Mini-Woodstock with Balalaikas

In addition to the essay you have written for the Coalition Application, the Common Application or the Universal College Application, please write an essay of about 500 words (no more than 650 words and no fewer than 250 words). Using one of the themes below as a starting point, write about a person, event or experience that helped you define one of your values or in some way changed how you approach the world. Please do not repeat, in full or in part, the essay you wrote for the Coalition Application, the Common Application or Universal College Application. “Culture is what presents us with the kinds of valuable things that can fill a life. And insofar as we can recognize the value in those things and make them part of our lives, our lives are meaningful.” - Gideon Rosen, Stuart Professor of Philosophy and chair, Department of Philosophy, Princeton University.


The pungent odor of my mother’s borscht drifted across our campsite, along with the smoky smell coming from the fire. The field was filled with cars, tents, and a large stage. Onstage was a famous Russian group, “Masha and the 3 Bears,” playing one of their most popular songs at full blast. In our corner of the field, I sat by my mother, wincing as my father played the guitar and sang a tune of his own, a kind of war ballad that sounded suspiciously like Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love.” To some, this setting might seem bizarre, but to me it was all too familiar.

Since I was five, my family and I have been going to Eastern European music festivals all around the East Coast. At some point, these were a chore, but by now they have become a part of my life, not quite as favored as our annual vacations to Cape Cod but, at least, something that I have grown used to. It is normal for toddlers of Russian ancestry to learn how to walk at their first “Sleyt,” or Russian camping festival. It was here I learned how to play the guitar, and how to make my mother’s most treasured Slavic dishes.

Whenever I told my American friends about these experiences, however, they could not understand why anyone would want to hang out in tents in 45-degree...

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