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Personal Essay

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That Voice

It was late spring 2005 with summer only weeks away. During that time, high school students usually try to find summer programs which can enhance their academic resumes, or, at least some of them do. And I happened to be one of them.

Have you ever experienced a time when a voice inside tells you something? And it's not just a soft voice that tells you right from wrong. It is an audible voice in your heart that tells you what to do. It is a voice that can stop you from crying over something that you badly want to do, but are told you shouldn't, into crying over the gratefulness that you are being kept from doing what you shouldn't do.

The driving force behind my effort to find a program where I could spend the summer was my hunger for knowledge. At least that's what I kept telling myself as I hastily browsed through the search results of summer programs on the Internet. But as I tried to lie to myself, the truth always stood itself up in me all along: I didn't want to lose to my other friends who had secured themselves with fine programs for the summer. I wanted to stay academically competitive among them. And, getting into a good, even prestigious, program every summer, I thought, was the critical measurement.

I sat in front of my computer during one late afternoon. One of my hands rested on the mouse. The other rested on the computer desk just in front of the monitor, which brought my eyes closer to it than they were supposed to be. My fingers moved quickly in controlling the mouse. Click. Scroll down. Click. Scroll down. My eyes screened fast from top to bottom, line to line, as I tried to read the words in between. My hands were only lifted when I was typing, which most of the time consisted of "," "summer program," or "summer program high school students." I ignored my back that was hurting me. I ignored the burning in my eyes. I ignored the growling of my stomach. I didn't even bother to turn on the lights when the outside sky was getting dark. I had been spending hours that day and days before, trying to find one summer program that was for me.

However, every time I came across a possibility, I was always hindered by financial obstacles. My family wouldn't be able to afford thousands of dollars to pay for any of the programs I found. Moreover, since my timing was already late, the opportunity of applying for financial aid in all of those programs had already passed.

My mind flashed back to the summer of 2004. I had had a chance to spend eleven days in Washington D.C. to participate in the National Young Leaders Conference. It was an event where about 400 students from across America gathered to discuss current event issues, do simulations of Congress activities, and meet with top representatives from the government. I had a chance to visit the House Floor. I had a chance to meet with Jeb Bradley with one other student as the representatives from New Hampshire. I was exposed to the work force in Washington D.C. the capital of this country. And I was able to attend the conference through my own fundraising efforts.

I was proud of all of that. And for this summer, I felt I shouldn't be doing less than that. That's what kept my eyes search through the screen of my computer. That's what made me ignore the growling of my stomach, the darkness around me, and the stiffness in my neck and spine. "Because," I thought, "I shouldn't be doing less than that. And, I thought, I shouldn't be doing less than my other friends."

Finally, it seemed to pay off. There was still an opening in a summer program at the University of Maryland. Fortunately, a chance to apply for financial aid had just been extended. It didn't tell you the maximum amount of aid money you could get, but it told me to contact the person who was in charge of aid for further information.

The news gave me a sense of hope. For me and my stiff body, it was a reward for relentless hours and days of searching; a reward for not giving up. I e-mailed the financial aid person right away with the hope that I could get enough aid, so my family would be able to afford the remaining fee required.

I spent the next few days communicating with the aid person. The result was unbelievable. He was willing to waive a large portion of the course fee, leaving me and my family with only several hundred dollars to pay. This was a fine, two-week program in a university setting, which offered an interesting study field: education and technology. With only a few hundred dollars in addition to airfare, it was the best deal possible for any student.

Sitting in front of my computer, I still couldn't believe what I had just read. I was listening to the sound of my printer, as the ink slid itself from side to side, printed an email with the great news. I felt great for being able to accomplish and secure something for myself, and I couldn't wait to tell my parents about this. I had been in D.C. for eleven days last year. Therefore, spending two weeks in nearby Maryland should be allowable. Besides, the financial obstacle that at first might have prevented them from giving a positive decision was no longer an issue.

Shocked. Stunned. Disquiet. Those were the sudden facial expressions anybody could see in me after hearing my mom's response:



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