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In the summer before high school started, my family completed the year-long process of moving from our apartment in Brooklyn to the quiet suburbs of New Jersey. This extreme culture shock during such an important and transitory phase of my life affected me profoundly; I wondered how I could bring myself to leave behind all of the friendships, relationships, and familial ties I had built up for fourteen years. My friends in Brooklyn, who hailed from different parts of New York City and the world, ridiculed me for having to move to “Hicksville, USA.”
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For many months after the transplant, I wasn’t able to move on. I clung to memories of my old home and school, and didn’t care much for my life in Monroe. Every weekend, I would argue with my parents and try to convince them to drive me back to Brooklyn to spend time with my friends. I simply couldn’t relinquish all the people and places that had influenced my personality.
I thought back to my daily walk to school in Brooklyn, lamenting the fact that I now had to take a schoolbus to travel less than a mile to my new school. Every morning, I would stop at a local coffee shop before school and chat with its Bangladeshi owner, Wafi. I had been visiting Wafi at his store for several years, always ordering a hot chocolate with whipped cream. Every morning, he would make me laugh with stories of his rambunctious shashuri (mother-in-law), or the havoc his two sons had wreaked the previous day. His friends and acquaintances frequented the shop as well, and I would always hear bits of their conversations in intricate foreign tongues, unable to decipher their meanings.
Although I spent eight years in a Catholic school populated primarily by white males of backgrounds similar to mine, I didn’t let that uniformity restrict or dictate my social life. My neighborhood boasted representatives of nearly every race, ethnicity, and religious belief; my close friends, the people I missed the most from Brooklyn, were completely unlike me. We each went home at a different time and ate a different kind of dinner. Sometimes I would join my Italian friends for antipasto, the first course of a special early dinner on Sunday afternoons. On other days, I might join one of my many Vietnamese friends for pho noodles and goi tom (shrimp, peanuts, and carrots bedded with lettuce).
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My life was deeply shaped by my experiences with people from a wide range of ages, beliefs, and ethnicities. I thought that nothing else could possibly compare to the richness of life I had experienced in Brooklyn, so when I moved to Monroe, I stubbornly isolated myself, refusing to make any friends. School was a chore; I attended, sat in class indifferently, spoke to no one, and counted the minutes until I could return to my self-imposed solitary confinement.
One day, two girls from my new development in Monroe, both named Jaclyn, rung my doorbell and invited themselves into my house. I was surprised and felt extremely awkward around them; this was the first time I had experienced anything even remotely social in several long months. However, we quickly overcame the tension and became close, and through them I made many more friends in the school I had sworn I would never like. The two Jaclyns showed me that, even in these seemingly lonely suburbs, there are still people of all kinds worth meeting and knowing.
By attending Rutgers University, I would be able to share my varied cultural experiences with a large and diverse community. I have always appreciated and been inspired by the diversity of my friends and acquaintances, and am excited to expand the breadth of my cultural knowledge in a collegiate environment.
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