I discovered Oxbridge Academic Programs through my careers counselor. I was always interested in travelling, writing and anything related to media which was why I wanted to study journalism at the New York College Experience. The program stood out to me because I had never studied abroad and I wanted to take up the chance of studying in a city renowned for its journalism. Staying in New York City for a whole month sounded incredible. While it was an unbelievably amazing opportunity, I knew our family could not afford such an adventure. I tried in every way to persuade my parents, negotiating birthday gifts, giving up Christmas presents and even willing to sacrifice restaurant dinners on Saturday night just so I could attend. Out of desperation, I spent many days figuring out how I might be able to afford the trip and discovered from the Oxbridge website that scholarships were given out each year. As I read the scholarship application letter, I knew the odds for receiving a scholarship to New York were zilch. Zero. Nothing. The application clearly stated ‘chances of winning are numerically quite slim’. What kind of hope does that give to students like me? My chances for winning were almost impossible with only 10%-15% of applicants winning funding. Nevertheless, my parents supported my interest in the program and encouraged me to take a risk and apply. So I sent them my application.
It was 9:19am on March 22nd and I was in Christian Studies class. As per usual, I opened up my emails. At the top of my inbox was a message from dad. He had forwarded me a message from Natalie Kauppi on behalf of the Oxbridge Academic Programs. I knew this was it. I had been waiting for the past month to know whether I was studying Journalism in The Big Apple or having a date with my Math textbook and jug of hot chocolate during the winter break. Even though I dreamt of going to New York every night, I brought myself back to reality and prepared myself for the disappointment. I expected the email to inform me that I wasn’t good enough for the program or my application didn’t reach their standards. With dismay already welling inside I opened the attachment, I skimmed through the letter not wanting to face the reality of staying home. Suddenly, Mrs Tarante’s talk on how Christianity had shaped our society was muffled with a sound of excitement filling the classroom. I was astounded. I was overwhelmed. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe that the email propped right in front of me read ‘I am delighted to inform you that you have been awarded a scholarship.’ My heart hammered against my chest, beating a hundred miles an hour. Overwhelmed with pleasure and fulfillment, I loved the idea of going to New York. I couldn’t focus on anything except my pending adventure. I was so embarrassed interrupting the teacher but couldn’t control my exhilaration any longer, I had to excuse myself. You know it’s not easy containing yourself after you’ve learned you’ll be spending your entire winter break in a Manhattan summer, studying the subject you want a career in. I exploded into my co-coordinator’s office and bursted out, ‘Guess what, Miss Upasiri? I’m off to New York!’ She didn’t believe what I was saying and neither did I. She congratulated me and gave permission to call mum using her phone. Mum was worried at first, thinking that I had been sent to hospital falling off a brick wall or doing something reckless but when she found out the news, she was excited for me too. One of the most unforgettable moments of my life was when she said ‘I am proud to call you my daughter.’ Mum had never really said that to me before. Deep down, I knew she loved me but she had never said something so meaningful. Making her proud made me feel proud about myself. I finished talking to mum and thanking her for all her support before Ms Upasiri signaled me to finish the phone call. She congratulated me one more time before returning back to class in a hurried manner.
Receiving a scholarship to The New York College Experience made me feel like I actually had a chance to achieve my dream of getting accepted into Columbia University. It was the greatest feeling and one of the best moments of my life, realizing that all the late nights and hard work I put into my application were all worth a trip to New York City studying Journalism. I don’t think there has even been a prouder moment in my life than reading Oxbridge’s acceptance email. The whole opportunity even changed my attitude towards school. I started working harder than ever, making the most of every class I had even if I didn’t like it or was dreadful at it. The scholarship drastically changed my view of Columbia. It gave me hope. I remember reflecting while showering that same night I found out about New York that if I was applying to Columbia as an international student, I wouldn’t have to compete with the many Americans applying. I realized that although Columbia had extremely low acceptance rates, the competition would be slightly lower as an international student and I felt more optimistic and one step closer in accomplishing my goal. I’ll be honest, before I applied for the scholarship I knew that I just wasn’t good enough to get accepted into Columbia, let alone smart enough. In saying that, there’s still a high probability that I might not get accepted. But no one knows what will happen in the future. Perhaps I’ll make an appearance on Gossip Girl or I’ll end up studying engineering, failing it and not being able to graduate. At least for now, I have faith that if I pull through the tough times and work hard enough, I will get there.
By Natalie Ho