It’s no surprise that college can be expensive. Between the cost of tuition, book fees, living expenses and more, pursuing a higher education can be an intimidating financial undertaking to say the least. With this in mind, the Relocation Department for Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage and Coldwell Banker Pacific Properties set out to create a scholarship program to help make college more affordable for high school seniors that have experienced the relocation process firsthand.

Kathy Denning, Regional Vice President of NRT West Relocation, provides an insider’s look into the launch of the the company’s new Relocation Scholarship Program, its widespread success and this year’s winners.  She explains that while the company’s initial goal was to “provide a little peace of mind to the applicant who most effectively communicated how the relocation process has affected them personally, the program also provided remarkable insight into the moving process itself and some of the universal factors that are experienced by individuals along the way— the up’s, the down’s and a period of self-discovery and personal growth.”

Without further ado, here’s a look at this year’s Relocation Scholarship Program turnout and the winning essays.

First thing’s first…who was invited to apply for the company’s Relocation Scholarship Program?

Keeping in mind that the relocation process affects millions of families each year, the company wanted to make the program available to all high school students that were set to graduate in the spring semester of 2016.

Were there any guidelines set up by the company to ensure fairness when selecting the winners?

Absolutely. Those who met the said eligibility requirements were invited to submit an original and thoughtful essay exploring the topic of relocation. In addition, the selection process itself was based on a scoring system and blind review that ensures fairness and confidentiality for every applicant.

How many essays were collected in total?

We had a wonderful turnout of essays, especially considering that this is the program’s first year. In total, we received 66 essays from all over the United States including Hawaii, Utah, California, Texas, Kansas and more.

Were there any common themes or universal notions about the process of moving that you noticed when reading all of the essay submissions? Likewise, were there any noticeable differences between regions?

Most definitely. It was truly amazing to see both the parallels and also the differences among this year’s submissions. Starting with the differences, it was incredibly insightful to see where some of these applicants moved to and from. For example, we had two applicants that had lived on a boat for years, while others moved down the street and finally, some across the country. We even received an essay from the child of one of the actors from the TV series, Lost. Moving on to the similarities, it was very apparent that every essay was well thought out. The applicants shared extremely personal situations and the heartache that comes with moving. However, they all agreed that relocating helped them grow stronger and more confident.

How were the winners selected?   

It was decided by the company that the applicant who most effectively communicated how the relocation process affected them personally, and how they grew from the experience in an original and thoughtful essay of 1,000 words or less, would be awarded a scholarship in the amount of $2,000 to any college of their choice.

Now on to the exciting revealing… Can you tell us about this year’s winners?

This year’s winners are Cynthia Chang and Samantha Harpool. Cynthia plans to attend Harvard to study Neurobiology and is a Presidential Scholar Nominee, National Merit Finalist and National AP Scholar.  Her extracurricular activities include being the Debate President and Key Club Division Coordinator. Samantha Harpool plans to attend Boston University to study International Relations and Economics.  She wants to work in sustainable development with the U.N. or another humanitarian organization.

Are you able to share the winning essays with us?

Most definitely! Below are the winning essays that were prepared by Cynthia and Samantha in that order.

Essay Winner #1 Prepared by Cynthia Chang

On a windy day in 1973, a woman hesitated on the last step of a plane ramp. In her petite hands were two suitcases with decades of past memories condensed inside. Her final destination was Cleveland, Ohio, where she would seek work at a denim factory. As she took her first step off her plane and into her new life, her heart fluttered and she dreamed that her family in Myanmar would rejoin her someday in this new country to find success. She would pass away at the age of 65 from lung cancer, still clinging on to a hope that she thought would never manifest itself into reality.

The woman was my great-grandmother. She left my grandmother and my mom when she sought a new beginning for them in America. 18 years later my grandmother was able to join her in Ohio to work at a cosmetics factory, but my mom – a graduate student at the time – was forced to flee from Myanmar to Australia with my dad to seek refuge in the aftermath of the 1988 student riots.

Thus, to my family, relocation has always come with sacrifice. In Myanmar, my mom was a college graduate and my dad a business owner. After they emigrated, however, my mom had to take night classes to earn her degree again while juggling a full-time job. My dad, unable to find a job with his degree from Myanmar, worked night shifts as a warehouse supervisor. We moved from place to place in my childhood, and I had difficulty coming to terms with our situation. I cried when we left Australia behind to move to California because it meant starting all over again. It signified that new challenges were ahead for me, from learning English to finding new friends.

It was only when I matured that I fully realized the toll that relocation had on my parents as well. Their sacrifices were reflected in the times my dad asked me for help composing his emails to his colleagues, and the moments he was afraid to order at a restaurant because of his broken English. I saw them embodied in the nights that my mom came home exhausted and forwent dinner so she could sleep for a little longer before the next day.

Even through these struggles of relocation, my parents showed me how to turn difficulties into hope. They couldn’t always help me with my schoolwork or create a perfect life for me, but they’ve given me more than I could ever ask for – support for the inquisitiveness that feeds my experiences, inspiration for my work ethic, and the ability to pursue my own endeavors.

Their unconditional love presented itself in the long hours my mom sat with me in the library when I first became engrossed in science. A decade later, my dad kept me company in the moments when I composed email after email to professors for laboratory research internships and faced constant rejection. When I finally received an email back from a cardiovascular research scientist at the Cleveland Clinic who agreed to take me on as a summer intern, the first people I told were my parents – the ones who had given unwavering support to a daughter who dared to dream even if these ambitions took her across the United States. At the end of my nine-week internship, when I received a copy of the manuscript that I’d worked on, I cried out of happiness for what it symbolized – not only the months of work I put in during the summer, but also the years of support leading up to it. My parents cried too, seeing me achieve something they never even dreamed of for themselves.

These moments have taught me that relocation is intertwined with the meaning of family and the value of new beginnings, and that it is important to embrace change and selflessly cherish the beauty of small moments. Even now, when I volunteer at my local hospital and elementary school, I realize the unending potential for my own growth, from the first time I experienced the thrill of dedicating myself to a larger cause – a childhood day when I fundraised for those displaced by Cyclone Nargis – to the years of service that followed.

Relocation allowed me to meet people of different worldviews and backgrounds across the globe and has showed me that my actions have the ability to positively impact others in my family and community through small moments. The new experiences through this service – like a tearful “thank you” from a mother I had comforted who saw her son on the verge of death and still had the strength to retain hope – continue to drive me.

In 18 years, my journey has taken me across two continents, three states, and five places I’ve called home. And now, 43 years after my great-grandmother took the first step off of her plane, I am standing at the place where her story of relocation began; this summer I am back in Cleveland to begin another research project on heart failure. I visited her grave just this past weekend – I wish I could tell her that the sacrifices of her relocation were fruitful, and that her great-granddaughter now has dreams of her own.

In August, I am moving to Cambridge, Massachusetts. I will be starting my freshman year at Harvard, where I will be studying Neurobiology and Global Health on a Pre-Medicine track. Ultimately, I hope to travel internationally to reform healthcare systems in third-world countries like Myanmar and give back to my community. For now though, for the first time, I will be relocating by myself.

But I know that I will not be alone in my journey. My story does not belong solely to me but also to the struggles of those who came before me. In their names, I embark onto the next chapter of my life, to transform the aspirations of my teenhood into the realities of my adulthood.

Essay Winner #2 Prepared by Samantha Harpool

There was a goat in my room, for the second time this week.

Lucy, with her twisted horns and mud-caked coat, was sleeping on top of my brand new comforter.  Without missing a beat, I picked up the nearest pillow and nudged her awake.  She lazily rose and followed me outside to resume feasting on pine needles, but I knew that in under an hour she would find a new napping spot.  The shock of my room being turned into a livestock pen has almost completely worn off after inhabiting “Mayhem Farm,” my accurately titled home, for almost seven years.

Along with the home intruder, my family owns two dogs, six other goats, and twenty-eight chickens of varying breeds.  We have a garden, a tractor, and an ancient red barn with classic white trim.  It is the farm you see in children’s books and the type Old MacDonald used to inhabit.  My brothers adored the endless number of trees to climb, rivers to fish, and the general sense of being in a Mark Twain novel.  My parents loved the view and the pride that comes from growing things themselves.

I . . . I hated it.

Growing up near Chicago, Illinois had made me a city kid at heart.  I thrived on the lights reflecting off towering skyscrapers and practically worshiped the intricate city sidewalks that, to me, held so much promise.  There always seemed to be stories in every square inch of cement, waiting to be tripped over.  However, more than a few stones were left upturned when my family relocated from the banks of Lake Michigan to the Rocky Mountains.

Before I could even say the word “moving,” I was buttoning up my overalls and nothing was going to take me back to the city.  When we moved I knew I would have to leave behind furniture, clothing, and other mementos but I had no idea that I would be trading it all in for a pair of work gloves and a pitchfork.  It was bad enough that I had to adapt to a new school, new friends, and a new altitude but now I was expected to wake up with the rooster’s call and muck stalls.  Not exactly how most people imagine their teen years.

For years I groaned whenever my parents marched me outside to dig holes, cringed every time someone wanted to come over to observe the petting zoo that was my backyard, and adamantly protested the idea of door to door egg selling every time my mom brought out the cartons.

Only a full-blown natural disaster could have changed my mind.  And it did.

During the Boulder Flood of 2013, our entire acre was covered in two to three feet of rushing, rising current.  We had to evacuate on the third day of consistent downpour, but since most hotels don’t offer turn-down service for goats, we had to leave everything behind once again.

Suddenly in the middle of rain, wind, and thundering skies, I couldn’t bring myself to move.  The thought of leaving was so upsetting that I froze.  None of this made any sense to me whatsoever; I thought I couldn’t wait to leave the farm.

If Chicago had taught me how to explore my surroundings, the farm had taught me to build them into something worth exploring.  Over summers, school breaks, and the occasional snow day my family and I transformed what was once just a plot of land into something much more valuable.  The hours of digging, building and tending had changed me as much as the landscape.  At some point, the farm became home, like Chicago, and the thought of losing another home almost drowned me, literally.

After a few days of nonstop anxiety, the clouds cleared and we returned to clean up the wreckage.  I was right there, clearing branches, shoveling debris, happy to be back in the mayhem once again.

Any parting words from this year’s winners?

Yes, they were very excited to learn of the good news! Below are their expressed words of gratitude for being named this year’s scholarship winners.

Samantha Harpool—

“I am so thankful to Coldwell Banker for providing me with this scholarship. I am excited to relocate once again to Boston University as I continue my education in yet another new environment. Relocating has taught me to always notice and learn from my surroundings and I am so grateful to be able to further explore this idea in the future.”

Cynthia Chang—

“I would like to express my gratitude to the Coldwell Banker Relocation Scholarship Program for encouraging students in the local community to aim higher. I am thankful for the generous award and I firmly believe that this scholarship will empower me to fully pursue my aspirations in college and beyond. Ultimately, I hope that my story of relocation—and the subsequent passions that grew from that story—will serve to inspire other students to strive for higher education.”

Well there you have it! Congratulations again to this year’s Relocation Scholarship Program winners, Cynthia Change and Samantha Harpool. Between now and the end of the year, we will be posting a collection of some of the other notable essays that were received locally over the course of the program. Check back regularly for our ongoing series of Relocation Stories!