Map to Success

#1: 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’ve always loved a good map. I’ve always hated folding one. Naturally then, since the age of five, the bookshelves in my room have been filling up with atlases. Big, thick, heavy ones that seem to attract a layer of dust the moment I store them? Check. Tiny, flimsy, paperback ones that can be taken on car rides to the park, the grocery store, and everywhere else where knowing the capital of Zimbabwe is important? Check. Do I have a problem? Maybe, considering how obsolete they became even as I continue to acquire them. Do I care? Not particularly, as poring over those atlases has helped to shape the person I’ve become today.

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While other children were outside playing, I was inside, plotting my conquest of the people of Borneo and Belarus.

Over years of learning every curve of every national border, every city on every river delta, I had built a knowledge bank on the subject that was far superior to that of any other kid my age. This conclusion was affirmed when I became the only fourth grader in the entire state of California to make it to the state level of the National Geographic Bee, a competition for fourth through eighth graders so nerdy that we made the Spelling Bee kids look cool.

I didn’t win, but that was never truly the point to begin with. Geography gave me the chance to connect with my family. As the first rounds of the Bee approached each year, my dad would spend hours and hours of every weekend studying with me. I treasured the opportunity to learn with him. He usually left for work before I woke up in the morning and came home just before I went to bed, so these weekend sessions were one of the best ways for me to bond with him. Today, the two of us continue to have a mutual interest in the goings-on of the business world and the political world, which pushes our conversations pleasantly beyond the father-son standard of sports and cars.

Independent of my family, studying geography has given me an insatiable hunger for news. I’m still one of the only teenagers to my knowledge that has subscriptions to The Economist and Foreign Affairs. I watch political debates with the intense curiosity my friends reserve for American Idol. Even my choice of sport was partially influenced by this curiosity. I’ve run cross-country for the past few years because I simply can’t stand the daily repetition of a basketball court or football field. Every single running practice is a new chance to explore parks and hills and neighborhoods I’ve never ventured to before.

As I’ve matured and reached the uncertain border between high school and college, my interest in understanding the perspectives of those in different places and headspaces has served me well. I find it easier to contextualize what I learn in the broader spectrum of what’s happening in the world, and apply that insight in speeches and essays.

Above all else, this interest in what the world around me can offer has led me to want to leave my mark on it as well. I want to be a leader, an entrepreneur, and a maker of change. My passion for discovering why the world is the way it is and where it’s going in the future can certainly help me to achieve these goals.

Oh, and if you ever happen to visit Zimbabwe, impress the locals by reminding them that their capital is Harare.

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