“Thank you so much for applying to….”
Those words. Those six words say so much. They’re just a benign “thank you”, right? Sure, but when those words are the first six words of a decision letter, you may as well not read on. They’re a wolf in sheep’s clothing– a kind way of saying, “Sorry, you’re not good enough.” Those words mean rejection.
In early April, I opened the decision letter for the last summer program I had applied to. And I saw those words for the third time in just a matter of months. Rejection, once again.
I applied to three programs for this summer. The first was the Telluride Association Summer Program (TASP), an extremely prestigious and competitive seminar-style program for incoming seniors. The second was the the Experiment Leadership Institute (ELI), which gives students the opportunity to study politics and social justice in South Africa or public health in India. The final was the Asian American Journalists Association’s JCamp, a program for students interested in journalism. The programs, though quite different, had a few things in common. All three were extremely competitive, full-scholarship programs, and I got rejected from every single one.
In mid-January, I was rejected from the very first round of TASP. I had spent months editing and re-editing my essays, pouring my heart and soul into my writing, and trying to put out my best quality, so granted I was quite disappointed when I received my rejection. However, I knew it wasn’t the end of the world; TASP is more selective than most Ivy League schools, so I did not have very high expectations. And besides, I was rejected alongside two inspiring, successful NSLI-Y alumni who I look up to, so I didn’t feel as bad. ELI was different. I made it to the second round, and I thought I did well in my interview, so it was a painful surprise when I found out I was an alternate– in other words, for all practical purposes, I was rejected. As an alumna of a study abroad program, I guess I overestimated myself, and the rejection came as an unprecedented blow. When JCamp came around, I wasn’t expecting much. As an applicant with absolutely no journalism experience apart from my own blog, the rejection wasn’t a surprise. In April, I was denied.
It wasn’t just that I didn’t get into TASP. Or ELI. Or JCamp. It was the fact that I didn’t get into any of them. Not a single one. In 2017, I was on top of the world. I was accepted to NSLI-Y, I spent a wonderful summer in Jordan, and I was even selected as an Alumni Representative. Now, in 2018, why was everything going wrong? Was this just bound to be the dreaded year of rejections? As my friends got accepted in selective programs and received prestigious opportunities, I have to admit it hurt. As much as I hid my feelings with a smile on my face, I felt like a failure. A failure because I had spent so much time writing my essays and perfecting my applications, only to be turned away. A failure because three different programs told me I wasn’t good enough. A failure because no one else seemed to have it as hard.
After a few days of stressing and brooding about my lack of success, I decided to take matters into my own hands. Instead of seeking selective opportunities that would give me prestige, I found opportunities that would be personally rewarding. In all the programs I had applied to, I was looking for a productive summer that would allow me to explore my interests and myself. But did I need a super selective program to let me do that?
In late April, putting all my rejections aside, I started crafting my summer plans. I was able to get an internship with iLEARN, a 12 hour a week ESL summer camp for refugee students run by the Interfaith Action of Central Texas, the organization with which I tutor weekly during the school year. As part of the job description for a Registration, Attendance, and Testing Intern, I would be able to work extensively with the students, while helping with organization at camp and connecting students to the interpreters that speak their language. In addition to using my Arabic and serving the community through my internship, I also created a plan to continue studying Levantine Arabic with my Skype tutor, actually kicking off my Farsi studies, and doing a solid amount of summer reading in Arabic! With my plans all in place, I was ready for a fun but relaxed summer where I could pursue my language interests, volunteer, and also get a headstart on college apps.
It was sometime last week when my summer plans took an incredibly exciting turn. I received an email from a program coordinator at GirlForward, an organization that mentors and empowers teenage refugee girls. I had volunteered weekly with GirlForward the summer before my sophomore year, and had also created a production called “Displaced”, which raised awareness and funds for GirlForward through Indian classical dance and story telling. When I received the email, I was shocked. I was being considered for an internship position at their summer camp! It seemed too good to be true. To my knowledge, GirlForward doesn’t take high school interns, and although I had seen the internship application earlier, I hadn’t applied as it asked for the applicant’s major, hinting that they were looking for college students. I was thus extremely surprised when I was approached by the camp coordinator for an interview for the internship. There was one issue though. GirlForward Camp extends three weeks into August, and my school starts on August 8th, meaning that I would have to miss 1.5 weeks of the six-week program. After talking about my predicament with the camp coordinator and completing my interview, I began to wait. I felt that the odds were stacked up against me, but I knew it was still worth a shot. A day or two later, I received another email: it was a letter saying that I had been hired!!
That’s right! Starting July 9th, I will start my position as a full-time Logistics Intern at Camp GirlForward, where I will assist the camp instructor, help coordinate enrichment activities, and work with some of the brightest, most driven, strongest girls in the city! I feel so honored to have been given this opportunity, and I am counting days. At the same time, I do have to admit to feeling a bit nervous– my position is a full-time, 35-hour a week commitment, where my “colleagues” will most likely be older and more experienced than I am. Even so, I feel ready to brave these challenges. After all, it is the summer before senior year, so I better put it to use gaining valuable experiences for the future!
So here’s the plan: Starting next week, I will be interning for three weeks with iACT, where I will put my Arabic and ESL skills to use helping refugee children from ages five to fifteen study the English language. I hope to continue with my Arabic classes during these three weeks. Then, starting early July, I will spend the rest of my summer interning with GirlForward, where I will be thrust into an intensive work experience, and will be given the opportunity to empower and learn from teenage refugee girls from across the world. Oh, and of course, any free time will be dedicated to college apps.
When I read the paragraph above, my summer seems so exciting. It’s my last summer as a high-school student, and when I think about it, I know I will be exploring my interests, learning a lot, and having a ton of fun. However, asked about my summer two months ago, I would not have been as optimistic. After all my rejection letters, I don’t think I could have imagined things to work out this way.
Writing this post hasn’t been easy. I generally don’t write such personal things on my blog, and I didn’t cherish reliving the entire rejection process, but I feel that this is important. It’s an important lesson. Not only for those who read this, but also (and mostly) for myself. In a few months, I will be turning in college applications, and in a few months afterwards, those applications will translate to decision letters. There will triumphs (hopefully!) but also many disappointments. So I’m writing this post so that I can look back when I need to, and see the bigger picture. It’s easy for me to say now that I’m not actually a failure, but when those rejection letters roll in, it becomes a lot harder to think that way. I want to write this to remind myself of the fact that I shouldn’t be gauging my personal success by anyone else’s standard– be they a college admission officer, a family member, or a friend. I am writing this so that I can remember that things do indeed work out, and for every door that closes, there’s another one waiting to be opened.
Note to self: A few months ago, I thought I was a failure. Things couldn’t have turned out better.