October 19, 2016

Redirection: #HannahsCornellStory

When we were younger, my grandpa used to tell us stories before bed. Most of his stories were Chinese fables that entertained and taught valuable lessons - this dual purpose of stories is something that I've always loved. 

I had an opportunity to try my hand at the art of story-telling for my communications class (COMM 3060). If you'd like to learn a little bit more about me, here's what I consider to be a pretty important story in my life. Through this experience, I've redirected my academic path -- I'll let the rest of the story do the talking!
This is me at 17, just months before graduating from high school. Notice that look of pure bliss on my face? This was my Walgreens; my corner of (animal) health and happiness. To me, a sheep brain dissection was a glimpse into veterinary surgery. After watching E-Vet Interns for the first time at the age of 9, I was married to the idea of becoming a veterinarian. I read about ferrets, watched the Crocodile Hunter, and volunteered at a horse stable. Sassy, 11-year-old me even bossed high schoolers around, telling them to not step on ants. As time continued, my family realized that I wasn’t changing my mind about this dream. It’s not easy to have the people closest to you not support the one thing you wanted to do the most, but I became even more determined -- there’s a great veterinary school, Cornell’s, that they would be proud to see me attend…I’ll show them. I even used Genesis 1:26 as a justification – as a Christian, I thought my calling was to care for God’s creatures. Little did I know what God had in store for me in the coming months. 
Let’s backtrack even further – how did I even hear about Cornell? To be honest, up until I was 15, I only knew about Princeton (lived ten minutes away) and NYU (born in Tisch hospital). My parents moved to the states during their college years, and attended the only option available to immigrants – Hunter College. They knew just as much about the college application process and about colleges as I did. But before Spanish class one day, I went on Wikipedia to find a list of US colleges that also had veterinary schools. Low and behold, Cornell was ranked #1. My mind was blown – a veterinary school at an ivy league? What more could you want? As I continued to learn more about Cornell, I fell more and more in love with the school. I love the mountains, all things hippie and green – Ithaca has it all! But being in such a competitive school district, one that seems to breed ivy leaguers, made me realize that Cornell would be a long shot. Nonetheless, I wanted to be at Cornell so badly and could literally envision myself being there. I had to try. 
And I did. November 2014, I applied early to Cornell. My senior year at the time was not going well. Seeing how childhood friendships were falling apart, before graduating, made me uncomfortable. Feeling insufficient compared to my highly achieved classmates made me desperate for validation, for proof that my hard work can compete with their intelligence. After several agonizing weeks, I sat in my room, with my brother, awaiting the hour at which admission notifications would be released. I clicked the letter open, and found out that I was deferred. Most people wouldn’t get that upset, but I did. I needed that security and validation—now. The next few months of waiting made me even more anxious. I placed an incredible amount of pressure on myself, and I fell apart more and more each day. March 31, I found myself with the same disappointment after reading that I wasn’t admitted, but given a transfer option instead. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have worried all that much. But my guidance counselor didn’t even know what a transfer option meant, so to me, it was as good as a rejection. 
Cornell seemed to be out of the picture. I didn’t want to go to a state school for one year and try to apply to Cornell through the transfer option; what if I didn’t get in again? On top of that, I didn’t want to be that close to home; high school was making me desperate to leave. I looked to Emory, a school that I had wanted my brother to go to. Why not myself? I was impressed by the opportunities that Emory offers, but I had always thought that Cornell was the right fit for me. I thought that I could live vicariously through Wilson if he went to Emory. Well, now was the chance to go there myself. I visited Emory in April; physically being there on campus and meeting other admitted students, ones who would become my friends throughout the summer and the next school year, made me realize that Emory would be a great option. It wasn’t perfect; it’s expensive, too far from home…Southern culture didn’t appeal to me all that much. But something else in my heart was telling me that Emory was the right place to go to. 
Plans don’t always come to fruition. In April, I committed to Emory, not Cornell. Would I still be a vet? I thought so, but not for much longer. June and July provided many eye-opening events. Seeing how my parents had to juggle work and an abundance of family responsibilities after my grandfather’s death made me want to be able to take care of them while living comfortably myself… that’s not very feasible if I’m bogged down by vet school debt. Freelance writing nutrition articles made me understand the reality of earning money even more, too. I also came across forums by veterinarians who provided substantial support for their advice against pursuing the career. Shortly after graduation, I landed an opportunity to shadow a veterinarian, something that I had begged all animal hospitals in my county, year after year, for. Surgery was thrilling, but the veterinarians spent more time doing paper work than interacting with their patients. They spoke of vet school debt constantly, too. 8+ years of intense schooling for a demanding job that wouldn’t pay off debt? All of the crushing realities, coupled with a newly developed fear of cats, began to really deter me from the career. 
I came into Emory a little nervous about my career plans. I’ve always been the one to know exactly what she wanted to do, and now, I was undecided. Do I go forth with a biology major and take the prerequisites for veterinary school, anyways? What if I gave business a chance? Luckily, most people were undecided. I took life’s curve-ball as an opportunity to explore, to liberate myself from the science-focused track I had been on. Being so far from home was quite liberating too. I really missed my family and the North, but the Southerners were charming and hospitable (I’ll never forget how I almost laughed when I first heard someone say “y’all”). Plus, being in a new city, one brimming with events and activities, gave me more than enough opportunities to explore. Though the workload was intense, I took a few hours out of most Saturdays to see Atlanta, from Stone Mountain to Centennial Park. Most importantly, I made great friends, and found a family through my campus ministry.
The holiday break after first semester gave me time to process and reflect on all of my experiences. The courses offered through the biology major didn’t interest me. I struggled through business economics enough to know that I didn’t want to take another business class. I genuinely considered becoming a dietitian, because my ongoing freelance writing job made me even more interested in nutrition. The problem was that Emory, despite its medical school and many hospitals, didn’t offer a nutrition major. The minor wouldn’t fulfill dietetic requirements, and I found myself explaining the dietetic track to the head of the pre-health office, so Emory wouldn’t offer much academic guidance. To be honest, I actually thought about transferring since that October…but never to the point where it seemed like a reality. I loved my campus ministry and Druid Hills. At the same time, though, the little tug in my heart that brought me to Emory was now telling me that something wasn’t right. I waited a little longer to see if my second semester nutrition class would offer any enlightenment. To my disappointment, it confirmed my passion for nutrition, and the need to transfer. 
The rest of my year at Emory was bittersweet. Transfer applications are even more confusing than regular ones, because there’s little guidance; nobody wants you to leave a school, so there’s less available information about the process. The stress of not knowing what to do and where I’d go made it hard to soak up the little time I had left. Above all, knowing that I’d be leaving simply hurt. It took me many years to realize who my true hometown friends were, and having found an entire family within a semester was a blessing that I couldn’t let go of. I didn’t want to see relationships that I had invested in disappear. Ironically, knowing that they could end also made me struggle to continue investing in them. Throughout the few, but long, months of internal debates and doubt, I think religion was the one constant in my life. My faith grew exponentially, and through it, I slowly found mental clarity and a peace of mind. 
Remember how I said that plans don’t always come to fruition? While that’s true, let me propose an alternative case: sometimes life doesn’t go as planned, but the end may still come to fruition. Two days before my last final, I received my third admissions notification from Cornell. This time, I had been accepted. Astonishingly, despite changing my major and not having fulfilled the statistics requirement, admissions allowed me to go through with my transfer option. I stared at the screen, with both disbelief and relief, for a few minutes. If I had been admitted a year and a half earlier, I would not have been that calm. But I’m glad that I didn’t get overly excited. I’m glad that I didn’t inflate my ego or develop arrogant pride. I’m glad that at 18, I didn’t find my self-worth in a school, like I would have at 17. In retrospect, I truly believe that Emory was an intentional detour; a beautiful, memorable detour that was designed to help me mature as a person and in my faith. 
 I guess I really had known all along that I was meant to be at Cornell – I just didn’t know why. Since moving in, I’ve grown to appreciate and love Cornell more than I thought I could. I’m even more grateful for Cornell’s motto, that "I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study”. I love the mountain air more than I thought I would, and I’m enjoying my classes more than I thought possible. What I didn’t anticipate was everything feeling so surreal. I see the abundance of “Cornell” sweatshirts, but I don’t feel like I’m at the Cornell that I had dreamt of. I’m at the real Cornell, and I’m currently in the process of creating and understanding what that means. Though this ten photo series ends here, the story doesn’t, and I hope you’ll stick around for the rest of the ride. Thanks for listening in!

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