Is this a decent challenge/adversity/resilience topic?

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ChrisMack390

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When I was 15, my family and I went on a trip to Cancun. What started out as a privileged resort vacation took a sharp turn when a massive category 5 hurricane hit the peninsula and the Mexican government bussed everyone from our hotel to a hurricane shelter (i.e. a grammar school building) further inland. The Cancun airport was destroyed, and we ended up living in the shelter for 7 days total before an airplane was able to come take the US citizens out. During this time food became increasingly scarce, various family members began to get (albeit mildly) sick, and naturally some tension and emotional states boiled over. Tough time for everyone, but we got through it.


This would definitely be a unique topic, but is it going to come off as overly dramatic? Also does it matter than it was >10 years ago?


EDIT: In light of some of the feedback I got here, especially from @LizzyM, I am now leaning toward instead writing about beginning as a tutor for patients in a psychiatric hospital. This situation will allow me to better speak on actions that I specifically took rather than ones that I observed. If anyone has feedback on that idea please let me know. If not this topic can fall into the SDN ether.

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This reminds me of the time where the cruise ship lost power out at sea and passengers had to experience very closely to what you had experienced. Afterwards most passengers tried suing the cruise ship for less than ideal conditions. I clearly remember not thinking too fondly of the passengers after....
 
Well....I didn't sue anyone....

Actually a point I would make if I wrote about this would be my gratitude toward the Mexican people who viewed us as "guests in [their] homeland" and made our safety a top priority...
 
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Well....I didn't sue anyone....

Actually a point I would make if I wrote about this would be my gratitude toward the Mexican people who viewed us as "guests in [their] homeland" and made our safety a top priority...
Okay yeah I think I made some rather rash judgement based off a quick read. But I think now that you explain it this topic could work really well. If in this shelter it was composed of both "wealthy" tourists and natives and there was a need to collaborate and be on equal levels with everyone to persevere, it could be very meaningful.
 
When I was 15, my family and I went on a trip to Cancun. What started out as a privileged resort vacation took a sharp turn when a massive category 5 hurricane hit the peninsula and the Mexican government bussed everyone from our hotel to a hurricane shelter (i.e. a grammar school building) further inland. The Cancun airport was destroyed, and we ended up living in the shelter for 7 days total before an airplane was able to come take the US citizens out. During this time food became increasingly scarce, various family members began to get (albeit mildly) sick, and naturally some tension and emotional states boiled over. Tough time for everyone, but we got through it.


This would definitely be a unique topic, but is it going to come off as overly dramatic? Also does it matter than it was >10 years ago?
This is going to get wrecked by applicants with really heart-rending upbringing/hardship stories.
 
Okay yeah I think I made some rather rash judgement based off a quick read. But I think now that you explain it this topic could work really well. If in this shelter it was composed of both "wealthy" tourists and natives and there was a need to collaborate and be on equal levels with everyone to persevere, it could be very meaningful.

This was absolutely the case. We slept on mats on the floor side by side with employees of the hotel and other local people, and everyone pitched in to reinforce walls, boil water for drinking, figure out how to best dispense the food and medical supplies that were available, etc.


This is going to get wrecked by applicants with really heart-rending upbringing/hardship stories.

I don't have that, but I still need to answer these questions, right? I would also include a point that I am aware that living in such conditions was a 1 week nightmare for my family but a constant reality for many others in the world. At some point, I grew up in a middle class suburb and pretending I didn't is just not realistic.
 
This is going to get wrecked by applicants with really heart-rending upbringing/hardship stories.

Can you imagine if in the same applicant pool is a Mexican-American applicant who went through the same ordeal but as a native inhabitant? Now that would not bode over well..
 
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This is going to get wrecked by applicants with really heart-rending upbringing/hardship stories.

How others have dealt with hardship is not the point. this isn't the old "Queen for a Day" where the saddest hard luck story wins the prize.
@ChrisMack390 How did you personally deal with this difficulty? How old were you and how independent were you vs your parents were pretty much responsible for your welfare and took the lead in advocating for you. If it was the latter, then this might not be a good topic, not because it seems like the Howells on Gilligan's Island, but because you were too young to be responsible for dealing with the adverse situation yourself.
 
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I don't have that, but I still need to answer these questions, right? I would also include a point that I am aware that living in such conditions was a 1 week nightmare for my family but a constant reality for many others in the world. At some point, I grew up in a middle class suburb and pretending I didn't is just not realistic.
You want to address an experience that shows selflessness/determination/true obstacles. Unless I'm mistaken this is just a Cancun vacation (which will evoke thoughts of privilege in the adcoms, merited or not) gone wrong. Personal challenges, family/school/friends troubles, hardships you aided during service etc. would all be better.

Edit @LizzyM true but it seems all the story is is a ruined getaway that was somewhat adequately handled by the Mexican government. Also, OP was like <10 then. How much adversity could he have overcome during that brief period?
 
Man that one whole week must have been so hard for you
 
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Can you imagine if in the same applicant pool is a Mexican-American applicant who went through the same ordeal but as a native inhabitant? Now that would not bode over well..
Why is it wrong for someone to acknowledge white privilege? It would largely depend on how he words it, but using this experience as a way to learn "equal grounds" among people should work.
 
Why is it wrong for someone to acknowledge white privilege? It would largely depend on how he words it, but using this experience as a way to learn "equal grounds" among people should work.

Nothing wrong with someone acknowledging white privilege. I was just commenting on a humorous hypothetical situation of another applicant writing about the same situation but from a relatively more personal perspective.
 
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Sigh... I guess you are all right. The fact is my life has not been that hard. I am absolutely grateful for this, but its kind of a bummer that any difficult experience I can think of for this topic will be shot down because someone else had a harder one (which I fully acknowledge is true).


The only other thing I can think of is when I first began volunteering as a tutor in a psychiatric hospital. That was definitely a tough environment to become acclimated to with people yelling in my face and occasionally threatening me, and I did persevere and keep it up and eventually build up a good rapport with my students and other patients in the unit. But with this topic people can just as easily say "Yeah well imagine if it was your mother living in the psych hospital, not just you there a few hours a week!" This, again, would be true, but at some point I just need to write the damn essay about something, right? The other problem is I definitely plan to write on this experience as one of my most meaningful in my AMCAS app.
 
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The only other thing I can think of is when I first began volunteering as a tutor in a psychiatric hospital. That was definitely a tough environment to become acclimated to with people yelling in my face and occasionally threatening me, and I did persevere and keep it up and eventually build up a good rapport with my students and other patients in the unit. But with this topic people can just as easily say "Yeah well imagine if it was your mother living in the psych hospital, not just you there a few hours a week!" This, again, would be true, but at some point I just need to write the damn essay about something, right? The other problem is I definitely plan to write on this experience as one of my most meaningful in my AMCAS app.

This is a much better topic. Don't worry about how your hardship is relative to others. This experience definitely requires growth in emotional intelligence that I doubt many others have faced, roll with it.
 
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Sigh... I guess you are all right. The fact is my life has not been that hard. I am absolutely grateful for this, but its kind of a bummer that any difficult experience I can think of for this topic will be shot down because someone else had a harder one (which I fully acknowledge is true).


The only other thing I can think of is when I first began volunteering as a tutor in a psychiatric hospital. That was definitely a tough environment to become acclimated to with people yelling in my face and occasionally threatening me, and I did persevere and keep it up and eventually build up a good rapport with my students and other patients in the unit. But with this topic people can just as easily say "Yeah well imagine if it was your mother living in the psych hospital, not just you there a few hours a week!" This, again, would be true, but at some point I just need to write the damn essay about something, right? The other problem is I definitely plan to write on this experience as one of my most meaningful in my AMCAS app.
Yes, this 100%.
 
You don't need a 'I climbed Mt. Everest without boots' type of story to respond to this prompt appropriately. You should look up the meaning of resilience and adversity. I'm not sure why so many people equate resilience to having suffered. It doesn't always have to be a painful thing. Resilience can be demonstrated through dedication.
 
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My learned colleague is dropping too many Baby Boomer analogies!

I'd like to add that no one has a 100% charmed life, and the prompt, as gannicus points out, is not meant solely for people who have suffered traumatic amputations.

But it will weed out people who are incapable of self-analysis, or who are so superficial that they take minor inconveniences (like your first C grade) to be "adversity".


How others have dealt with hardship is not the point. this isn't the old "Queen for a Day" where the saddest hard luck story wins the prize.
@ChrisMack390 How did you personally deal with this difficulty? How old were you and how independent were you vs your parents were pretty much responsible for your welfare and took the lead in advocating for you. If it was the latter, then this might not be a good topic, not because it seems like the Howells on Gilligan's Island, but because you were too young to be responsible for dealing with the adverse situation yourself.
 
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Frankly I find it irritating that people dismissed this is not a pretty damn terrible time, and I suspect 0 of them have slept on a floor in the middle of Mexico eating lettuce and crackers as meals for a week. However LizzyM's comment that the brunt of dealing with it fell more on my parents then on me convinced me to look elsewhere for material.
 
Sigh... I guess you are all right. The fact is my life has not been that hard. I am absolutely grateful for this, but its kind of a bummer that any difficult experience I can think of for this topic will be shot down because someone else had a harder one (which I fully acknowledge is true).


The only other thing I can think of is when I first began volunteering as a tutor in a psychiatric hospital. That was definitely a tough environment to become acclimated to with people yelling in my face and occasionally threatening me, and I did persevere and keep it up and eventually build up a good rapport with my students and other patients in the unit. But with this topic people can just as easily say "Yeah well imagine if it was your mother living in the psych hospital, not just you there a few hours a week!" This, again, would be true, but at some point I just need to write the damn essay about something, right? The other problem is I definitely plan to write on this experience as one of my most meaningful in my AMCAS app.

this is actually a good topic and relevant to being a doctor
 
I understand the difficulty of this question for those who have led a relatively privileged life, as I found this to be my most difficult essay as well. Here's some steps for this topic from someone who likely was in a position similar to yours:

1. Don't try to beat other applicants. Just because you don't have a "heart-rending background" doesn't mean you haven't overcome anything. Maybe you didn't make a sports team or organization you were trying out for. Maybe you had a teacher that hated you and constantly put you down or a class that you just really struggled in. Maybe a best friend/mentor turned their back on you. Don't just think about the worst thing you've been through, think about something that really challenged you and that took a while to solve.

2. Define the challenge/adversity. If you can't explain why it was a challenge, then the paper will be weak. If someone said "I had to work 30 hour weeks at 2 jobs while I was a full-time student in undergrad" or "I had my first baby when I was 16 and still made it through school" I'd still say 'so what'? Why was that a challenge? I saw more than one paper in undergrad where a person had what initially sounded like an extremely difficult situation that never really went anywhere.

3. Explain what you actually did to overcome it. This doesn't have to necessarily be an action, but it can be a change of perspective. Did you have to look at the challenge from someone else's point of view? Did you come to a realization that led to a solution you hadn't thought of? The only real wrong answers for this part are if someone else did something for you or if the answer was just "work harder". This step isn't always necessary, but it can make an essay much more powerful and often ties into the lesson.

4. Describe what you specifically learned and how you grew from the experience. This is obviously the most important part, and the more specific you can get, the better. Say not only what you learned, but how you can use that lesson to grow and how you can apply it in real-life to overcome future challenges.


Here's a brief example: I read a paper (for undergrad admissions) where the person's challenge to overcome was losing 5 pounds to get a job as a model. Even though the topic sounded ridiculous and superficial (and it was a little), it was also one of the best essays I read while there. The way she put the problem into perspective with the rest of her life along with her goals at the time made it very clear why it was a challenge as well as how the challenge itself was significant. She also explained the life-lesson very well and overall the paper's flow and organization were exceptional. It was one of the closest things to professional writing I saw in an application, and in the end I was pretty impressed. To be blunt, I thought it was better than most of the essays about situations that people would consider 'classic' adversity that I read.

Here's the bottom line: You need to pick a topic that you can clearly explain as an adversity, how you overcame it, and what you learned from it. If you can't do those things, then you should pick a different topic. This is my personal opinion from past experience work with admissions, but @Goro and @LizzyM can correct me if anything I said doesn't line up, since they are actually on adcoms.
 
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