After years of helping students write the old UC1 prompt (my favorite college essay prompt), I decided it wouldn’t be a bad way to describe why I love what I do. Here’s that prompt:

Describe the world you come from—for example, your family, community or school—and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.

Here’s my 500 word response:

“I’d been to ten countries by the time I was four.”

That was the first line of my college essay. Fourteen years later, it’s still a pretty good intro to me. I was a missionary kid, first in Spain, then Ecuador and Colombia, eventually graduating from high school in Miami, at my thirteenth school. I learned pretty quickly how to make adaptability my home.

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I also got pretty good at making friends. I learned that, deep down, people wanted to connect. It helped to share something personal about yourself and just wait. Once people saw that nothing happened to you after you shared–that it was safe–people felt more comfortable giving a piece of themselves too. So I shared. I learned to give away pieces of myself. That nothing bad was going to happen.

I also learned to ask good questions. Most people ask boring questions when they first meet. But because I moved around so much I became impatient with small talk. Life’s short, I’d think, How’s your relationship with your dad?

And along the way I fell in love with language. Cummings, Rimbaud, Emerson. In high school I was the kid at the party writing down what people said in his notepad, writing poems, writing anything.