it is better to fail knowing that you tried. That it is better to experience mortification in front of hundreds of people rather than sitting at home in a corner and hoping for an alternative existence – one where I could be bold enough to survive under public scrutiny. I have realized that it is better to fall a hundred times than to never take a step forward.

Learning from failures is one of the lessons life hopes we learn. My life is constituted of many failures. But it has taught me to take risks and forget what other people may think of me. Brushing shoulders with failure is never easy. Not even when you’ve done many times. Everytime I fail, it hurts me. You never get used to it. But it has prepared me. It has prepared me to expect what I should be expecting in college, and it has taught me how to overcome them.

In many ways life is like a freefall. You jump and you don’t know what to expect. You don’t know what awaits you at the end, or even in the middle. All you can do is close your eyes and take that leap of faith. I have.

Personal Statement

By Mahin Shamsi.

With every “tuck” of the cart as it climbed the initial rise, my anticipation grew. My heartbeat quickened and adrenaline raced through me. As I neared the top, I held my breath eager for the fall. I was embarking on my journey through a maze of metal twisted into the most gut wrenching path one could imagine. The sheer excitement that I felt at that point could not be put into words. Because looking at the climbs, the falls and the loops, I still new I’d come off unharmed. The speed at which I would navigate through them gave me goose bumps. And the physics of it all absolutely fascinated me.

For me, the love for roller coasters went a lot deeper than satisfying the thrill seeker within, it grew on my obsession with mechanics. The feeling of weightlessness as you loop the loop was just a tickle in the tummy for most, but a question for me. How? Why? It was questions like this and many more that drove me to read beyond my years to quench my thirst for answers. Every time I learnt something new I would rush to my father, and spill it all out without the use of punctuation marks. He recognized the passion in me, as it mirrored his own. With encouragement from both my father and grandfather, I eventually found myself madly in love with physics. During lessons images formed in my head and I visualized what we were being taught. The concepts would then be etched into my brain. Never did I find it difficult to understand and never was it unable to hold my attention.

The eagerness to learn more about physics fed on my thrill seeking nature. It urged me to try things most could consider unsafe, but physics promised my survival. And clinging to that promise I had the most exhilarating learning experiences. One of which took place at the Franklin Institute Science center; three stories above their main gallery when I took on the challenge of bicycling on a tight rope. They provided a complete rationalization as to how what I was about to attempt was completely safe. But there is always that initial moment of hesitation. It was overcome by the thought that the laws of physics would not fail me. And in the worst case scenario I would fall onto the netting below. And the experience itself was so satisfying that those five minutes meant more to me than most my days did. Five minutes of something rendered completely irrational by your brain at first can be quite liberating when you come off safe and sound, your faith reaffirmed. The faith that makes you risk physical injury because you can hear it yell “you know this will work.”

The same voice of faith pushed me off the edge of a cliff to observe the life from a broader lens. Looking down at the world from a height of 18,000 feet while you’re suspended in the air by a crafted piece of fabric changes your perspective on things. That day I learnt two important life lessons. Firstly, I learned the power of faith and how it can lead you into doing the most bizarre things but also give you the magical and life changing experiences. Secondly, when you look at the bigger picture, the silver lining finds you.

Today the same voice encourages me to follow my heart in the pursuit of mechanics; a field my society has reserved for men. But I have been told that the only way to be truly successful is to do what you love. And as I step into a primarily male dominated field, I know the challenges that will face me, but I want to go in headfirst and come out victorious. I want to go to college to earn a degree in mechanical engineering but I want to come out as much more than someone with a shining resume, I want to be a well rounded member of society and implement by knowledge into giving back to the world that provides my sustenance. My dream is to attend a school that has the ability to turn raw passion into something wonderful, something beneficial, and helps me apply it to practical life.