많은 학부모들이 교육섹션에서 읽은 칼럼을 자녀와 함께 읽기를 원합니다. 그래서 영어로 칼럼을 써서 보내주는 마리 김 원장(아이보리우드 에듀케이션)의 칼럼과 사무엘 김 원장(스파르타 카운슬링)의 영어칼럼을 이곳에 공개합니다. 저작권은 원작자인 칼럼니스트와 이를 게재한 LA중앙일보에 있음을 알립니다.
사립대를 신청한 학생들이라면 인터뷰를 준비해야 합니다. 지원자 심사를 위해 인터뷰를 요청하는 대학들도 늘어났습니다. 마리 김 원장이 인터뷰 준비를 앞둔 학생들을 위해 쓴 칼럼입니다. 한국어로는 중앙일보 교육섹션 2018년 12월 17일자 A-23면에 소개했습니다. 한국어 칼럼은 아래 링크를 보시면 됩니다.
The College Interview
by Marie Kim
“Tell me about your family.”
It’s a simple question I’ve asked to get the conversation going for high-achieving students eager for a shot at Harvard. Consequently, I’ve gotten a range of responses:
“My mom is a typical Korean mom who likes to be around Koreans only…she’s Catholic and is suspicious of those who aren’t…I think she’s racist and when I was a kid, she would sit me down in front of the T.V. to watch Fox News all day.”
“My parents are what you would call, ‘helicopter parents.’ They need to know about everything I do, have to approve my activities, follow my actions closely. I feel guilty when I don’t do what they tell me to do.”
Believe it or not, students have said these things. They openly reveal personal information that hurts their image, and they have no clue. To them, this is all they know, so it’s perfectly normal when their mom slams an entire race or when they admit they have no autonomy and lack independence. I write down exactly what they tell me and send off my report to the Admissions Committee.
Then, there is this student?
“Well, my mom tried to cross the border twice and got caught. She finally came over on her third attempt…”
Come again? Your mom from Mexico came over to the U.S. doing what?
Here in front of me was her child?a straight-A student (not a single B in 4 years), who had taken the most rigorous courses, including 5 AP classes senior year at a top-rated, competitive high school. He is Mexican-American and the most amazing interviewee I have had to date. In under 5 minutes, I spotted Harvard material.
He was also the first and only interviewee to make me well up with tears.
So, I probed. Why did you do everything you did? Why did you work so hard all these years?
“Because I just want to make my parents proud and that their sacrifices were worthwhile. I pushed myself so hard because I come from a community where people don’t have the same opportunities I’ve had. Any one of them could have ended up at the high school I’m at now, but, they didn’t. And I want to help other people…people like me. So many people have helped me get to where I am and I want to make their efforts be known.”
The kid just blew me away. He moved my heart, made my eyes water, we connected intellectually. I completely got him and I believed him. This young man possessed something most human beings his age don’t have. It’s not one noticeable quality, but, a combination of everything he’s become in this moment.
This was his unusual talent; a gift earned from years of dedication; his sincerity was also his genius. There is a box I’ve never checked before when evaluating a Harvard applicant: “Diamond in the Rough.”
I checked it for him.
So, what made him unique in my eyes ?
1. He was Real.
Two times in the interview, the alarms on his cellphone went off. Now, usually, this is not a good sign?at all. Turn off your phones during your interview. The first time it rang, I brushed it off as an oversight teenagers can make and casually commented, “that your alarm for our interview start time?” Abashedly, he nodded, apologized and quickly stuffed the phone back in his jacket pocket. But, five minutes later, it rang again. I thought, what’s going on here? This time, I caught a glance of an entire screen full of alarm notifications, which I found unusual. I was waiting for an excuse, but, he paused momentarily before saying, “That’s my alarm for me to take my medication for my acne. I’m supposed to take it right after having lunch, I’m sooo sorry.” The alarm never went off again for the remaining 50 minutes…but by this point, I was sold.
I know it’s not easy to admit our insecurities to others. Billy (not his real name) is the kind of person who would be OK sharing. And for this, I adored him.
Most students think they’re supposed to go into the interview to impress someone; to show others how incredible they are, to talk themselves up…sometimes, to be something they’re actually not. This couldn’t be further from the truth. People tend to see through fakeness. Don’t be fake. Don’t act like you do more sophisticated things like skiing, go to musicals and operas if you don’t know the first thing about them. Don’t say you read The New York Times regularly and if the interviewer happens to probe?you’re caught redhanded because at some point years ago, you may have glanced at an article.
However, I caution against “being completely yourself.” Be the best version of you, appropriate for the occasion. Strive for real while not being too polished.
2. He Deeply Loved.
In the time I had with Billy, he taught me some things about Harvard I hadn’t closely followed, such as the American Repertory Theater. When I was an undergrad, I went to shows here with my friend, Pat, now a Harvard Business grad venture capitalist. But, I didn’t know the intricacies of theater like Billy had. He said it’s his dream to act and sing there, unlike other college theater departments, Harvard’s has a direct connection into the professional stage. He is obsessed with the Harvard Krokodiloes, a world-class a capella group I’ve known friends to be in over the years; and raved about specific songs he’s downloaded produced by them, following them over the years. He pulled out a program book from the Hollywood show he had participated in the previous evening, where he was the student organizer for the celebrity-studded event. “It was a tribute to Craig Zadan, someone who has influenced musical theater and musical education tremendously…I was one of the students in the high school Troupe that helped select the all-star cast.” He had a resume full of performance experiences?from Footloose to Jasper in Deadline. He’s done about 30 shows and this is precisely the appeal he sees of the arts at Harvard. He gazed at the program book with loving eyes, cradling each page.
Beyond theater and performance, Billy is an activist and environmentalist. Through his History class, he educated himself about colonization particularly as it affected American Indian populations; from the lynchings to the terrors they were subjected to. “I read this book by Howard Zinn called The People’s History of the U.S. and it shares the perspective of non-Whites telling the stories of history. It made me more conscious of discrimination and ferocious brutality.”
Not once, did I ask what he loved or where his passion lied. I could easily tell he was an evangelist for spreading the power of the arts and a diehard advocate for the Latino people.
3. The world is better because he’s in it.
When I imagine Billy at home, in school, at a performance…I can see his presence make his surroundings a little bit brighter, more positive, kinder, and warmer. The Billy I saw at the interview is vivacious, jubilant, outgoing, sincere, possesses depth and compassion. What place wouldn’t benefit from this? This is the kind of person, should they live and study at a campus like Harvard, would make the experience at least a little bit better for those around them. If I needed a shoulder to lean on, I could go to him. If I wanted to party, Billy is my guy. For dinner, he’d make good company.
Then, there are people we tend to avoid. It is the person who complains about virtually everything. He might own a new Porsche but gripe incessantly about the tiny scratch on the steering wheel. When he has had so many things handed to him?private school education, mom doing his chores, parents chauffering him around town?somehow, this student can still be a downer. He has a knack for repelling or offending others.
Of course, elite colleges want to avoid bringing negative vibes onto their campus. They could make the environment unnecessarily tense, the experience for those around them unpleasant. Wherever they go, they might dampen the spirit and mood.
It doesn’t matter if you have a 4.85 GPA, perfect SAT scores, are a world-class violinist. If you have worrisome or questionable personal traits: for example, care mostly about yourself, are acrimonious or tone-deaf?then, likely, these traits can appear somewhere in your application and it doesn’t bode well for you.
But Billy can be a good friend to someone in college, the first to volunteer when there’s a local disaster, a person who dives so deeply into his love of musical theater that he might one day make history. By his actions, the exchanges we have with him, I become a better person…however small the effect. When I talk to him, I am reminded of the good in the world and he motivates me to think and act positively. And, I can imagine, if he didn’t show up to class one day, I would feel something missing that could only be filled by him.
4. I loved him.
Billy has a special power?it is the ability to move another human being’s heart. Most seventeen years-olds applying for college will still be, well, kids. Their parents do so many things for them and you can observe in the little things they say or how they carry themselves, in a sense, what they’re made of. Billy was mature for his age. When we sat down for our interview, at first, I didn’t follow him when he said, “Ms. Kim, is it alright with you that these straws are big? I couldn’t find the smaller ones,” as he handed me a bottle of water. Now, he did not need to be thinking of my needs at his Big Interview. I should have been the last person on his mind, but, in this moment, I was the first. How can you not like someone who treats you this way? And for those who may doubt his motives, I’d like to think I have a pretty decent radar for posturing or brown-nosing. This wasn’t the feeling I got from Billy; from him, I sensed a considerate young man who is accustomed to serving others and putting other’s needs before his.
When he spoke about his activities and achievements, he didn’t hog credit. He said his older sister inspired him to dream big because he had watched her take very little and turn it into something by being the first in their family to go to college. He mentioned his middle school Principal on several occasions as the reason he had doors open for him even though he came “from the ghetto.” When he elaborated about his leadership role for a California State Board position, I listened very closely as he expressed deep gratitude and appreciation for the opportunity and how he was “truly honored to have been elected.” He said everything in a way that made you like him.
When you talk to a person long enough, you can begin to paint a picture of him…his biases may be spotted, true colors can unintentionally be revealed, values emerge. This, collectively, amounts to the person he is at this given moment. Though I had just met Billy, I wanted to be his friend and found him trustworthy, and I loved him.
I hope you can see what I saw. Because, there is a big difference between some interviews; you can start to see the true person in the answers they provide. Most students will never pull off what Billy did here; it takes a rare soul to do this. And for any cynics out there…some may think?well, maybe, since he’s an actor?he just delivered the greatest performance of his life and pulled the wool over my eyes.
Regardless, I told Harvard exactly how I perceived it; that here was a student that belonged at Harvard, and it’s partly why an institution like Harvard exists…fortunately, they too, saw what I had seen.
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