Friday, June 21, 2013

Strutting and the Student Activities Fair

“Why are you both dressed in blue jeans and white t-shirts? Wait, are you guys wearing heels?” My roommates looked at me and nodded. “We are going to tryout to model in a fashion show, and we are leaving in two minutes. You should come!” they replied. I looked down at what I was wearing. I already had on a white t-shirt. “Why not?” I thought to myself. Without thinking, I quickly changed into blue jeans and grabbed my only pair of heels.

My name is Carol Yacoub. I am a third year at UVA studying Psychology on the Pre-Dental track. I had never been inside Runk Green Room before my tryout for Fashion for a Cause (FFC).  I was quickly greeted by strangers dressed in all black who gave me a form and told me to answer the questions as honestly as I could. I still wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into, until I walked into the audition room alone, holding my paper form and facing a panel of six individuals. They were wearing all black and sunglasses. You could say I was a bit intimidated. One of the questions they asked me regarded the “unique talent” I had written on my form: belly dancing. “Can you belly dance for us, please?” Usually I would have laughed and walked away from a situation like this, but something kept me standing in front of them. The next thing I knew, I had them listening to my favorite Arabic song while they watched me dance. Just when I thought I could not be any more mortified, they asked me to do my best “model walk” to the end of the room. I was a bit nervous, considering that I had never model-walked in my life, but for some reason they liked me. My entire fall semester of my second year consisted of attending fashion show practices, getting fitted for the show, and learning how to act and dance. The theme for our fashion show was Cirque Du Soleil. Go ahead and laugh at my hair and make-up, but I looked Tyra Banks fierce. 
I had always put in extensive amount of time in my schoolwork but I had never invested so much time in an extracurricular activity in college. After the fashion show, I found myself surrounded by twenty-five new friends and a greater sense of purpose. All of the money raised from the fashion show went to college scholarships for high school students. As a member of FFC, I was required to participate in service even after the show was over.  FFC is just one of the thousand extremely special activities that students can get involved in at UVA. We call these student clubs and organizations CIOs, which stands for Contracted Independent Organizations. Each year we hold a Fall Student Activities Fair and each CIO sets up a display, trying to entice new students to come sign up for their club. Any student can use this Fair as an opportunity to sign up for any or all activities, whether they are artistically, athletically, academically, or service minded.
My advice would be to go to this Student Activities Fair each fall and go crazy. Talk to different people and see what UVA has to offer. Even if you go and you aren’t immediately attracted to an organization, leave the door open for potential opportunities later on. If I had been closed minded when my friends asked me to tryout for FFC, I may have missed a chance at amazing friends, gaining confidence, and serving those around me. And you can find that with any activity that you are passionate about. You just have to find it! Basically, at that Student Activities Fair, don’t be afraid to find your inner model. Strut like you mean it.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

To tweet or not to tweet?

That is the question that one of the new essay prompts on our Common Application asks. There are five open-ended essay prompts and each one is open ended enough to return thousands of creative answers from new applicants. Since these prompts were released on Dean J’s Admissions Blog last week, everybody around Peabody is buzzing about them. (Follow the link to her blog right here:!) Our summer intern staff was sitting around in our lounge and we started chatting about the essays while recalling our own experiences writing college essays. It turned into a conversation that I have titled “What I Wish I Knew When I Was Writing My College Essays.”

I remember my college application days being a very tense period. I viewed the college essay as a miserable undertaking. It was not the task that I dreaded, because I enjoyed writing and still do. What bothered me was that everyone had an opinion about how I should write my college essays. Everyone except for me. To save you some of the stress, strain, and sickness that I endured when starting my college essays, I have transcribed sections of our “What I Wish I Knew” conversation. I imagine that some of these collected tidbits of wisdom may be helpful, some may be useless, and some may be contradictory because everyone has their own writing style. Here’s our student perspective on how to approach a college essay:

Zoey: I wish I had known not to stress about writing what schools want to read. There's a perception that everyone needs to tell a heart-wrenching story about their experience with an almost-terminal disease or poverty or death. I think instead, students should just focus on giving an honest representation of themselves, whether that involves your struggle being raised by wolves or not.

Beth:  Don't overthink it. The point of an essay is to let people know who you are. It defeats the purpose to write about what you think the Admissions team wants to hear. 

Zoey: Just talking about something you really care about is going to go further than forcing out what you think fits the prescription of a winning essay. Remember that the prescription essay does not exist. 

Ryan: I wish I had known to stand out. And you stand out by expressing your personality. Don't write what you think the Admissions team wants to hear. Whatever you want, whatever you like to talk about.

Carol: Write about what you love and who you are and it will shine through your essay to the reader. If you try to force an essay about a topic you know nothing about it will show.

Sydney: I wish someone had made me start writing sooner. I made plans to start my college applications over the summer when I had nothing to focus on except those essay prompts. Even after that planning, I still wrote and edited and proofread my essays until the day applications were due.

Zoey: If the essay topics are already up, WRITE. As hard as it is to force yourself to do anything school-related over the summer, it's even harder to put enough thought into your essays when you also have three senior projects to work on at the same time. 

Carol: I wish someone had told me not to panic. Make sure you stay calm and write about yourself and what you have learned these past few years of high school. Have fun! 

Paul: Don't let someone tell you what topic to write about. Similarly, don't let someone tell you that your topic is a bad topic. If you like that topic and you think you can write a good, engaging essay about it, then you should write about it. It could be about marshmallows... it really doesn't matter as long as you show who you are through that topic. 

Sydney: Many people write about someone who had a huge impact on their life, whether it is someone who inspired them to apply somewhere in particular or someone who inspired them to study something in particular. When you are writing about that someone, whether it be your grandfather or your dog, keep in mind that the Admissions team wants to know you. They are not considering your grandfather or your dog for admission into UVA, they're considering you. Don't fall into that trap. Make sure if you are using a story about someone or some thing or some place, you use that as a vehicle to talk about you. That's who we are all trying to get to know.

Alexis: I try to grab their attention in a way that is not generic. I like to start with a surprise because it's better. If you confuse me in the first line, I always keep reading because I want to find out what your point is. 

Carol: Write about a flash moment or revelation or a specific moment in time. Not a narrative or a summary of your life. A shorter story will allow for more detail and more information to come across. 

Zoey: Lastly, it's important to talk about yourself. It seems obvious, but it's easy to end up talking all about that one coach who inspired you and never talk about exactly how you applied that in your life. It's fine to talk about events and people, but always bring it back to you. 

Alex: I don’t have any advice to give for essays… I just kind of nailed it.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Study Abroad: Do It.

Hi Guys! My name is Ida and I’m a rising fourth year in the College of Arts and Sciences. As a Chinese Language and Literature Major, I had the opportunity to go abroad and take Chinese language classes. It was by far one of the most challenging, rewarding, and ridiculous things I have ever done. For two months I lived in Shanghai, China—and looking back on it a year later I realize I learned more than I would have ever thought possible. So bear with me: I’m going to show you what it was like to be in China in the best way I can think of—through pictures. They will each come with a little piece of what studying abroad was like for me and hopefully by the end of the post you will have a slightly crooked puzzle.
One of the first things we did in Shanghai was go to the TV Tower. It is PACKED with people taking pictures in all sorts of funny poses—so we joined right in.
Classes were held at East China Normal University, a school in the middle of Shanghai that managed to be poetic and intimate in a city of 29 million. I went with twenty something students from UVA, split into three different levels of Chinese. We all took two semesters worth of Mandarin.
Once I had my feet underneath me and knew how to navigate a hospital and buy my own food, I felt ready for the world. And that’s when the travels began! Our first weekend trip was to Xitang. It is a beautiful water town with pictures of Tom Cruise everywherepart of Mission Impossible 3 was filmed on the rooftops of Xitang. I was still too afraid to barter in Chinese at this point, but I was practicing to myself in my head!

This little guy sat and watched us take pictures of him. The red lanterns are everywhere in China! Red is an important color in Chinese culture, and the lanterns often have phrases of luck and well wishes on them.
This is our entire group in Hangzhou! We climbed a seven-story pagoda (behind us) and all regretted our choice of shoes.
After Hangzhou we settled back in to finish off the semester. There were plenty of late nights studying, vocabulary lists to be memorized, and “danbanke” or “one-on-one” classes to quiz our teachers with any questions we came up with during the day. Once our “first semester” was over we headed off to Beijing for a week to really dip our feet into Chinese culture.

One of the first places we went in Beijing was Tiananmen Square/Gugong. This is my class hanging out with Chairman Mao in front of Tiananmen.
We were all sure to be respectful and appropriate at all times. Pictured here with my teacher, Zhao Laoshi.
And I finally remembered to start taking pictures of the food! I tried so many new foods while I was in China, and I came back to the States with a new appreciation of spicy and sweet!
Then we went back to Shanghai. Took three more weeks of classes. Ate a few more dumplings. Learned a LOT more, and tried to hang on to all of the things that were happening.

This was our class on our last night in Shanghai. We went to karaoke with our professors and walked around the park that was a few blocks from our school.
So that is it, guys. Here we are laughing and crying on our last night. That’s Zhao Laoshi and I holding hands and pretending that I was not going to get on a plane in the morning. I know this picture is not the most attractive one to show you, Internet world, but it is definitely the best way I know to end this post.
Life in Shanghai was real, it was a mess, and it was beautiful. It was an experience I got to have as a UVA student, and it was an experience I could not have imagined before I came here. Now, looking back a year later, it is an experience I cannot imagine living without. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Introducing the New Dream Team

Welcome to Hoo Stories, a UVA student blog for prospective students! My name is Sydney Sampson and I’m one of the student tour guides interning in the Admissions Office this summer. Over the course of the summer, the other guides and I will continue to blog about our student experiences at UVA. Each intern will share a story or discuss an event that illustrates something unique about student life. Our blog posts could include anything from student activities, fond traditions, research opportunities, study abroad programs, athletics, academic programs and so much more! And if there are any topics that you are particularly interested in, feel free to comment and let us know. We cannot wait to share our stories with you this summer. But before the summer gets started, I want to start by introducing everyone…
Alexander Bozicevich
Major: Political and Social Thought; Minor: Theatre
Hometown: Ruther Glen, VA
Talents: Sarcasm, coming of age, and stopping hunger. 
Zoey Dorman
Major: English, Cognitive Science
Hometown: Lynchburg, VA
Talents: Impersonating Dr. Seuss characters, smiling, and bubble blowing.
Trisha Hongcharti
Major: Spanish, Foreign Affairs; Minor: Business Spanish
Hometown: Richmond, VA
Talents: Self-defense, reporting the weather, and getting her tourists to fill out evaluations.

Ida Knox
Major: Chinese Language and Literature, Philosophy
Hometown: Starkville, MS
Talents: Improv Comedy, shaving her head, and telling people to calm down. 
Alexis Richardson
Major: American Studies
Hometown: Orange County, VA
Talents: Being on time, vacationing, and remembering everything. 
Sydney Sampson
Major: Psychology, Economics
Hometown: Vienna, VA
Talents: Understanding Shakespeare, talking to strangers, and walking quickly.
Ryan Schlobach
Major: Biology (Pre-Medicine)
Hometown: Fairfax, VA
Talents: Tanning, saving lives, and simultaneously patting his head while rubbing his tummy.
Paul Strader
Major: American Studies, History
Hometown: Richmond, VA
Talents: Using power tools, avoiding back sweat, and golf. 
Beth Wagner
Major: Political Philosophy and Law
Hometown: Hagerstown, MD
Talents: Juggling, volunteering, and wearing maxi dresses. 

Carol Yacoub
Major: Psychology (Pre-Dental)
Hometown: Leesburg, VA
Talents: Fashion, being exotic, and looking good in scrubs.