It’s no surprise that college can be expensive. Between the cost of tuition, book fees, living expenses and more, pursuing a higher education can be an intimidating financial undertaking to say the least. With this in mind, the Relocation Department for Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage and Coldwell Banker Pacific Properties set out to create a scholarship program to help make college more affordable for high school seniors that have experienced the relocation process firsthand.
Kathy Denning, Regional Vice President of NRT West Relocation, provides an insider’s look into the launch of the the company’s new Relocation Scholarship Program, its widespread success and this year’s winners. She explains that while the company’s initial goal was to “provide a little peace of mind to the applicant who most effectively communicated how the relocation process has affected them personally, the program also provided remarkable insight into the moving process itself and some of the universal factors that are experienced by individuals along the way— the up’s, the down’s and a period of self-discovery and personal growth.”
Without further ado, here’s a look at this year’s Relocation Scholarship Program turnout and the winning essays.
First thing’s first…who was invited to apply for the company’s Relocation Scholarship Program?
Keeping in mind that the relocation process affects millions of families each year, the company wanted to make the program available to all high school students that were set to graduate in the spring semester of 2016.
Were there any guidelines set up by the company to ensure fairness when selecting the winners?
Absolutely. Those who met the said eligibility requirements were invited to submit an original and thoughtful essay exploring the topic of relocation. In addition, the selection process itself was based on a scoring system and blind review that ensures fairness and confidentiality for every applicant.
How many essays were collected in total?
We had a wonderful turnout of essays, especially considering that this is the program’s first year. In total, we received 66 essays from all over the United States including Hawaii, Utah, California, Texas, Kansas and more.
Were there any common themes or universal notions about the process of moving that you noticed when reading all of the essay submissions? Likewise, were there any noticeable differences between regions?
Most definitely. It was truly amazing to see both the parallels and also the differences among this year’s submissions. Starting with the differences, it was incredibly insightful to see where some of these applicants moved to and from. For example, we had two applicants that had lived on a boat for years, while others moved down the street and finally, some across the country. We even received an essay from the child of one of the actors from the TV series, Lost. Moving on to the similarities, it was very apparent that every essay was well thought out. The applicants shared extremely personal situations and the heartache that comes with moving. However, they all agreed that relocating helped them grow stronger and more confident.
How were the winners selected?
It was decided by the company that the applicant who most effectively communicated how the relocation process affected them personally, and how they grew from the experience in an original and thoughtful essay of 1,000 words or less, would be awarded a scholarship in the amount of $2,000 to any college of their choice.
Now on to the exciting revealing… Can you tell us about this year’s winners?
This year’s winners are Cynthia Chang and Samantha Harpool. Cynthia plans to attend Harvard to study Neurobiology and is a Presidential Scholar Nominee, National Merit Finalist and National AP Scholar. Her extracurricular activities include being the Debate President and Key Club Division Coordinator. Samantha Harpool plans to attend Boston University to study International Relations and Economics. She wants to work in sustainable development with the U.N. or another humanitarian organization.
Are you able to share the winning essays with us?
Most definitely! Below are the winning essays that were prepared by Cynthia and Samantha in that order.
Essay Winner #1 Prepared by Cynthia Chang
On a windy day in 1973, a woman hesitated on the last step of a plane ramp. In her petite hands were two suitcases with decades of past memories condensed inside. Her final destination was Cleveland, Ohio, where she would seek work at a denim factory. As she took her first step off her plane and into her new life, her heart fluttered and she dreamed that her family in Myanmar would rejoin her someday in this new country to find success. She would pass away at the age of 65 from lung cancer, still clinging on to a hope that she thought would never manifest itself into reality.
The woman was my great-grandmother. She left my grandmother and my mom when she sought a new beginning for them in America. 18 years later my grandmother was able to join her in Ohio to work at a cosmetics factory, but my mom – a graduate student at the time – was forced to flee from Myanmar to Australia with my dad to seek refuge in the aftermath of the 1988 student riots.
Thus, to my family, relocation has always come with sacrifice. In Myanmar, my mom was a college graduate and my dad a business owner. After they emigrated, however, my mom had to take night classes to earn her degree again while juggling a full-time job. My dad, unable to find a job with his degree from Myanmar, worked night shifts as a warehouse supervisor. We moved from place to place in my childhood, and I had difficulty coming to terms with our situation. I cried when we left Australia behind to move to California because it meant starting all over again. It signified that new challenges were ahead for me, from learning English to finding new friends.
It was only when I matured that I fully realized the toll that relocation had on my parents as well. Their sacrifices were reflected in the times my dad asked me for help composing his emails to his colleagues, and the moments he was afraid to order at a restaurant because of his broken English. I saw them embodied in the nights that my mom came home exhausted and forwent dinner so she could sleep for a little longer before the next day.
Even through these struggles of relocation, my parents showed me how to turn difficulties into hope. They couldn’t always help me with my schoolwork or create a perfect life for me, but they’ve given me more than I could ever ask for – support for the inquisitiveness that feeds my experiences, inspiration for my work ethic, and the ability to pursue my own endeavors.
Their unconditional love presented itself in the long hours my mom sat with me in the library when I first became engrossed in science. A decade later, my dad kept me company in the moments when I composed email after email to professors for laboratory research internships and faced constant rejection. When I finally received an email back from a cardiovascular research scientist at the Cleveland Clinic who agreed to take me on as a summer intern, the first people I told were my parents – the ones who had given unwavering support to a daughter who dared to dream even if these ambitions took her across the United States. At the end of my nine-week internship, when I received a copy of the manuscript that I’d worked on, I cried out of happiness for what it symbolized – not only the months of work I put in during the summer, but also the years of support leading up to it. My parents cried too, seeing me achieve something they never even dreamed of for themselves.
These moments have taught me that relocation is intertwined with the meaning of family and the value of new beginnings, and that it is important to embrace change and selflessly cherish the beauty of small moments. Even now, when I volunteer at my local hospital and elementary school, I realize the unending potential for my own growth, from the first time I experienced the thrill of dedicating myself to a larger cause – a childhood day when I fundraised for those displaced by Cyclone Nargis – to the years of service that followed.
Relocation allowed me to meet people of different worldviews and backgrounds across the globe and has showed me that my actions have the ability to positively impact others in my family and community through small moments. The new experiences through this service – like a tearful “thank you” from a mother I had comforted who saw her son on the verge of death and still had the strength to retain hope – continue to drive me.
In 18 years, my journey has taken me across two continents, three states, and five places I’ve called home. And now, 43 years after my great-grandmother took the first step off of her plane, I am standing at the place where her story of relocation began; this summer I am back in Cleveland to begin another research project on heart failure. I visited her grave just this past weekend – I wish I could tell her that the sacrifices of her relocation were fruitful, and that her great-granddaughter now has dreams of her own.
In August, I am moving to Cambridge, Massachusetts. I will be starting my freshman year at Harvard, where I will be studying Neurobiology and Global Health on a Pre-Medicine track. Ultimately, I hope to travel internationally to reform healthcare systems in third-world countries like Myanmar and give back to my community. For now though, for the first time, I will be relocating by myself.
But I know that I will not be alone in my journey. My story does not belong solely to me but also to the struggles of those who came before me. In their names, I embark onto the next chapter of my life, to transform the aspirations of my teenhood into the realities of my adulthood.
Essay Winner #2 Prepared by Samantha Harpool
There was a goat in my room, for the second time this week.
Lucy, with her twisted horns and mud-caked coat, was sleeping on top of my brand new comforter. Without missing a beat, I picked up the nearest pillow and nudged her awake. She lazily rose and followed me outside to resume feasting on pine needles, but I knew that in under an hour she would find a new napping spot. The shock of my room being turned into a livestock pen has almost completely worn off after inhabiting “Mayhem Farm,” my accurately titled home, for almost seven years.
Along with the home intruder, my family owns two dogs, six other goats, and twenty-eight chickens of varying breeds. We have a garden, a tractor, and an ancient red barn with classic white trim. It is the farm you see in children’s books and the type Old MacDonald used to inhabit. My brothers adored the endless number of trees to climb, rivers to fish, and the general sense of being in a Mark Twain novel. My parents loved the view and the pride that comes from growing things themselves.
I . . . I hated it.
Growing up near Chicago, Illinois had made me a city kid at heart. I thrived on the lights reflecting off towering skyscrapers and practically worshiped the intricate city sidewalks that, to me, held so much promise. There always seemed to be stories in every square inch of cement, waiting to be tripped over. However, more than a few stones were left upturned when my family relocated from the banks of Lake Michigan to the Rocky Mountains.
Before I could even say the word “moving,” I was buttoning up my overalls and nothing was going to take me back to the city. When we moved I knew I would have to leave behind furniture, clothing, and other mementos but I had no idea that I would be trading it all in for a pair of work gloves and a pitchfork. It was bad enough that I had to adapt to a new school, new friends, and a new altitude but now I was expected to wake up with the rooster’s call and muck stalls. Not exactly how most people imagine their teen years.
For years I groaned whenever my parents marched me outside to dig holes, cringed every time someone wanted to come over to observe the petting zoo that was my backyard, and adamantly protested the idea of door to door egg selling every time my mom brought out the cartons.
Only a full-blown natural disaster could have changed my mind. And it did.
During the Boulder Flood of 2013, our entire acre was covered in two to three feet of rushing, rising current. We had to evacuate on the third day of consistent downpour, but since most hotels don’t offer turn-down service for goats, we had to leave everything behind once again.
Suddenly in the middle of rain, wind, and thundering skies, I couldn’t bring myself to move. The thought of leaving was so upsetting that I froze. None of this made any sense to me whatsoever; I thought I couldn’t wait to leave the farm.
If Chicago had taught me how to explore my surroundings, the farm had taught me to build them into something worth exploring. Over summers, school breaks, and the occasional snow day my family and I transformed what was once just a plot of land into something much more valuable. The hours of digging, building and tending had changed me as much as the landscape. At some point, the farm became home, like Chicago, and the thought of losing another home almost drowned me, literally.
After a few days of nonstop anxiety, the clouds cleared and we returned to clean up the wreckage. I was right there, clearing branches, shoveling debris, happy to be back in the mayhem once again.
Any parting words from this year’s winners?
Yes, they were very excited to learn of the good news! Below are their expressed words of gratitude for being named this year’s scholarship winners.
“I am so thankful to Coldwell Banker for providing me with this scholarship. I am excited to relocate once again to Boston University as I continue my education in yet another new environment. Relocating has taught me to always notice and learn from my surroundings and I am so grateful to be able to further explore this idea in the future.”
“I would like to express my gratitude to the Coldwell Banker Relocation Scholarship Program for encouraging students in the local community to aim higher. I am thankful for the generous award and I firmly believe that this scholarship will empower me to fully pursue my aspirations in college and beyond. Ultimately, I hope that my story of relocation—and the subsequent passions that grew from that story—will serve to inspire other students to strive for higher education.”
Well there you have it! Congratulations again to this year’s Relocation Scholarship Program winners, Cynthia Change and Samantha Harpool. Between now and the end of the year, we will be posting a collection of some of the other notable essays that were received locally over the course of the program. Check back regularly for our ongoing series of Relocation Stories!
Other Exceptional Essays
Sarah Farrell, Salt Lake City, UT. (She was the lacrosse captain and yearbook editor in 12th grade. She’s considering going into Social Work.)
Finally, we got an offer. The home I have lived in for the past ten years, red-bricked and cozy, would soon belong to another family. The black and white for sale sign now read, “Sold,” in big, red, bold letters. As I walk down these bare hallways that once held countless pictures of family vacations, birthday parties, and candid family moments I think about how much I will miss this place.
I will miss walking downstairs on Sunday mornings to see my dad reading the newspaper at the kitchen table. He sips his black coffee and says, “It is alive!” I will miss barbeque dinners at the old white table followed by a game of five hundred gin rummy. Most of all, I will miss the comfort of my bedroom. My bedroom is where my friends and I talked about boyfriends and high school drama, where I shut everything out when I was in a bad mood, where I thought about the future while staring out the window and onto my quiet street. I will miss the overthinking that took place at two in the morning during those sleepless nights. I pack the memories of movie dates, slumber parties and family dinners away into boxes labeled, “Sarah’s Bedroom,” or, “Old Pictures.”
Pretty soon my colorful bedroom consisting of pink, baby blue, neon green, and chalkboard walls will provide a playroom for a little boy. The basement where countless air-hockey tournaments and impromptu dance parties took place will be theirs. As well as the comfy floral couch covered in rips from when Sadie was a puppy and going through her gnawing stage. I wonder if the new family will fix the broken piece of wood on the basement floor or if they will cover up the, “Sarah was here,” rebelliously written on the inside of my closet during middle school with paint. I wonder if they will repair these perfect imperfections that gave our home character.
As these memories roam through my mind, a thought pops into my head. This is just the beginning of the changes I will be facing this year. My senior year is full of lasts. My last homecoming dance. Last pep rally. Last lunch with friends I have known my entire life. Thinking about this move has made me realize that I am not as much afraid of living in a new house as I am to be starting a new chapter in my life, college.
Raimundo Almernara, Holladay, UT. (He has never lived in the same location for more than five years.)
As a Peruvian international student living in Indonesia, the prominent notions of American culture had always see3med distant and incomprehensible to me. I viewed my fellow American middle schoolers as a bizarre minority among the larger, more nonchalant-in-contrast group of internationals. Somehow, the Americans always stood out as the loudest, always openly sharing their judgements, and always obsessed with American football and elaborate festivities. Occasionally I would hear someone exclaim something to the extent of, “YEAH, GO BRONCOS!” or, “Oh my gosh, Thanksgiving turkey is the best!” I observed them with curiosity yet with proper space for I had no intention of discovering whatever “Thanksgiving” or “the Broncos” were. I was too young to recognize the value of these differences, and I could never imagine myself as compatible with those seemingly cacophonous voices.
Nearing the end of middle school my parents began plans to move away to the United States. From the narrow snapshot of American life that I observed, I grew utterly terrified; I had bought into the stereotypical perception of Americans.
Arriving in Salt Lake City, I found myself much closer to the Denver Broncos than I had ever desired to be. Immediately uncomfortable, I let my mind take note of all the differences that I could find. Star-spangled banners at every corner, golden arches on every street, gargantuan roads, massive grocery stores, expressionless cashiers . . . I searched exactly for the differences that would reinforce what I believed to be inherently American. I even attributed employees’ perfectly justifiable lack of emotion to their independent disposition something that I, at the time, viewed as negative. That particular view likely developed from my time as an international student. As expatriates, our communities fostered interdependence and emphasized the value of unity regardless of ethnicity. Paradoxically, however, when I arrived to the US, my concept of inherent cultural disparity had manifested itself so deeply in my 13-year-old mind that those values became obscured.
Although I would like to admit that change came immediately upon my encounter with the diverse community of my new school, in reality I threw myself into seclusion. TO me, the friendly introductions and invitations were simply a product of extroversion, yet another term that I had unjustly associated with excessive, even irritating sociability.
After a disappointingly dull eighth grade year, I finally broke the pattern of solitude during a freshman camping trip. I sat at a table contemplating on my own, like I so often did. Tired of contemplation, I decided to join a small group of guys from my grade. They politely greeted me and then one asked with a tone that sounded like genuine curiosity, “So Raimundo, where are you actually from? Are you Indonesian or Peruvian?” Their effortless acceptance of my complicated history thoroughly stunned me. In that consequent conversion, we exchanged anecdotes, shared opinions and they explained their interests in things like fantasy football. Now willing to be empathetic rather than critical toward others, I allowed myself to embrace valuable friendships that would last me all throughout high school.
After that experience, I recalled the values that had been emphasized by my international school back in Bali: acceptance regardless of ethnicity. These Americans had demonstrated and reminded me of just that. Thus, I made myself dispel those unjustified generalizations and began to realize that, for so long, I had neglected to learn from others and neglected to contextualize their differing perspectives. I had, upon arrival to the US, constructed and magnified cultural prejudices that truly only served to drive me into withdrawal. Once I accepted that my social distress arose from my own unwillingness to search for solutions, I truly learned to appreciate the value of global cultural awareness and discovered the clearly detrimental effects of prejudice. Without the move to the US, I would not have recognized the value in these lessons and, perhaps, would not be striving to maintain that valuable, accepting integrity that I discovered on that freshman camping trip.
Samuel Rhys Thomas, Salt Lake City, UT. (He was born in Colorado and has lived in Belgium, Quatar, Venezuala, Colombia and the United States. He is considering joining the Peace Corps after graduating from college.)
In July of 2014 I began living in the United States full-time, for the first time – the fifth country I have lived in. Though I am a born citizen of the U.S., I spent the first sixteen years of my life living outside of it. Growing up as an American expatriate made this country seem marvelously overwhelming; the culture we somewhat emulated in our small expat circles overseas flashed all around me from the voices and screens of 300 million people. It simultaneously drew me in and frightened me with its immenseness (“A whole grocery store aisle for cereal? How can there be so many different kinds?!”). When my family and I moved from Colombia to Utah, I stepped out of my expat world into one where I blend in more with the wider population but still lack a full sense of place. Through this move, however, I have discovered that throughout my life there have been instances of stepping out of the familiar and into where I am an obvious outsider. Though brief, these instances are some of the most comforting memories I have, because they show me a more rudimentary version of myself, one that manifests an adventurous spirit from behind my often-introverted exterior.
Living in Venezuela, I learned to scuba dive, an activity people will describe in whimsical terms. However, what I had to discover for myself was the perspective scuba diving gives on mortality. When submerged in water, I am immersed in a place where I do not belong and should not even be alive. I acknowledge my vulnerability and the fine line here between life and death, yet the ocean still beckons me. For that short time that I am underwater, I feel a strange sense of belonging on my own acknowledgement that I do not belong. In other words, I derive comfort out of the displacement from my normal life and my ability to exist where I should not. However, displacement from what is familiar can occur in ways beyond the physical concept of “place.”
I have found speaking languages other than my native English to be a means of cognitive escape, even if I find it challenging to converse in that language naturally. Learning a new language – Spanish, for example – requires leaving the mind’s most comfortable mode of communication and forcing oneself to express, as best as they can, what is on their mind in a way that often feels unnatural and incomplete. When I speak in a language such as Spanish, I find myself paying much more conscious attention to my grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary. Often I can sense a part of my mind urging me to switch back to English, my strongest language by far. Yet when I can avoid this distraction, the mental displacement that occurs makes me more focused and, even, more relaxed while speaking Spanish. When I do switch back to English, my mind feels less cluttered and more able to think straight in my native language.
When my family and I arrived in Utah, the main problem I faced in settling into my new home was that as a newcomer I did not hold a strong sense of place. However by realizing that even in my country of birth I do not feel entirely “at home” in the traditional sense, I came to realize that the most valuable moments of my life are those where I feel somewhat foreign. Personal growth for me has bene primarily based on challenging myself to leave my most comfortable state of mind, whether through scuba diving, speaking another language, or literally moving to someplace new. After living in Utah for nearly two years, I still feel largely like an outsider, despite the American culture here being fairly close to my own. However, my moving here has still been a source of personal growth, as have all of the relocations during my life. They remind me that while my surroundings will change, this only serves, if anything, to make me emotionally stronger and more adaptive to change, and change will come to me whether I welcome it or not. Every different country I lived in allowed me to look at myself and the world around me from a new perspective. It is in this way that relocation has served as a central component to my search for meaningfulness.
Iris Wang, Lafayette, CA. (Iris plans to attend Dartmouth College. She hopes to eventually go into public policy, civil service or work as an economist for a thinktank or international organization.)
I remember the moment I found out. It was a lazy Saturday afternoon. My sister and I were lounging on the bottom bunk-bed, chatting. Our parents came into our room and dropped the verbal bomb.
I started at them in shock.
And from that point on my life was never quite the same.
I grew up in Alameda in a small, stout, cozy brown townhouse. Life was good. I loved my home, my friends, my school – even my little sister, four years younger. But as we grew up, it slowly dawned on our parents that our district’s public schools were short on funding and management. Our schools had overcrowded classrooms, few diverse elective courses, limited extracurricular activities and underpaid teachers.
My parents never had many educational opportunities when they were little – growing up poor in rural China, under an oppressive Communist regime. As adults they managed to scrape together enough to immigrate to America, determined to create a better childhood for their future kids than their own had been. So when they saw the lack of educational opportunities they decided we had to move.
In 2011 they dropped their life savings and took out a large mortgage on a house in Lafayette where real estate was scarily expensive but the schools were excellent.
Relocating felt like the end of the world to me. Middle school tends to be rough in general and I had to leave behind the only schools and friends I’d ever known – to transfer to a strange new school where I didn’t know a soul, halfway through seventh grade.
I didn’t fit into my new school at all. It was so hard to make friends because everybody already had cemented cliques. I have distinct memories of eating my sandwich in a bathroom stall or in my science classroom, alone except for the teacher because I didn’t have anyone to sit with at lunch. It was embarrassingly pitiful.
I struggled in my classes too. My new school was much more rigorous and covered way more material than my old one so I was unprepared in many subjects. The first day I walked into my Algebra class I looked at the pure gibberish scribbled on the board and gulped.
Despite all that there was one immediate upside: I loved our new house right away. It was bigger so I got a room of my own for the first time since my sister’s birth. Even better, it had a backyard so my childhood dream could come true – we could own chickens. We bought three precious baby chicks for $1 each and they’ve been my darlings ever since.
As my little balls of fluff grew up school slowly – but surely – got better. I got used to the heavier homework load and the higher expectations of teachers and mostly caught up. In math, even though I was far behind, I didn’t want to transfer down into Pre-Algebra. Maybe it was my adolescent stubbornness kicking in but I felt like I had something to prove to myself. For months I devoted hours every day to self-studying, working late into the dark. I ended up successfully teaching myself exponents, polynomials, systems of equations and quadratic equations. By the end of the year I somehow made it out with an A in Algebra and in every other subject as well. I’d never felt prouder. Because of my 7th grade success I became passionate about learning and have maintained straight A’s throughout high school. Even better, I’ll be attending my dream college this fall.
My social life gradually blossomed too. I was partnered up with a quiet girl, Sarah, for an English discussion in eighth grade and we clicked – one of the most delightful, vibrant conversations I’d ever had ensued. Our teacher commented afterwards, “I wish I’d recorded that!” Sarah welcomed me to her clique with open arms and she’s been my best friend ever since. Together we’ve changed friend groups, joining a witty, nerdy, wonderful gang that fit us perfectly. My friends and I have filmed a 30-minute movie, visited colleges, gone camping and practiced three months for group dances together. We’re all so close now that I always forget I moved here because I feel like I’ve known them forever.
I’m about to graduate from high school so I’ve been reflective and nostalgic lately. In hindsight I’ve realized that although I seriously struggled in school when we first relocated, it was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. My new high school has the resources for me to pursue my interests inside and outside of school, ranging from diverse AP history and math classes to the school newspaper and the Mock Trial team. My classes have been challenging and demanding but they’ve been worth every second. I’ve received an incredible education and what I’ve learned will stick with me for the rest of my life. I’ve also found the best friends I’ve ever had – my group of brilliant funny weirdos. I couldn’t imagine spending my high school years with anybody else.
Moving changed my life, exposing me to new opportunities and subjects and people I’d never known before. I try to imagine a Me that never relocated – and I can’t because relocating shaped my identity into the person I love being today. But now that I’m on the cusp of relocating once again, this time to college, the feelings of fear and anxiety about leaving everything I know behind are once again bubbling up inside of me.
But this time it’s different. Because now I know this: when we move it can feel like the end of the world. But it’s simply the end of one chapter – and the start of something new. And we have the power to make it something better.