Defining My Education

Right now, if you close your eyes and listen closely, you can hear millions of high school seniors heaving sighs of relief. It’s the end of the college application season, a time of anxiety and stress for most students, but for me, it was quite different. Being abroad while applying to college gave me serenity and ample time to write essays.

The first two months of exchange were a whirlwind, but once the dust settled, I found myself in the same boat as the other YES-Abroad students: lost. I had little concrete responsibility, and had lost my sense of purpose. Thankfully college applications came to the rescue, giving me fulfilling work that made me feel productive. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy the process, but I attribute it to helping me understand my growth on exchange.

Focusing on writing with the seemingly endless hours I was spending in school made my exchange slow down because my writing was self-reflective. College essays are there to show admissions counselors what they can’t see in just numbers and transcripts. Trying to show myself in the best light possible, I was forced to reflect on my achievements, memories, and most importantly, my education.

At first, I found it challenging to write about my time here. How can I write with gusto about a crucial time in my life that’s only 30% done? The more I wrote, the more I realized that my time in Indonesia is the defining characteristic in my educational journey thus far, and to write about it as this massive growth and perception change while still participating felt premature.

My whole life, I have grown in a very comfortable bubble. My loving and supportive friends and family allowed me to dive into academics and personal pursuits, while still growing at a steady rate. But now, I can feel the holy hands of growth pushing me into unknown places. My ideas, style, values, and perceptions of the world have all been launched into 6th gear and the chart of my life went from linear growth to exponential, and the feeling is exhilarating. For the first time, I can look back at myself just a mere 5 months ago and chuckle, because that feels like a photo from years past.

This idea of radical change in the past 5 months was really hard to explain in just a few word-limited college essays. On my applications, the hard facts and extracurricular activities solidified what I know, and then my essays were showing a new Joe, showing who I’ve become. This juxtaposition between what felt like two different personalities felt disingenuous, but it is the best way to represent all of who I am. It wasn’t until around Christmas time that I crafted my last college essay, which ironically, best encapsulated these feelings in the standard ~250 words.

All in all, the college application process was more fruitful than I had ever imagined. In the States, people complain about how long and painstaking the whole process is. Don’t listen to them. I yearn for an avenue as refined as the college application process that pushes me to reflect more about my education. It taught me to see how much I have changed, but more importantly how much more I will. I have 180 days left here, at least four years of university, and a lifetime of learning, so I’m just getting started.

I’ll leave you with a copy of the essay, so you can fully understand how I feel at this point of my year.

Thank God I got knocked off my high horse.


I am a white, Christian, male from the beautiful town of Winston-Salem. Raised in the south, I was indoctrinated into the time-honored traditions that flood southern culture: some good, others too traditional, my identity was rooted in where I’ve always lived. Comfort in my city and community ran through my veins and defined my character: easy-going, ambitious, curious, and sprinkled with teenage invincibility.


When I moved to Indonesia as a Youth Ambassador, everything changed. Leaving home behind was an exciting prospect for growth, but more arduous than expected. Like a snake shedding its skin, I feel new and disoriented. Culture shock brought me to the ground to see the world in a different light. With an unfamiliar environment, people, and language, I’ve been slowly questioning what makes me unique. What does losing my southern identity and gaining local West Java culture make me?


My application shows Joe Faullin before my departure to Indonesia. No longer am I the self-indulgent high school kid who drove his truck to school and played lacrosse. I’m learning about myself, and am thirstier for knowledge than I’ve ever been. As I sit here at my favorite coffee shop, Warkop Modjok, listening to Signs by The Avett Brothers, I see hijabs and smell fried rice, the beautiful December weather fills my soul with joy – I know that in my year here is building me up to become the global citizen I am made to be.

With my love of music, I want to share one of the songs that I listened to while writing this post. When drafting this post, my favorite song was So Good at Being in Trouble by Unknown Moral Orchestra