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Common App: "The Luscious, Buttery Smell..."



Admitted: Princeton Early Action

The luscious, buttery smell of golden waffles was an icon of my golden age in Belgium. From soupe à l’oignon to tagliatelle al ragù, our lunch options were as diverse as the languages spoken at the table. During my three and a half years living in Brussels, I fell in love with French culture and language. Outside our classroom, my friends and I explored the many sides of the city of Brussels, Bruxelles, or Brussel: depending on the part of the city and with whom I was hanging out. Communication was a constant challenge, but one we tackled with eagerness. The thickness of Markus’ German accent, my own gradually improving American English, and a patchwork crew of various backgrounds and languages made every day an exciting, colorful exchange. My exposure to world languages was like syrup to waffles: essential.

Then, I was accepted to Phillips Academy Andover. I left my buttery, golden age at Brussels. With bittersweet conviction, I set out for America. Survival at Phillips depended on efficiency. Time management, priorities, and competition were the ways to stay afloat. Warmth was hard to find in this cold new environment.

The fragrant lunches were quickly replaced with burnt coffee, which I still have not gotten used to. Instead of roaming a European city, I sat at my desk, translating from draft to draft – red eyes flitting to the clock. I felt attached to my editing because it was a glimpse of being back in Europe. Reading French transported me away from my bleak desk back to the delicious days of my life in Brussels. Four short stories from English to French; roughly 2500 words in four hours. I was the newest member of Voice, our school’s literary magazine that had English on one side and French on the other. I had three more to finish translating. The only problem was that I had not done any of my homework yet. As the most junior member of the publication and as a responsible student, both tasks had to be done. My race against the clock continued.

“There is no soul. Do it better.” When my first batch of translations was rejected by the Chief Editor of Voice, I was crushed. At first, I did not understand. I translated “word-for-word” with surgical accuracy. However, as I repeatedly read over the French version and my translations in English, I began to see the problem. The translation for each word was in fact flawless, but when each story was read in its entirety the meaning seemed to be different. I was doing everything efficiently and accurately, but “accuracy” has an extra dimension beyond logic: understanding the true meaning and message in context.

“In your piece, is lumière du soleil – sunlight – a metaphor for brightness, warmth, or both?”

To see beyond the individual words into the true message embedded within layers of writing, I had to look into each author’s life, background, and interests. I met every student writer and slowly began to see the human element in every piece of writing. As an inter-cultural translator, I was responsible for making sure nothing was lost in translation. I wanted to help show how the authors’ words went deeper than the pages they were written on. In order to translate their stories, I had to share mine – where I came from, and how we could come to a common understanding of our identities.

After two years, I stand as the new Editor in Chief of Voice. I am confident that Voice presents both accurate and meaningful information. I can also proudly say that it helped me look beyond efficiency and competition. I discovered that compassion and culture are embedded deep within every community, and gained the confidence to welcome a new, brighter golden age filled with excitement waiting to be found.

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