Hello everyone, I’m Joanna, a freshman studying at the notoriously challenging UC Berkeley in California.
My goal is to double major in Applied Math and Global Studies, one for financial security, and the other out of passion.
Rewind to a year ago, I was a nervous wreck during the college application season. Days before the release of the admission decisions, I was constantly fidgeting, even to the point of trembling with cold hands and feet an hour before the announcement.
Finally, the moment arrived.
Breathless and anxious, I logged into six websites and sat in front of my computer, waiting for the results. For about 20 minutes, my mind was either blank or overwhelmed with too many thoughts to function properly.
The most desired university results came out early in the morning. My parents and I clicked to view updates from the portals of Yale, Columbia, Penn, Brown, Duke, and Cornell University, imagining the Congratulations flashing on the screen.
We made each of these moments a solemn one. My parents stood behind me, staring at the screen like lottery players waiting for the winning results to be announced.
However, as I opened each email one by one, each one showed “rejected” or “waitlisted,” repeating six times.
Each time was a heavy blow to my heart. I tried to laugh it off, mainly to relieve the disappointment that permeated the air. The three of us sat in silence for a few minutes. Then, I cautiously typed and notified my counselor of the results on WeChat.
It wasn’t until half an hour later that I came to my senses, as if a dream of a long night had finally come to an end.
The saddest moment was when I heard my mom push open the door to my dad’s room and say, “Oh, I just felt like we put so much effort in, and we didn’t get any good results?” My dad’s tone was heavy: “Good results? What do you think are good results?”
I thought of my parents, my teacher with high expectations, all of them worked so hard, and I let them down. I started to blame myself uncontrollably and didn’t know how to face the future with what mindset.
Fast forward to a year later. I have had a very fulfilling year at Berkeley, and I have come to understand the essence of why I was rejected.
01Rejected and its Chain Reaction
Despite my outstanding academic background, grades, extracurricular activities, and well-crafted essays, I was rejected by several top universities, leaving me confused and disheartened.
I was considered one of the top students by my teachers, but I was left wondering why I was rejected so many times. I soon realized that my past self was too vain and utilitarian.
I should not have labeled myself, which would have led to a narrow definition of myself and created bias in my self-awareness. I should not have blindly believed in meritocracy, as life is not like sports where the best person always wins.
Furthermore, I should not have been overly immersed in the praise and admiration of others, as it can lead to losing oneself and living for others.
During high school, I had a deep-seated perfectionism, only allowing myself to achieve straight As and get a 5 on every AP exam. If I could not achieve my ideal standard of “perfection,” I would start to doubt myself and lose motivation.
In other words, unless I achieved first place or met my own subjective “best” standard, I would not be at peace. Any flaw I could not eliminate would trigger the impulse to abandon everything.
Being rejected has influenced my definition of “success.”
Entering college, I realized that every “failure” is a special, valuable, and appreciated experience.
As long as I am well-prepared before each challenge, give it my all, and do my best, regardless of the outcome, it is a “success.” It took me a long time and a lot of effort to understand this truth.
Perhaps the only use of a GPA of 4.0 is to satisfy my perfectionism and vanity. I no longer find a B+ on my transcript glaring. As long as I truly learn knowledge and improve skills from this course, it’s enough.
As someone who has always been focused on results, I realized that my perspective on success needs improvement.
I began seeking inspiration from theoretical insights, such as Martin Heidegger’s concept of “being towards death,” which encourages us to design our lives with the understanding that death is a certainty. The pursuit of results ultimately leads to death, and the only thing that can be personalized is the process of life.
Viktor Frankl’s idea that “the more one aims at success, the more one misses it” also resonates with me. It emphasizes the importance of paying attention to the current moment and the actions we take, rather than fixating on the end result.
Regarding college applications, I have always emphasized to myself that being accepted by any one of the six Ivy League schools would be a great surprise, while being rejected by all of them would be expected. However, I still feel nervous before the decisions are released, and disappointed if I am rejected.
Even the essays I submitted, which I revised repeatedly, were not always a true reflection of my thoughts. My reason and emotions did not always align because I cared too much about the outcome.
Therefore, for college and beyond, I adhere to the belief of “if you want to do it, just do it. Why wait?” I am not afraid to take risks and follow my heart.
When I first came to the United States, I was afraid to apply for debate clubs because English is not my first language. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to compete with American college students. But once I let go of my focus on the outcome (if I’m rejected, so be it!), I realized that anything is possible.
After entering college, I joined the school’s third-ranked Model United Nations team and faced off against juniors and seniors from the elite universities I once thought I couldn’t enter. Emotionally, I am also willing to pursue relationships that may not have a clear outcome.
Or maybe – I define “outcome” for myself. It doesn’t have to be settling down, getting married, and having children. It can be just a memory of youth or a relationship that taught me how to love.
What is the purpose of studying abroad?
Looking back, I am grateful that I did not attend my dream school.
The reason is simple: Admissions officers can accurately assess whether I am a good fit for a university based on my abilities and personality. Perhaps I had only chosen that school because of its reputation, rather than finding the best fit for me to shine. Rejection may have been a blessing in disguise.
As it turned out, I belong here.
Although it was difficult at first, experiencing a new environment abroad, heartbreak from being deceived, feeling lonely without friends at first, struggling under the enormous pressure of studies, and being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and flu, I gradually found myself in this environment that suits me.
I have many good friends. My friends from middle and high school still keep in touch, and I have also made several close friends in college who have achieved remarkable success in their fields, expanding my horizons.
Since coming to study in the United States, I have had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world and explore the world.
I have a Swedish friend with whom I can talk about traveling the world. I have an American friend who aspires to become a future president, and we sometimes work out together. I also have three American female friends from whom I have learned many new things.
I Love California, the Place Where I Live.
Most of the time, it’s sunny and has a free-spirited and energetic atmosphere. I can wear what I want and take pictures that I want without worrying about what others might think.
I love summer, warmth, sunshine, and the feeling of freedom. I am becoming more confident in myself.
I have many hobbies. During school, I play the piano, tennis, and skateboard. During vacations, I try different activities, such as scuba diving, cliff jumping, beach volleyball, and hiking in national parks.
I like my body and think my height of 1.8 meters is cool. I believe my flat chest has a unique beauty. I like my appearance with my beautiful inner double eyelids, sexy full lips, and short hair that suits me。
I am increasingly fond of myself, believing that self-confidence and health are the most beautiful.
I have come to love Berkeley.
Although the school can be intense and exhausting, as I have become more familiar with the unique characteristics of the Berkeley curriculum and gained more experience in course selection and time management, I have improved my abilities.
For example, the hundreds of pages of weekly reading have honed my English reading speed, and I have adjusted my mindset to better understand the principles and applications of math problems instead of just memorizing formulas and techniques.
There were countless moments when I felt like giving up, staying up late at night feeling emo, thinking that I could not continue to learn.
But after the exams were over and the papers were submitted, I woke up feeling that learning was fun again, and life was beautiful.
It was truly a case of “no pain, no gain.”
I truly enjoy the feeling of rising to a challenge and gaining knowledge. There are too many outstanding classmates.
And, I have also found a young love that is based on equality.
He is intelligent and hardworking, having started his own business at the age of 19 and having earned an income for over a year. He is kind and ambitious, and under his influence, I have learned to be more considerate of others and realized that “changing the world” is not just talk.
My 19-year-old self is the best version of myself that I can imagine.
The meaning of studying abroad is not to chase after the numbers on the US News ranking list, but to experience a multidimensional life on this campus. Each day of these lives cannot be defined by a ranking.
That’s why, when my mother asked me if she should send my sister abroad to study, I said yes without hesitation.
Studying abroad did not define me, but it showed me that “wow, I have so many possibilities,” and then allowed me to choose and design my own life.
Professor Asks "Who Is Happy", Only I Raise My Hand
As a college student, I’ve noticed many of my peers are still stuck in a high school mentality, striving to achieve the same old goals they had in high school. At Berkeley, some students studying computer science or joining consulting and investment clubs act as if they are somehow superior to others.
I’ve seen many of my former friends change direction and become consultants after entering college, but I wonder if this is because they really enjoy or excel at it, or if they are simply trying to grab a piece of the pie. I don’t have the right to speculate or criticize.
Personally, having experienced being rejected by Ivy League schools, I know that doing something we don’t really want to do, just because we want the same results as others (like getting into a prestigious school or company), can lead to a lot of worry and inner turmoil.
I also know that during the college application process, my essays were edited repeatedly, and few of them were written in my own words. I wonder if the same fate awaits my job application letters.
What are we really pursuing in life? Money and fame? It’s time to break free from the high school mindset and think about what we truly want for ourselves.
Rolling through university, internships, work, partners, children, and a lifetime. Always envious, always comparing, always satisfying our own vanity that cannot be filled.
I remember going to Berkeley Connect’s music department, a class where we discussed music appreciation in small groups. The leader of the department and conductor of the band participated in our discussion and asked, “Who is happy here?” Out of more than a dozen people, only I raised my hand. I was surprised.
She sighed and said, “This is what Berkeley does to young people.”
So, what is the meaning of life? What is the status of happiness in life? What are we striving for?
These seemingly empty clichés are, in my opinion, philosophical questions that everyone should consider. I do not have a specific answer, but I know that the process of thinking unconsciously affects my way of life.
I learned that when I see someone “better” than myself, I don’t feel inferior, jealous, or anxious. Because there will always be people who are “more beautiful,” “richer,” “smarter,” or “shinier” than myself, and this is a fact. I learned to sincerely admire, communicate, and learn, while firmly focusing on my chosen path and being the best version of myself that I can be.
Looking back, I want to tell you – to those who, like me, did not get their desired outcome, felt that their efforts in high school were in vain, and worried about disappointing their parents and teachers – this is not necessarily a bad result. It can help us break free from the predetermined path of our lives.
Life has many challenges, and academic and career achievements are just one aspect. A simple ranking does not define us. As long as we try our best, we have no regrets.
I hope that we can always be the ones who confidently raise our hands and say, “I am happy” amidst the crowd.
Throughout this article, I have been displaying my optimistic ideals and youthful exuberance. I understand that when I leave the ivory tower and enter society, I will have a completely different experience.
But so what? Youth is not meant to be wasted on the cautious. If we fall into a very secular and pragmatic way of thinking too early, won’t we miss out on some of the fun?
Instead of worrying about not having enough money after graduation, let’s start planning ahead now. Fortunately, I have confidence. No matter what difficulties the future may hold, I have a fearless heart.
PS: I am especially grateful to my parents for making me who I am today. Although we live on opposite sides of the earth and don’t talk often, I know you’re always there for me. The connection to my hometown through you is the strongest foundation for me as a black-eyed, yellow-skinned person living in a foreign land.