“Heritage” by Anonymous - Heritage and Identity

50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays - Tanabe Gen, Tanabe Kelly 2009

“Heritage” by Anonymous
Heritage and Identity

Yale University

“Heritage” is the first word in my family dictionary, a noun and adverb, for who we are and how we live. My parents taught me that my heritage defines my identity. Through honorific speech towards my elders and adherence to traditional values, I accepted Korean customs as part of the duality that defines my life in America.

Yet, a turbulent disunity stormed under that surface of peaceful co-existence. Though I outwardly represented the model Korean-American son, I loathed fitting this stereotypical mold. My shell was so well-constructed, however, that others mistook me for a successful immigrant. I felt as if I were ripped from the very fabric of my American birthplace, and plunged into a vacuum between my ancestral home and the world I lived in. I felt that my heritage was a short anchor against the relentlessly rising tide: I had to break free—or go under.

While struggling with this chain, however, I came to appreciate what my heritage offered. As a martial arts instructor, I supported students in building discipline and character. As a bilingual tutor, I helped immigrant children adapt to life in America. Soon, I realized that my heritage was an instrument for harmonizing personal development with service to others.

When I was selected to serve in the HOBY World Leadership Congress, my family’s financial circumstances did not cover the $1,350 required fee. By infusing my American entrepreneurial energy with Asian medicine, I covered the cost by selling herbal products at my martial arts studio. Though the novelty of my venture brought me to the verge of bankruptcy, I persisted. By researching products, competitors and clientele, I streamlined my inventory to best serve my customers.

Eventually, I created a business aimed at offering others a healthy lifestyle. Sweaty students gulped green tea and chocolate-flavored snacks, dropping dollars for the cause that lay within my cardboard cashbox. Supported by outside donations, I became greater L.A.’s am-bassador in Washington D.C. Infused with new inspiration, I returned with a project grant to spread the martial arts lifestyle of discipline, confidence, and respect.

As my heritage anchored itself to the bedrock of my battles, I integrated Korean tradition with my American identity. Fusing service with civic duty, I entered the L.A. County Sheriff’s Explorer Academy.

Through the grueling training, I learned to work as part of a team.

Appointed as Drill Instructor a year later, I took command of training the older recruits. Through a relationship of mutual respect, I prepared my platoon to dutifully serve the community. Leading this racially mixed group, I empathized beyond the duality of my own identity. I soon discovered that my heritage must transcend my personal struggles to truly embrace diversity.

Heritage is not a mere ethnic label—it is the honor and humanity that I am inspired to uphold. Today, I am grateful to my parents for endowing me with a spirit of dedication and determination. They bestowed a philosophy that speaks through my actions. This inheritance forms the base of my integrity as an individual, and defines my dedication to strengthening the society that I live in.


What makes the writer’s essay interesting is that he writes about the conflict between his ethnic heritage and his American life. We immediately sense that it is not an easy amalgamation between his Korean and American identities. It might have enhanced his introduction to have provided a specific example of how these two identities clashed. However, his description of this conflict is very powerful and visual, and as the reader, we can tell detect the authenticity of his internal struggle. He writes, “I felt that my heritage was a short anchor against the relentlessly rising tide: I had to break free—or go under.”

The writer aptly shows the connection between his achievements and his appreciation for his heritage. When he describes his efforts to raise funds to attend the HOBY World Leadership Congress, he demonstrates ingenuity as a creative entrepreneur. The admissions officers must have admired his self-initiated fundraising efforts and his development of a new market. His experience shows his innovation, persistence and ability to adapt his product line to his customers’ needs.

In his example of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Explorer Academy, he again addresses his heritage when leading an ethnically diverse group of students. While you may write an essay about a project that you worked on as a team or an experience that you had as a team member, it’s always helpful to highlight your individual contribution. In the writer’s case, he reveals his full responsibility for selling the Asian medicine and explains his role as a leader of his platoon. You may not be the sole leader of the group, but writing about your personal input makes a more powerful statement than presenting the contributions of the group as a whole.

Throughout his essay, the writer makes connections that are not obvious. At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be much that ties together attending a student leadership conference or volunteering with the sheriff’s department and ethnic identity. But the writer is able to form links among these topics that result in a single cohesive essay.

His writing is engaging because, as readers, we can tell that he truly cares about his topic matter and he shares specific examples of what he has accomplished. But perhaps most importantly, he takes us inside his mind so that at least for a brief time we understand his thoughts, emotions, and reasoning. This is something that admissions officers always desire—to learn something new about the applicant and to understand his or her way of thinking.