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Sleepless over the Yellow Sea

September 17, 2008

3:54 am, September 17th, 2008 (Reposted May 26, 2009)
Asiana Airlines Flight 724, Somewhere over the Yellow Sea

I tried to sleep on the flight, but it just wasn't happening, so I thought I'd ramble a little more. Having just left Singapore and then Hong Kong, I'm thinking about the differences that I will encounter upon landing in Seoul. As much as Singapore and HK each have their own cultures and pulse, the influence of years under British rule is still present. Signs are in English, people drive on the left side of the road, and most of the students I met were native speakers of English. All that is about to change when I hit the ground in Seoul. I will visit a couple schools where English is the most common native language, but most of my time will be spent in schools where nearly 100% of the kids are native speakers of Korean - a language I have to admit not knowing even a single word of. Still, my prior visits have gone smoothly and I look forward to this one.

For the first time I will travel outside of greater Seoul visiting Taejeon Christian Academy in Daejeon and Korean Minjuk Leadership Academy in Gangwon. These places are hours from Seoul and I'm looking forward to seeing a new part of the country. Or more likely I'll take advantage of the long rides to catch up on some of the sleep I missed tonight. The pilot just announced a much more comfortable ground temperature as well: about 24 degrees C. which, to me, is a lot nicer than the 33+ degree days that I just dealt with.

If you've been following along with my blogs, you've probably about reached the point where you ask yourself, "Is he ever going to say anything that might actually be useful to me when I apply to Oberlin?" Ok, here goes. I'm often asked what we look for when we read applications. Is there one thing in particular that a student should be sure to address? I always tell students that they should think about admission as a two-step process (btw, I suspect this is true pretty much no matter where you apply). First of all, we want to assure ourselves that you're going to be an academic success at Oberlin. Assessing that is done primarily through looking at what you did in high school and how well you did on standardized tests. Oberlin is a challenging academic environment; not everyone can manage. No matter how interesting a person you might be, we will never admit a student that we don't think has a very good shot at success; no one benefits from having someone at Oberlin who is unable to thrive. This step, though, probably eliminates no more than about ¼ to 1/3 of the applicants who apply.

The interesting part is narrowing down the 2/3 who could do the work to the 1/3 that we actually admit. I think that the key here is to identify the one or two things about each applicant that make them stand out. For some it might be a particularly strong essay, for others it might be top test scores. Still others might get admitted for their artistic or athletic or dramatic talents. The reality is that we look for as many different kinds of students as we can find so as to make Oberlin as interesting a place as possible. Think of Oberlin College as a kaleidoscope. Our task in the admissions office is to find a myriad of different shaped bits that when spun together make a harmonious yet varied campus.

One more random thought before I close. It comes with a warning, though. If you haven't yet read Around the World in 80 Days, by Jules Verne, you need to do so now before I give away the twist at the end. [LONG pause, while you read]. As Phileas Fogg circles the world in 80 days, he actually takes 81. This is because traveling from west to east, each of his 80 days is just a few minutes shorter than 24 hours. Consequently, he gets back to London in what he thinks is 81 days only to discover that it has only been 80 days in London. What does all of this have to do with my trip? Well, even experienced travelers sometimes forget the old West to East trick and with the speed of modern transportation, my trip from Hong Kong to Seoul actually turned out to be an hour shorter than I expected based on the times in my itinerary, and my ability to sleep and/or write this epistle just got shortened by an hour.

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