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Maatkara Wilson: To Shanghai and Back

 

Two years ago, Maatkara left her hometown Chicago for Shanghai to study IB at Qibao Dwight High School. In the 2020 application season, she was admitted to University of Chicago with a full scholarship.

 

She is fun, perceptive, outgoing, and adventurous. Her college counselor Mr. Rafael Katz says, “Her willingness to risk the life she knew in Chicago for the opportunity to study in Shanghai has paid off for her. It has also paid off for all the students at QD who have benefited from the diverse perspectives Maatkara has brought to our school.”

 

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About Maatkara

 

Courses: IB English A HL, IB Chinese B SL, IB Psychology SL, IB Chemistry SL, IB Mathematics SL, IB Theatre HL, AP Chinese (online)

CAS: Student Ambassador, QD Rush, QDHS Holiday Gala Hosting, Leading a Track Practice, Girl Soccer, International Youth Politics Forum, Yale Young Global Scholars (YYGS) summer program.

EE: How does Black television perpetuate colorism in the language and visual imagery used in situational comedies that are meant to celebrate the black community?

ToK: “The role of analogy is to aid understanding rather than to provide justification.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

College acceptances: University of Chicago, New College of the Humanities

 

 

l  Why China?

Maatkara loves accepting challenges. She chose Mandarin, one of the most difficult languages in the world, as her second language in middle school. Since then, she has not only been learning the language, but also the culture, which influenced her decision to move abroad.


“I started learning mandarin in 7th grade because a learning a foreign language was mandatory and, to me, Mandarin seemed like the most enticing option. After that, I really took to the language and learning about the culture, both within and outside the United States. After my freshman year of high school, I participated in a language intensive at University of Chicago and learned a bit more about modern Chinese culture in a globalized world. After that, my parents moved to Beijing and I spent about a month or two there during the summer. After summer ended, I returned to Chicago and began preparing for a Chinese speech contest, of which I came second in the region. I used the speech contest as an opportunity to solidify some of the language skills I had acquired through my courses. After that, my parents moved to Shanghai and started working at Qibao Dwight. I thought that spending my last two high school years in Shanghai would be an interesting experience, so I took advantage of the opportunity.

“Moving here, I didn’t want to be a typical international student, per se. I figured going to QD would force me to learn more about spoken and colloquial Mandarin, as well as about how to converse and be my natural self in a different language.


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Hosting Holiday Gala


“I suppose I’ve become more inherently aware of things I wasn’t aware of before. I think I’ve always been a pretty perceptive person, but being in a completely new space and navigating personalities and people has increased that perceptiveness tenfold. I also think I’ve become less outspoken and more thoughtful. Learning a different language has made me think about the way I use words and their implications, so I often find myself thinking through statements and claims more thoroughly than I did before coming here.


Besides Mandarin Chinese, Maatkara is trying to learn Korean and Norwegian.

 

 

l  Life at Qibao Dwight


Maatkara took AP and Honors courses and got straight As at Whitney M. Young Magnet High School in Chicago. Transferring to Qibao Dwight wasn’t an easy decision. Although her time at Young provided her with a solid academic foundation, transitioning to the IBDP still presented some new challenges and difficulties.


“Given the pretty unique set of higher level courses I took, being Theatre, Psychology, and English A, I learned a lot about my writing skills and what my strengths and weaknesses are in those areas. I also learned a lot about my time management and willingness to focus more on specific types of classes. This is going to inform me a lot about what I want to pursue in the future, as well as where I can excel and where I need to focus my attention. I also learned that online courses are not the best way for me to learn for some subjects, like Math, so that will help me quite a bit in college. All in all, I think IB helps inform people of where their strengths and weak points lie, as well as how to attack those areas with the appropriate amount of pressure and consideration.”


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Performing Theatre SWAN


What she really enjoyed was thinking and discussing in ToK classes, such as analyzing different people’s view toward artist Banksy’s shredding his own painting Girl with Balloon on an auction.


“I learned a lot in my core courses, but Theory of Knowledge was my favorite course/subject. It allowed me to be more interdisciplinary in my day-to-day thinking, which helped me realize that cross-referencing and comparing information is the best way for me to absorb and understand information. I think from a broad point of view, so, although I can focus well on minute details, Theory of Knowledge really engaged me and my way of thinking. If I were offered a comparable course in college, I would program for it in a heartbeat.


Tackling the IB curriculum is difficult enough. Doing so as the only Black student in a Chinese high school presented additional challenges. Despite this, Maatkara was able to successfully embrace and conquer these challenges.  exploring the city, making friends, and creating many good memories.


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Playing Soccer


“The autumn of my senior year was comprised of some of the most formative moments of my life at QD. We were beginning the college process and getting super-duper stressed, so any physical movement that took my mind off of that stress was definitely welcomed. Most of our seniors had left the Girls Soccer team, and we had a brand new coach, Mr. O’Neil, so we had a lot to learn about each other and the game. I think that realizing myself as a senior member of the team, along with my fellow seniors, put us in a new position that we welcomed. I remember the last tournament we had and how much of a team we had evolved into. Admittedly, we had our flaws and were going up against some really tough teams, but there was a cohesiveness and camaraderie amongst the team that fueled how we performed in that tournament. I always remember laughing and joking with the team because it seemed as though we were always having fun and growing with each other. Before this team, I had never been on a real team sport, mostly because track is a very individual sport. Being in such a new setting with the spirit we had was definitely a defining moment because it shows a lot about students here and the activities that bring us together the most.”

 

 

l  Why Chicago?


In Maatkara’s eye, Chicago is a true mid-western city. It unifies the east, west, north and south in a very cohesive way. Because of that, she thinks it provides people with a unique perspective of the US. When people think of the US, they often think of Los Angeles and New York City which have their own defining characteristics. Chicago pulls from both of these places and unites them, while also having all-around better food (in her opinion). 


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University of Chicago is a private research university founded in 1890. It is ranked among the world’s top 10 universities in various rankings. University of Chicago scholars have played a major role in the development of many academic disciplines, including economics, law, literary criticism, mathematics, religion, sociology, and the behavioralism school of political science, establishing the Chicago School in various fields. (Wikipedia). Being accepted by University of Chicago means a lot to Maatkara.

 

“The first word that comes to mind is relieving. I remember doubting myself, my abilities and my decisions a lot during the application process, so being accepted to any school at all would’ve been a rejuvenating self-affirming boost. The second word that comes to mind is exciting. I have a few friends from my old school going, as well as a lot of family that live in the area. Being able to reconnect with them is important to me, so I’m glad going there will allow me that opportunity. Last word, daunting. While I’m from Chicago, this will be a brand new experience for me, especially as a young adult, so I’m both excited and wary of the new experiences I’ll encounter on campus and beyond.”


As for why she was accepted, Maatkara simply thinks her profile fit what the university was looking during this round of applications.


“I’d like to think my philosophical take on the half-lives of internet memes and weirdly introspective personal essay/diary entry were the reasons, but I think they saw my application and were like ‘Oh, a black girl in China? Interesting.’ But in all seriousness, I took a couple of risks leaving my old high school and extracurriculars and beginning a completely new lifestyle, so being able to adapt to those risks and do halfway decent in the IB was probably the reason. So, taking risks and allowing a certain degree of vulnerability in my life was probably why. It definitely wasn’t because of my standardized testing.”


Her answer to the University of Chicago’s essay question was very interesting.


Q: Cats have nine lives, Pac-man has 3 lives, and radioactive isotopes have half-lives. How many lives does something else —conceptual or actually—have, and why? 

 

A: A meme’s life-span is short-lived because the attention spans of both Gen Z kids and Millennials are ephemeral. This is not new information. Attention economy, as coined by Esther Dawson, refers to the proliferation of information and the subsequent intake by audiences which impacts how companies manage and respond to these consumers’ needs. If we apply this to meme development, the constant need for new responses to pop culture phenomena forces both producers and consumers into the constant production and consumption of memes, which shortens their lifespan. The constant need for a “New and Improved!” product trickles into the depths of internet culture and infects even the most pure and avant-garde of memes and meme structures. Because of this, the spirit of memes is lost. A pattern is developed in how producers and consumers respond to pop culture and thus, memes become predictable. This desensitizes consumers to the sheer humor of the meme, forcing producers into making more niche and obscure memes to cater to a numbed audience. The essence of the meme and its initial significance is lost, thus showing how new memes cannot be created. The singular and unique nature of how memes are developed has been lost due to the expectation of them, thus reducing the ability for the reincarnation of a meme’s spirit.

 

 

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Rafael Katz

Maatkara’s college counselor

 

I am an admirer of all the Chinese students that successfully face the challenge of learning English and applying to universities overseas. Western students who show equal interest and ability to come and study in China are rare. 

 

Maatkara Wilson was comfortably earning straight A’s at one of the top public schools in the Chicago, Whitney M. Young, which has esteemed alumni like Michelle Obama. She decided to give that all up to pursue her passion for learning Chinese language and culture. Transitioning from a diverse public school in the U.S. to a Chinese high school was a challenge for Maatkara. Her receptiveness to adapting to Chinese school customs from morning assemblies to silent study halls, helped her become a successful student at Qibao Dwight. 

 

Observing Maatkara at school, there is a noticeable warmth between her and her Chinese classmates. They have all struggled through the challenging IB curriculum together.  Maatkara now speaks fluently in Chinese and displays a deep and respectful understanding of Chinese culture.  She will be a great ambassador for China as she heads to the University of Chicago to pursue her undergraduate degree. 

 

Her willingness to change the life she knew in Chicago for the opportunity to study in Shanghai has paid off for her. It has also paid off for all the students at QD who have benefited from the diverse perspectives Maatkara has brought to our school.