Malaysia-born teen got into 8 Ivy-league colleges with essay about learning English as an immigrant

Getting accepted into one prestigious Ivy League university is already quite an achievement.

But for Cassandra Hsiao, a Malaysian-born student now living in the United States, she has been accepted not by two or even three universities, but by all eight Ivy League schools this year.

 

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The Ivy League is a group of eight private institutions of higher education in the United States comprising Brown University, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Dartmouth College, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton and Yale.They are among the most prestigious and highly-ranked universities worldwide, and are often associated with academic excellence and high selectivity of admissions.

 

Cassandra

 

She has also been accepted by Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University and several others.

Cassandra, 17, was born to a Taiwanese father and Malaysian mother in Johor Baru. She emigrated to the United States when she was five years old and now lives in southern California. She was also her school magazine’s editor-in-chief.

She attends the Orange County School of the Arts.

Two literary pieces on her Malaysian experiences, Pasar Malam and Ode to the Night Market, have been published in the online arts journal Rambutan Literary. Her applications essay played a big role in her acceptance into the universities, where she wrote about learning English while growing up in a house of immigrants.

Cassandra is already a star reporter, having interviewed celebrities such as Chris Evans, Morgan Freeman and Octavia Spencer.

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Cassandra Hsio in an exclusive interview with Hollywood A-lister, Octavia Spencer who is best known for her role in ‘Hidden Figures’ 

 

THIS IS THE ESSAY THAT GOT HER INTO ALL EIGHT COLLEGES: 

“In our house, English is not English. Not in the phonetic sense, like short a is for apple, but rather in the pronunciation – in our house, snake is snack. Words do not roll off our tongues correctly – yet I, who was pulled out of class to meet with language specialists, and my mother from Malaysia, who pronounces film as flim, understand each other perfectly.

“In our house, there is no difference between cast and cash, which was why at a church retreat, people made fun of me for “cashing out demons.” I did not realise the glaring difference between the two Englishes until my teacher corrected my pronunciations of hammock, ladle, and siphon. Classmates laughed because I pronounce accept as except, success as sussess. I was in the Creative Writing conservatory, and yet words failed me when I needed them most.

“Suddenly, understanding flower is flour wasn’t enough. I rejected the English that had never seemed broken before, a language that had raised me and taught me everything I knew. Everybody else’s parents spoke with accents smarting of PhDs and university teaching positions. So why couldn’t mine?

“My mother spread her sunbaked hands and said, “This is where I came from,” spinning a tale with the English she had taught herself.

“When my mother moved from her village to a town in Malaysia, she had to learn a brand new language in middle school: English. In a time when humiliation was encouraged, my mother was defenceless against the cruel words spewing from the teacher, who criticised her paper in front of the class. When she began to cry, the class president stood up and said, ‘That’s enough’.

“Be like that class president,” my mother said with tears in her eyes. The class president took her under her wing and patiently mended my mother’s strands of language. “She stood up for the weak and used her words to fight back.”

“We were both crying now. My mother asked me to teach her proper English so old white ladies at Target wouldn’t laugh at her pronunciation. It has not been easy. There is a measure of guilt when I sew her letters together. Long vowels, double consonants – I am still learning myself. Sometimes I let the brokenness slide to spare her pride but perhaps I have hurt her more to spare mine.

“As my mother’s vocabulary began to grow, I mended my own English. Through performing poetry in front of 3000 at my school’s Season Finale event, interviewing people from all walks of life, and writing stories for the stage, I stand against ignorance and become a voice for the homeless, the refugees, the ignored. With my words I fight against jeers pelted at an old Asian street performer on a New York subway. My mother’s eyes are reflected in underprivileged ESL children who have so many stories to tell but do not know how. I fill them with words as they take needle and thread to make a tapestry.

“In our house, there is beauty in the way we speak to each other. In our house, language is not broken but rather bursting with emotion. We have built a house out of words. There are friendly snakes in the cupboard and snacks in the tank. It is a crooked house. It is a little messy. But this is where we have made our home.”