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This a personal statement that I wrote when I was 22 years old, as part of my application for a Columbia graduate program… It talks about one of the most significant experiences in my life… – Jasmin
I followed Rudy down the muddy desolate path. The blistering summer heat scorched my skin as perspiration flowed unceasingly down my forehead. I wiped my brow with apprehension when we finally arrived at his home. Cautiously, I followed the fourteen-year old boy past the emaciated dog lying motionless in the dirt. As we neared the door-less entrance, to his home made of cardboard and scrap metal, he began to call for her. I watched as she slowly sauntered out into the sweltering heat. There she was. I felt my body go numb, and I couldn’t help but stare. As we approached her, I began to smell the pungent odor of her putrefying flesh. I gaped at the bloody interior lining of her cheek exposing her stained and rotting teeth. I then understood why Rudy was so clearly despondent in comparison to the other children in the community. His mother, Esther, sensed my discomfort and greeted me with a smile. The sincerity in her eyes instantly washed away my uneasiness. She invited me inside. I sat with her on her cardboard bed and listened as she shared stories of her life. I learned that she had birthed eighteen children, and only eight had survived. She continued to speak of the cancer that had been eating away her face for the past eleven years.
“When it hurts…. I sing,” she whispered, as divine melodies describing all of life’s magnificence began to flow from her lips. I felt her words echo through my soul as tears poured down my cheeks. Her energy and spirit were so serene yet alive, and I found myself seeing past her face and into her heart. I had never before connected to a stranger with such intensity, and soon realized that this woman truly exemplified my most fervent belief; that through the power of positive thinking and awareness, every individual can access peace within themselves.
When I returned to New York, she consumed my mind. My free time was spent on the phone and computer making connections to gather people to join the volunteer team I was determined to create. As networking persisted and people were inspired, the power of perseverance succeeded. Two months later, Esther was on a plane to Chicago. Doctors, Spanish-speaking volunteers, room, board and transportation were all awaiting her arrival. I hadn’t spoken to her since the day we met, but the instant she arrived I knew she needed me. Not only was she away from her impoverished Nicaraguan community, but she was in America! She did not understand the language or the culture, had never lived with even the most basic appliances, did not know a single person, and most importantly, was about to undergo the most intensive surgeries these specialists had ever performed.
For the following year, I called Esther daily amidst my pursuit for a career in industrial organizational psychology. Originally, I was drawn to the field due to my desire to eventually become a consultant, with the expectation that I could create more personal, self-reflective relationships with clients to help them achieve their business objectives. But as time passed, and I acquired some work experience, I began to realize that my conversations with Esther were much more personal and fulfilling to me than any corporate focused client consultations could ever be.
My challenge was to help to guide her psychologically through the ups and downs of homesickness, loneliness, physical pain and the removal of her eye, nose, lips, teeth and part of her jaw. Through our conversations in Spanish, I frequently observed how she used her own psychological understanding to bring herself from misery to laughter. Many times, when she was too weak or downhearted to alleviate her hopelessness on her own, I would help channel her thoughts to more uplifting perspectives which usually ended our conversations with a song. Day by day she regained strength, and with the inconceivable series of operations by the doctors, the cancer was removed and her face was reconstructed.
Through my relationship with Esther, I had the extraordinary opportunity to utilize the counseling skills that had always come naturally to me. But more importantly, through observation of her mind, I became more skilled at counseling myself. I soon realized that the career path of industrial organizational psychology was not going to give me the utmost satisfaction in my life. Unsure of what my next path would be, I knew that I needed a career that allowed me to connect with people in a deeper, more personal context.
I decided to take some time to experience other forms of service, and embarked on a volunteer trip to Costa Rica. After two months working with the mothers and children in a destitute church community, I solidified my understanding of my truest strengths. For many of the volunteers, the obvious solution was to somehow alleviate the socio-economic strains of the community, which would involve a grand scale government funded project. This was not where my natural instinct led me. Whether or not anything would ever be done to improve the economic situation, I genuinely felt that each individual still had the ability to view his or her life from a more positive perspective. I then recognized that with further education, I could develop and refine my counseling skills in order to actually empower others to navigate through their own paths to inner peace and fulfillment.
Once again I returned to New York with a mission. I needed to learn more about how I could achieve this exciting new goal. I then enrolled in a class titled “Deciding on a Career in Mental Health” at the NYU School of Continuing Education. This is where I learned of Helpline, where I currently volunteer, and the new Mental Health Counselor license, which resulted in my quest to find an optimal Masters program. When I found the Psychological Counseling program at Teachers College I was thrilled to find that the objectives of the program truly exemplify my deepest interests and relate to my most enriching experiences.
In Costa Rica I learned how important it is to accept personal responsibility for one’s happiness. The severity of Esther’s suffering compared to that of those in this community was indisputably more extreme. Yet the ways in which she learned to cope with her internal and external forces were unquestionably more deliberate and focused than those any of the women I encountered there. It was evident that the insight and personal awareness that allowed Esther to rise above her life situation would help any of these women experience a more fulfilled life, and all I wanted to do was facilitate their own internal processes, so that they could find those qualities within themselves. I have no question, that through an educational experience at Teacher’s College I will gain the skills necessary to do just that.
My confidence in the coursework at Teachers College is based on my current experience as a non-degree student. I have never before enjoyed learning as much as I have in my classes at TC. I have never before so fully connected with concepts being taught in class and I find my professors to be positively fascinating. I believe, in my heart, that this path will allow me to utilize my strongest passions and strengths, and my excitement to do so is simply overwhelming. I am already confident in my own compassion, sensitivity, loyalty and realness with others, and I am ardent to combine those inner qualities with a newfound professionalism and formal training. With an education based on person-environment interactions, personal and cultural development, and personal identity within group membership, I will be able to help others gain insight into their own life situations. I will develop the skills that will enable me to help others clarify their own concepts of self, which in turn will lead them to develop clearer paths to their own inner peace and satisfaction. While supporting Esther in a situation of such intensity I informally learned many coping skills required for her to adjust to extreme physical, cultural and socioeconomic challenges. I am inspired to deepen my understanding of these concepts through formal education, so that I can competently counsel people of all ethnic, cultural, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds to accept and embrace their own life situation the way that she did.
Esther re-instilled my faith that we all have the ability to overcome even the most insurmountable circumstances and can achieve any goals we set for ourselves. She has been an integral factor in my own personal growth and has influenced my own path to self-fulfillment. This is why I am currently enrolled in two of the courses in the Psychological Counseling Program at Teacher’s College and why I am volunteering at a counseling hotline. I have discovered that my path to personal fulfillment leads me to a profession in which, I can connect with people at the deepest and realest levels. My desire is to gain the education and professional skills that will allow me to support and guide others through their trials and tribulations in order to help them reach their own forms of personal satisfaction. Because I gain such personal awareness and understanding through my endless self-discovery, I am confident that I will be a positive role model and teacher in my future professional career as a Mental Health Counselor.