From a Recent Deerfield Academy Graduate of Prep Master
During my time at Deerfield, I have walked across the "Albany Road" countless times. But that last walk, the so-called "senior walk," will forever be unforgettable. Within that five minutes of amble, I relived all the most impactful memories, growth, and relationships I've had in the past four years. I was ambivalent. Sad that I was leaving the place, yet proud of who I have become.
The beginning of my boarding school journey was a sheer coincidence. Attending small international schools in Seoul throughout my elementary the middle school years, I was oblivious to the existence of the "boarding school world," let alone have any friends or family that had attended such an institution. While planning for my seventh-grade summer, my family and I heard about a junior boarding summer program through an acquaintance. Thinking it would be a beneficial and fun experience, rather than the slightest decision to attend a boarding school or even study abroad, I participated in the Eaglebrook summer program. Looking back, the application process for this program was my entrance and an apt trial run for the vast journey ahead of me.
At the Eaglebrook summer program, I had a blissful and refreshing experience. I enjoyed the opportunity to strictly pursue subjects I was interested in, so for the first time in my life, I dove into academics because I wanted to with purpose. The obligatory sports and outdoor activities, living with my peers, and hearing about their diverse stories and nature were all a sweet tooth for me. The fact that I was an active and friendly kid from an early age contributed to my happiness.
Ensuring the short-lived but delightful time I spent at Eaglebrook, I decided to go to a boarding school. Luckily, my parents supported my decision. Despite my judgment, I lacked the desperation required in the preparation phases of attending a boarding school. I knew I wanted to extend the memories and feelings I had last summer, but they were vague. Looking at the extensive application process from GPA, extracurriculars, essays, interviews, and SSAT, some of me doubted my abilities to produce a worthy file that is supposed to advocate the best version of who I am and more. It hadn't even been three months since I first heard the word "boarding school," so I didn't know where to start. The absence of a bigger picture, a more clarified path, also fretted me. Worse, the SSAT was extremely difficult, as the score of my first practice exam illustrated: 50% verbal, 60% math, and 40% reading.
Nonetheless, it was a new experience. I like new experiences. Especially those that make me excited about my future. So, along with the help of SeHee Han's classes, I dedicated myself to studying. For the first time, I pulled an all-nighter, studied in a car, and memorized words while eating.
My approach was simple. As Nike says, I just did it. I worried a lot, stressed a lot, and failed a lot. However, no matter how deterred I was, I studied without thinking much about it. As cliche as it is, I soon began seeing improvements, a trajectory, and a bigger picture. I started getting everything right on the vocab quizzes, and the excitement motivated me.
Despite the seemingly positive growth, my final practice score was a 93%. A score was just shy of the safety zone for my desired top boarding schools. It was time for my first official test. Though I did well, I received 88%, 93%, and 86%. Not bad, but not good enough. The bad news was that I had to take my second official exam in the middle of my interview tour because of my schedule. I DIDN'T BELIEVE WHAT I SAW when I checked my email about three weeks later. I was looking at a special email from the EMA congratulating me on my perfect score.
With the SSAT scores and continuous efforts in other aspects of the application, I was fortunate enough to be accepted to many schools I applied to, including Andover, Deerfield, Choate, St. Pauls, Lawrenceville, and Groton. After careful contemplation, research, and participation in the re-visit day / Korean Alumni receptions, I decided on Choate. My parents disagreed: they wanted me to attend Deerfield. In my eyes, the students at Choate seemed to live a more fun and free life. Deerfield appeared confining, with rules such as dress code and sit-down meals. The DA students led a much more academic-focused life. While I am sure I would have a great time at Choate, I cannot thank my parents enough.
In contrast to how I expected Deerfield to be, it was a place that could not have suited me better, from academics, extracurriculars, relationships, and virtually any other aspect of life. As a door, if I could go back in time and talk to my younger self, I would tell him that the decision is not even worth a second of thought. Those of you reading this article will encounter a similar dilemma in the future. While it is essential to contemplate and weigh out various aspects, I hope you also be aware that what you think may be different from reality.
On August 2018, I stepped foot at the Incheon Airport. Throughout the entire travel from Seoul to Deerfield, I consistently harbored my excitement and worried about the kind of friends I'll meet, how I would decorate my room, and the training/practice for sports tryouts and orchestra auditions. I was oblivious to the grand path that lay ahead of me.
The beginning of my Deerfield journey was a series of firsts. The first day was all but peaceful. I was moving in while meeting strangers after stranger and participating in various orientation events. The first two weeks can be best described as hectic, as there were countless things to adapt to. Everything was new. On top of the academic/environmental differences that everyone - including those from the States and the Western Hemisphere - experience, I - and others from an Asian background - were struck with societal and language barriers. Even the everyday colloquial language took a lot of work. I had to learn the slangs and idioms that pertain to the particular community and period I was part of. Learning the pronunciations, accents, and cultural references implicating an underlying meaning took a lot of work. I guess "Humor [really] doesn't translate." Many of my expressions seemed to "inevitably get lost in translation." Being part of an all-American friend group also heightened the extent of the sense of a barrier. Despite my confidence in being fluent in English, my friends constantly pointed out errors in my speech and writing. However, this rather tricky process allowed me to become a perfect bilingual and opened me to opportunities to discover the full potential of Deerfield. I realized that the depth of a conversation comes from how proficiently you can use a language. Just like "you see as much as you know," in my case, it was "you see as much as you speak."
All this wasn't possible without the help of others. One of my first encounters at Deerfield and still one of my best friends, Hugo, spent the first year following me, explaining the cultural/historical aspects, events, and opportunities I couldn't have exploited if I didn't know. He introduced me to my all-time favorite movie, The Godfather. When you go to a boarding school, you will experience a similar culture shock, big or small. I hope you can find a friend like Hugo.
My life throughout Deerfield was very dynamic. It was full of major and minor episodes, and if I were to write a book, it would consist of multiple volumes. There were, of course, difficult times. However, when trying to pick my favorite experience, I struggle to choose from countless memories. The numerous late-night "deep talks" while living with all my friends on a single floor of a dorm. My first step on the wrestling mat after giving up hockey due to an injury. My first Carnegie Hall performance as the first chair of the Deerfield Orchestra. Floating down the Deerfield River for eight hours on a self-made wooden boat with a friend. The view of my empty room on graduation day after I moved out.
Four years is a long time, especially in those ages when our thoughts change every second, when we learn something new every day, and when we shape our identity throughout the years. At Deerfield or any other boarding, we achieve all - academics, extracurriculars, and social - through structured and balanced life and strict time management. Everyone utilizes the full potential of their time.
When I used to look back at the end of every year at Deerfield, despite having so many great stories and memories, I improved significantly in academics and extracurriculars. As long as I did what I was told - completing the assignments, studying/preparing for assessments - and pursuing my interests - passion projects, clubs - my accomplishments were accumulating. In the process, I also forged some of the most tightly-bonded relationships. Of course, not every part of the journey was a cakewalk. But these challenges were actually what facilitated the growth. Particularly in academics, the experience of sacrificing a part of the fun, enduring the fatigue, and resulting in profound learning with my best effort enhanced my baseline capabilities. It's the same principle: once you finish a work requiring a hundred actions, the next time requiring ninety becomes much more accessible.
Furthermore, living alone in a dorm room makes you used to the independence it requires. As a result, you become aware of yourself. You start to understand what you genuinely like. What circumstances make you happy? The studying methods, time management, and relationships that work for you.
Describing my time at Deerfield is tricky, as I had so much growth and diverse experiences. However, if I had to, I would say "intense." I excavated and carved the identity of the person I currently am. I laid a strong foundation in academics and discovered my passion is medical technology. In wrestling, I gained a healthy workout habit, the ability to show up and do things when I didn't want to, and a solid understanding of my body. In relationships, I have earned more than eight friends who will last forever, as our unchanged level of communication despite the physical distance and a year since graduation proves.
Boarding school is a society in itself. We autonomously lead every aspect of our lives inside the campus. The experience in this society becomes a trial run as we move on to college and the "real" outer society. It lays a strong foundation and prepares us to achieve our aspirations.
In a book called "My Life," Deerfield is one of the most important chapters. I hope the prospective students reading this article find the right boarding school and have an enriching time. Wish the best.
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