Today some of the BSU students watched a video from Oregon State University concerning international students and their interaction with our very own, native, English language. I found that it was a particularly thought provoking movie, especially in the sense that we, as native English speakers and writers, tend to take our rhetoric to the writing centers where we consult and chat about papers. Just last week I was discussing an essay for a teaching position with a Spanish-speaking student who wanted to become a Spanish teacher in the United States. I found all sorts of mistakes and tripped over myself when trying to rush into all the things that he could fix, work on, or show improvement in. I feel as though I can justify my consultation because his audience was probably a set of teachers who wanted to see things done in an academic manner. But in the end, who is the writer? Who is the applicant? Who is behind the pen that the committee wants to see?
I think about this as I, myself am working on an application essay. I have been told time and time again to write for yourself, let the committee know who you are and what you will bring to them. Now what if it is not what they want to see? In the same respect, what if it is not what the teacher wants to see when you turn in your paper. You cant just write, “give me an A” 500 times or “accept me, I pretty much rock.” You know that the committee (or teachers, or your boss or whoever it may be) wants to see something. My foremost concern with writing my own application essay is how I will incorporate my shy sense of humor, my profound love of writing and history (with no real extra curricular activities related to those subjects, but that is a whole other story), my maturity as a student, what BSU taught me, and what I will bring to this specific institution and how I will benefit from being there. Oh yeah, 500 words tops, have fun!
Of course there is a reason for the word limit, articulation is huge in English—the movie agreed, Americans love short, to-the-point writing. Now, how do you show your creativity and intelligence by telling what could be your whole life story in a section of a 25-page application? For me that is the fun part, for a student who can barely manage to write an English 101 essay, that could very well be the end of the world. It seems to me that the students who are corrected, repaired and shaped up to learn English and its proper functionality just end up losing their identity.
This student that I was talking to was behind the pen at first. I could have taken it from him and fed this committee everything I would think they wanted to see (which may be everything they don’t want to accept, but again, that is something entirely different). I could do that on my own essay. I could write it to the point that I feel like I have presented myself as the promised student from up high or something. “Take me because I embody everything you want and look for. I have no mistakes, I have done everything you want, these are my achievements [a list of achievements]. I am flawless!” Now what did we forget? You. The student. The applicant.
I suppose this goes all the way back to the idea that as consultants, we should be objective and not totally interfere with the student. I think this may be exaggerated by the fact that some students have learned to write in a specific way from another country. If we end up in this situation, as I have, I think we may need to ask ourselves who we are to “help” a student, who, in his or her native language is just as intelligent as we are, how to write their essay based on the rhetoric we know that certain professors or committees want.
This is basically all about students having to lose their identity to please certain people...something I experience myself. I see it all too often and I wanted to think a little about it.