Chicago public schools personal statement: my buildOn trip to Africa

Chicago public schools personal statement: my buildOn trip to Africa
BuildOn team members pose for a photo while on site constructing a buildOn school in Malawi, Africa. Photo Credit: Alejandra Chavez

An important step for high-school seniors is the writing of a personal statement to accompany their college applications.  While the impact of these in the admissions process can be debated, the value of reflecting on one's past cannot.  This essay's prompt is taking from the Common App, a free online undergraduate application used by over 400 colleges and universities.

Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.

Alejandra Chavez, 

Hancock High School Senior

Freshman year was nothing I would boast about; I made few friends and was enrolled in only one honors class. I directed the majority of my leisure time on homework and tutoring. High school was not meeting the expectations of “the best four years of your life,” so far. I hoped that my sophomore year would be more than the expected, and it was after I enrolled in buildOn—a not-for-profit, afterschool club at Hancock.

I first heard of buildOn when a student in my class gave a presentation of how building a school in Africa changed her life. She spoke of a five-month commitment with the program where students proved their loyalty, applied, and were chosen to help construct a school in a partnering country. I became so engulfed in her presentation that I knew this “Trek for Knowledge” she went on was an experience I could not abjure.  Once it came time to apply, I had completed over 50 service learning hours through Saturday projects, had my two teacher recommendations enveloped, my essay completed, and my interview date set.

Before I knew it, the adventure I had anticipated was only a 22-hour (collective) plane trip and a two-hour bus ride away. The village, in Ngumira, Malawi, I arrived at to was small and humble. My team and I were crowded with running children about three miles south from the village entrance. The kids— who ran, clapped, and sang in unison— joined the adults at the center of the village where we all erupted into an impromptu dance. I had never met these individuals before, yet they were all so eager to show their appreciation, shake my hand, and offer their ecstatic smiles.

Once the school’s construction initiated, my team was split into two alternating groups: one taking part in cultural workshops and the other at the construction site. Because our village was remote, we spent the majority of the time passing bricks until we cleared the area. Everything was done by hand: transporting water to the site, digging the foundation.  The villagers taught me the best ways to complete these tasks with more patience that I could have hoped for considering the language barrier.

Not once on my 16-day trip did I ever hear anyone complain about the weather or chore at hand. The villagers taught me that education is a privilege often taken for granted in the United States. I now know anything is possible as long as we have the passion, which for me is my education. I have set goals for myself in the past year and have completed them all— over 500 service learning hours, raised my GPA to a 3.9, continued my straight A streak even with four AP classes, and now I'm in the top ten. I hope to take all that I have learned in the past four years and use it to obtain an honorable profession where I am not only interacting with people daily, but also changing their lives.

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