Posted by: Staff | 02.14.2008

College Essay VII: Dan Woo


Growing up, my parents romanticized travel and sought new adventures at every opportunity. Often, part of the adventure involved taking their only child along. At age two, my parents wrapped me in diapers, checked me in, and we embarked on my first trip: destination, Hawaii.

The journey went off without a hitch. The actual vacation was another story. My parents celebrated our arrival with a pineapple and fed me a piece. Savoring my first encounter with such a delicious flavor, I wolfed down the whole slice. When the sun set, my parents went off to sample the night life with me in their arms. As we enjoyed the sight of coconut trees, I felt my stomach churn. Before I knew it, I spewed molten lumps of pineapple on my father’s broad chest. Until our departure, I lay medicated in a pediatric hospital. That experience marked my first attempt at enjoying travel, which, from that point on, became sheer torture.

On another trip, I found myself on an island near Guam, where I went into the ocean with a Vienna sausage in my hand and naïvely hoped to feed the tropical fish. Suddenly, a school of fish surrounded my hand, nipping at my fingers. Terrified, I swam to the shore, crying “Muc-ji-ma!” (“Don’t eat me!”)

The next time, in Venice, I wandered off to an ice cream parlor. I was crying until a police officer came. Even more frightened by the thoughts of being left an orphan, I concluded that travel simply was not for me.

Against my will, I traveled to more than twenty countries. By last summer, I was determined to thwart my parent’s wanderlust and enjoy a vacation in Boston. My dream came true: I spent the summer genotyping mice tails, working as a waiter, and teaching Korean to middle-schoolers. But despite my “happy life,” I felt a strange anxiety. One morning, when I saw my aunt preparing to backpack through Europe, I realized that summertime conjures up thoughts of travel. Although a few trips created life-threatening memories, I suddenly recalled others that were stunning.

In Hawaii, I was enchanted by the smell of Japanese udons. In Guam, being surrounded by colorful creatures of every type lingered in my memory. In Venice, I remembered the gelatos, bought from the shops with signs “produzione propria” (“our own make”), absolutely delicious. As the memories of countries, embedded into my senses, came rushing back, I realized that I really love travel. Despite some challenges, my journeys were a festival of delight, an appreciation I inherited from my parents.

In his childhood, Joseph Conrad once pointed to a map of Africa and said, “I’ll be there someday.” Later, he traveled to the Congo, and through that experience his life and England’s literature were transformed. I have not yet had such an intense experience as Conrad’s, nor do I write literature. But, like him, I have been transformed by my travels. Now rather than dreading them, I look forward to the next adventure.


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