It seems to me that from the time you enter a university – you are given a ticket, and that it is up to you to define where that ticket takes you. There are of course limitations that you set on yourself that the environment and society sets upon you, but there are also incredible opportunities within those constraints. Having had the opportunity to be in your shoes and live life after – I thought I’d share some perspective on what I think is important to consider at this incredible juncture in life.
1. Set goals but be flexible and willing to change.
When I was applying to universities, I believed that the sky should be the limit and I should be able to go to the best university I got into. However, my father disagreed and wanted me to attend the University of Washington, which was nearby and the best school in the state. Coming from a middle-class family, he had no intention to pay for a better school and didn’t want his 18 year old daughter to graduate with a huge debt. Young and idealistic, I couldn’t understand why would any parent want to limit the dreams of their child?
It was then that we made a deal, a deal that in some ways changed my life. My dad agreed to let me apply to the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) Wharton Business School undergraduate program, early admission. If I got in, I could go – if not, I would go to the University of Washington. But, if I went to the University of Washington, in return, he agreed to send me abroad, on the program of my choice.
I didn’t get into Penn so I followed through and went to the University of Washington. After graduating from college, I came to Korea to work for a law firm and applied to law school and again failed to get admission. It was then that I decided to apply to MBA programs. In my essays, I told The Wharton School how it had been my lifelong dream to go to there and about the deal I had made with my father. That must have been somewhat compelling as I was admitted. Ten years after my original application, I went to the Wharton School for my MBA and paid for the entire education myself.
Takeaway: there may very well be obstacles that difficult to overcome – in my case from my parents’ willingness to support me and in my ability to obtain admissions. However, unexpectedly, goals that I thought I sacrificed ended up coming back around, leading me to believe that if you have goals and are flexible, future opportunities surface.
2 . Establish values. Pursue a few things of interest to you.
As a fourth-generation Japanese American, having grown up in an almost entirely Caucasian neighborhood, people always asked me where I was from? By this they meant to ask my about my ancestry. Knowing literally nothing about Japan, as a freshman, I decided to take Japanese. However, I found it extremely difficult and literally almost failed, getting a D in the class – for four semesters straight, after which time I was hopeless and quit! For that year and a half, I struggled and questioned if I was ruining my future by trying to understand cultural ancestry.
Taking Japanese ended up being a pivotal decision in my life. The credits allowed me to select my major as International Studies, which required foreign language and that later prompted my curiosity to travel. Taking my father up on his offer, in my junior year, I chose a study abroad program to travel around the world by ship porting in 11 countries over 100 days while taking classes aboard the ship. After returning to school, I was appointed to a university task force, where I actively advocated that more students travel abroad. In return, the study abroad office offered me a full scholarship to study Japanese at Keio University, a program I had previously been rejected from because my nearly failing grades! Studying Japanese also eventually led me to Korea and to study Korean at Yonsei.
Takeaway: Take time in college to pursue a few things that are valuable to you, even if there are no other apparent reasons other than because you want to. Pursuit of such things may help you establish a sense of who you are and lead you to opportunities that are aligned with your intuitive interests. Along the way, you may also meet some wonderful people you would not have otherwise had the opportunity to meet; in my case, I met my husband while studying Korean at Yonsei.
I’m still a believer that what you become and where you go is really up to you to decide and that university is perhaps one of the only times that you have to experiment and define yourself, both in terms of what you pursue and who you ultimately become. Take time to find who you are, set a few goals – but be flexible and to establish some values that may end up guiding you and influencing your life in unpredictable ways.
Kelly Ashihara email@example.com
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