I sat under the table, burying my head tightly in my folded arms, while the other children sat on the carpet, listening to the teacher’s story. The language barrier was like a tsunami, gurgling with strange and indistinguishable vocalizations. Elementary school wasn’t as fun as I expected at all.


Hearing a whisper, I raised my head up, only to notice a boy’s face merely inches away. I bolted up in surprise, my head colliding gracefully with the underside of the table. Yelping in pain, I noticed that the entire class was staring at me.


That was the story of how I met my first friend in Canada.

That boy, Jack, came to visit me during my lonely recesses. It was rather awkward at first—I could only stare at him as he rambled on in English. But it was comforting to have some company.

From there, our friendship blossomed. Our initial conversations must have been hilarious to the hapless bystander. Jack would speak in fluent English while I spurted sentence after sentence of Mandarin. It was like watching tennis—rallies of English and Mandarin back and forth. But I learned quickly, and in no time I was fluent.

Jack also showed me the ropes of Western culture. Heaven knows how embarrassing my birthday party would’ve been if he hadn’t told me about those so-called “loot-bags” beforehand.

Today, I volunteer at a community service agency for new immigrants where I work with children. I do it because I understand the confusion and frustration of dealing with a strange and sometimes hostile environment; I remember how it feels to be tangled up in an amalgam of unfamiliar words and sounds. And so I teach them; I give seminars on reading, writing, and speaking skills as well as Western culture, history, and sometimes, a bit of social studies.

But I strive to do more than just that. I try to be a friend—because I remember how Jack helped me. I organize field trips to the science center, the museum, and the symphony: double-whammy trips where children can have fun while improving their literacy skills.

Through these experiences, I try to understand each of them as unique individuals—their likes, dislikes, pet peeves, background.

Everyone needs a guiding light through the lonesome process of adaptation, a friendly bump to lift them from the dark shroud of isolation. That’s what Jack did for me—with a rather painful bump to the head—and it’s also what I do for these immigrant children.

My hope is that, one day, these children will also feel compelled to do the same, helping others adapt to an unfamiliar environment. With this, we can truly create a caring and cohesive network of support for the children of our society.


Lucien's essay depicts a personal connection with his community service activity and provides the why to an extracurricular that probably shows up college application. He starts off with an endearing anecdote of meeting his first friend in Canada and connects the encounter to his current passion, then delves even deeper by concluding with self- reflection and a bigger goal for society that he hopes to achieve. His personal statement gives the reader a glimpse at his background and assimilation into a new culture, and how his qwn experience as an immigrant motivates him to help other immigrants adapt to life in a new place.

The strengths of this essay lie in the vivid and charming recounting of his first encounter with Jack, his first friend in a foreign new environment, and how he uses that story to explain his passion for volunteering. He connects his community service to a bigger goal at the end of the essay that leaves the reader feeling inspired, and alludes to his thoughts, hopes, and dreams. There is a tone of humility and humor as he depicts how he met his first friend by bumping his head under the table, and makes a motif out of the head bump by referring to it again later when he's talking about helping other immigrant children. He modestly credits his noble deeds at the community service agency to meeting his first friend, and humbly reveals his hope that his own good deeds will inspire others to pay it forward. He does a good job of exhibiting his accomplishments in community service without sounding like he's bragging.

Lucien could also make the essay more memorable and distinctive by including anecdotes of his experiences at the community service agency where he gave seminars and organized field trips. He denotes his volunteering responsibilities in list form, which can seem a bit impersonal and résumé- like. For example, he mentions how he tried to understand the people he helped, but does not include how he goes about doing this, or whether learning about those unique individuals contributed to his experience. Adding a story of how he changed the lives of the immigrants he helped would enhance his message and create a fitting parallel with the anecdote of how Jack helped him as he assimilated only one line on the activities portion of his into Western culture. Overall, Lucien combines humor with humility and leaves the reader feeling inspired.