Some students have a background, identity, interest or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.” This is the first prompt from the Common App essay questions this year.

Whenever I close my eyes, all I can see is this prompt. It’s the question that hovers in my mind as I shovel cereal into my mouth, as I drive to school and as I sit listening to a lecture in the middle of class.

Is my cereal choice indicative of my interests? Does the Prius I drive say something about my personality? Can calculating the derivative of an equation be a talent? All of this reflection leads to the mother-lode question: Who am I?

The words seems simple, nothing that I’ll need too much time to think about. But when I start to actually think about it, I realize that I have no idea how to answer the question. To show colleges who I am, I first need to know myself.

It’s not as if I tried to neglect introspection throughout high school. In a time when hormones are raging and people are going through all kinds of funky changes, finding who you are becomes increasingly important to complete the coming-of-age cycle. It helps you find your friends, your beliefs and what you are most passionate about. These discoveries are especially  important past high school, as they help bring purpose, goals and relationships into one’s life.

But between homework, extracurriculars, family time and trying to get sleep, introspection never seemed to be a priority for me, and, I expect, it also isn’t a priority for many other high schoolers.

In the end, where did my lack of introspection leave me? With diddly squat to help me answer the Common App. Over the summer and into my final year of high school, I devoted a copious amount of time to brainstorming; I accrued a list of words my friends used to describe me, I read pages of example college essays — all of this work, it seemed, was to no avail.

One day I was staring at my list, my head aching and frustration reaching peak levels. Then I noticed a link in two of my topics — quietness and Korean culture.

Latching onto these ideas, I tried to find the connection between these two seemingly unrelated topics. I thought about what I knew of Korean culture, what my personality is like and  experiences I’ve had that were influenced by these aspects of my life; I was a spelunker exploring the inner-workings of my own head.

At last I saw how these two ideas were linked.

Korean culture highlights respect towards older people, especially adults.  Even if someone is only a year older than you, you still have to refer to them in the same way you would refer to your grandparents. I never thought this part of my life clashed with my everyday routine, but self-reflection led me to see things differently. I’ve never understood banter with adults. To me, they’ve always been far away figures — untouchable and almost intimidating. I’ve thought my inability to relate to them was a fault of my character, but I learned through introspection that it’s a combination of my personality and upbringing. This realization didn’t release a huge weight off my chest, nor did it change my life. But it’s helped me understand myself a bit better, how I view the world and how I can continue with this new knowledge.

As I continue writing my college essays, I’m constantly confronted with new opportunities for growth and reflection. Hopefully come January I’ll have a good idea of who I am.  I won’t know everything there is to know about me — but answering the Common App will be a start.