Common App Admissions Essays

Western Civilization


Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family. 

Sometimes all it takes is one person, or one assignment, to make an indelible impact. In my case, freshman year Western Civilization and my eccentric teacher allowed me to learn the benefit of hard work and determination. My lanky, bald, and animated instructor, who often wore various cultural outfits, taught with an enthusiasm I had never encountered. In addition to hearing this man’s stories about his journey biking across Africa, his unique teaching approach and demanding projects helped me develop a strong work ethic that has stayed with me for the last four years.

Throughout the year, my class reenacted major battles from the Fall of Rome and experienced traditional Middle Eastern teatime; however learning the geographical map of the entire world was by far the most challenging assignment. A seemingly impossible task at first, we started slowly with quizzes and tests that would ask us to label anywhere from 20 to 60 countries, capitals, deserts, mountain ranges, and major bodies of water on a map.  But the biggest challenge came in May of that year. The “Final Map Test” was a notoriously difficult test at my school, and my name would even be engraved on a plaque if I got 100%. When my teacher initially told my class that we would have to label at least 400 places on a map, we just laughed and thought it was a joke, especially since this man had chosen to wear a turban and billowing oriental cape that day.

In the weeks leading up to the exam, I spent at least an hour each day playing geography games, filling out maps, and making flashcards. This test not only reinforced that I’m a very determined person, but it also showed me that I can be exceptionally hardworking and resilient when faced with an overwhelmingly large task. Even now, I can name a few obscure capitals and random bodies of water, and I’m waiting for the day when Jeopardy asks for the capital of Burkina Faso, because I could proudly shout out the answer.

When the test day finally arrived, I shook nervously as I started labeling Samoa and the Cook Islands in the South Pacific Ocean. Spending four hours sprawled across a map almost as tall as myself was unbelievably stressful, especially once I started blanking out on the easiest countries and their capitals. How could I forget the capital of Nepal, or the name of the longest river in India? But nonetheless, when the locations on my map were counted, I had labeled 559. If this does not sound impressive, then I would ask: do you know the capital of Brunei? Or which country actually has three capitals?

In the end, my success with the map not only got my name engraved on a plaque, but it also helped me foster a more diligent approach to my schoolwork.  And despite the stressful year, I’m thankful for my teacher’s infectious enthusiasm. Following Western Civilization, none of my teachers have lectured on the importance of learning how to deflect a rhino attack on the Serengeti, or worn woven sandals from a market in Jerusalem on an average school day, but my zeal for learning remains. Although several years have passed, I’m still proud to possess knowledge of our world, a massive drive to excel at my schoolwork, and a lengthy list of places that I would absolutely love to visit.

And for the record:

  Ouagadougou is the capital of Burkina Faso;

  Kathmandu is the capital of Nepal;

  The Ganges River is the longest in India;

  Bandar Seri Begawan is the capital of Brunei;

  and South Africa is the country with three capitals.

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How to cite this essay (MLA)

Hughes, Vanessa. "Western Civilization" Study Notes, LLC., 08 Apr. 2014. Web. 26 May. 2024. <>.