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The Third Tunnel: College Admission Essay Sample

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Recently, I found myself seventy-two meters underground, in a North Korean invasion tunnel discovered not fifty kilometers from Seoul. The tunnel is wide enough for ten thousand armed soldiers to pass through in an hour, but not so high that someone tall needn’t occasionally stoop. A cross-sectional diagram tells the story best: South Korea in the 1970s, keeping rigorously to its side of the thirty-eighth parallel, while deep beneath the barbed wire and military guard, North Koreans with dynamite and wheelbarrows crept towards Seoul like a silent steady spark through a wire.

I find that diagram also useful in telling my own story, and for illustrating a theme that runs through my undergraduate and graduate, and teaching careers. To better explain, back to the tunnel: it was carved some 1,600 plus meters into pure granite—“the most hardest rock,” said the guide, using only “the most primitive methods” (a pick, a shovel). Meanwhile, a city entire stood on the thin margin of its undermining.

That illustration was twice meaningful to me. It meant one thing to someone who had inherited, as all Korean-Americans do, a history of hyphens and irreversible decisions: great-grandparents left behind when the border was drawn, immigrant parents who crossed an ocean. But it meant something entirely different—more abstract, but no less personal—to someone who had been absorbed in the close study, writing and teaching of English for the past five years. It is this second significance that helps explain my past choices in work and study, as well as the more philosophical aspect of my interest in law.

That cross-section is the very picture of assumption. Faulty assumption, to be sure, which is something that I, as a teacher, have tried to unseat in the student, as a writer to manipulate in the reader, as a preparing law student to locate in the argument. However, there is another sense in which assumption is unavoidable—even heartening, and essential to the study of language, or law: Assumption, at its best, implies solidarity. It reveals the deep concatenations of human minds beneath surface differences. Nowhere is this better evidenced than in the accoutrements of culture: our language, our laws. Both, though they seem not to be, are exercises in optimism, the speaker or listener in his dream of communicability, the lawgiver or abider in his faith in a way things ought to be.

Teaching, especially teaching non-native speakers, offers many such opportunities, despite the fact that, for example, Korean orphans in China might be without an “r” in their phonetic alphabet.

—“Dragonfly,” I said when, one summer morning, a particularly handsome specimen flitted through the open window.

—“Dlagonfry,” they tried.

But the real alchemy of communication came when they reverted to their native word, also a word with wings: “jamjari.” There was, of course, the surface exchange in naming things. But what was tacitly conveyed was the value of the fleeting moment and the collective commitment—all hands, including a cupped pair, gathered around the window—to the careful release of the ineffable winged thing.

Of course, not all such experiences are positive ones, nor are the more negative ones less instructive. If in China, I found solidarity in the shared valuing of a seemingly small thing, in Korea, I was to reevaluate the concept of “values”—which underlies most laypersons assumptions regarding the law—when they were called into question. I was asked by my supervisor at school to “revise” students’ personal statements, that is, to write them. For knowing wrong was wrong, she and I didn’t need to read the “author’s own” certifying statement or sign on the dotted line. We both assumed it, which is why she kept her voice low in asking and I kept mine loud and indignant when I declined. Still, the situation in South Korea demonstrates what happens when a society knows full well what laws won’t be enforced; those laws slide. The going price for a college entrance essay, written in Korean, is a thousand U.S. dollars. Essays written in English are priced proportionately higher.

This latter example on moral assumption is not to imply that my interest in law lies purely in the study of ethics, or that there isn’t a practical element that attracts me as well. In fact, I choose law as the career that synthesizes the philosophical considerations and practical experiences of my life, and precisely because it is something that requires, unlike volunteer teaching, the commitment of a career. It is something that I can engage in as a writer: for the love of language and the engagement with text. As a student of literature: for close reading, analysis and the leeway for interpretation. As a graduate student in the humanities: for the meticulousness of research and investigation. As a teacher: for accountability, quick thinking, presentation and clarity. As a storyteller: for making the case.

This is not to say that I expect the study of law will not require patience and an element of the meticulous. But in preparation for my legal studies, I return to the tunnel and the lesson of the tunnel hunters. Much of their work lies in evaluating rumors, dispelling skepticism and boring holes. Only every now and then, as on October 17, 1978, when the third tunnel was discovered, you hit a gusher.

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The Third Tunnel: College Admission Essay Sample. (2018, May 03). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 26, 2023, from
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