Great American Reflective Essays

Below we offer two examples of thoughtful reflective essays that effectively and substantively capture the author's growth over time at California State University Channel Islands (CI). We suggest that you write your own essay before reading either of these models-then, having completed your first draft, read these over to consider areas in your own background that you have not yet addressed and which may be relevant to your growth as a reader, writer, or thinker.

Any reference to either of these essays must be correctly cited and attributed; failure to do so constitutes plagiarism and will result in a failing grade on the portfolio and possible other serious consequences as stated in the CSUCI Code of Conduct.

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View Sample Reflective Essay #1

View Sample Reflective Essay #2

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            America is a very young country.  This is an obvious fact to anyone, especially to someone like who has been immersed in the study of civilizations for many years.  But it is easy to dismiss this fact or even become slightly blinded to it when living, working and studying in the United States.  Walking through the streets of a city older than the oldest permanent settlement in North America, however, makes it impossible to deny that the United States is still an adolescent. Before this trip I had studied Europe in a textbook and walked the streets of Washington DC and Philadelphia.  European history, while fascinating and important, was not alive to me the way American history was. This trip changed that. Looking at gravestones from the 13th century and walking through churches from the 14th century made European history real and concrete for the first time, and made me painfully aware of how small our own history is in comparison.

            While visiting these countries I had to remind myself that what was strange and uncomfortable to me was normal and comforting to those around me, from the big things like language to the more inconsequential items, like ordering food. All three of these countries seemed to move at a slower pace than what I see in the US.  Americans always seem to be on the move and in a hurry, and are always searching for convenience.  In these countries people seemed to be fine with a slightly slower pace.  While many people I encountered were less polite and congenial than the average America, in general the atmosphere seemed to be more relaxed.  There were not rules for everything; dogs were off leashes, smoking was permitted nearly every building I entered, and payment for goods or services was often an unorganized free-for-all, with hastily handwritten bills and consumers crowded around a check-out counter.  Part of this apparent lack of over-regulation annoyed and frustrated me.  But I also saw it as refreshing.  Both the Czechs and the Hungarians dealt with oppressive communism for decades – picking up after their dog, perhaps, is not such a big deal.

            Prague was the most overwhelming city for me for several reasons. Since it was the first city on the tour it was also my first experience in Europe and I felt such a sense of awe and need to see and do as much as possible. The city had such a medieval feel, with the small winding cobblestone streets and small stores with hand painted signs. It stood in sharp contrast to Vienna, which was so much more Parisian and cosmopolitan. Vienna was the city in which I enjoyed myself the most. Because of the more modern feel of the city I felt more comfortable and felt that I fit in more. Budapest, unfortunately, I did not feel like I experienced enough. This was probably due to the fact that it was the last city on the tour and I was becoming exhausted, combined with the unpleasant weather I was more reluctant to explore the city in the way I had Prague. Budapest also seems to still be recovering from its years in the Cold War. It had a very different feel than the other two cities, almost like the experience of communism was still hanging over their heads, with even things like the metro system having a retro-1950’s feel from the communist era.

            The most incredible experience on this trip, for me, was visiting the Nazi prison camp of Terezin. It was probably one of the most humbling experiences of my life, and its nearly impossible to describe the feeling of standing in the freezing rooms that the guide informed us held up to 60 Jewish prisoners. The guide was incredibly detailed in her descriptions and the “small fortress,” along with the museum that accompanied it in town, did not skimp on detailing the horror and terror that occurred there. One part of the museum was dedicated solely to the children of the camp, with the names of thousands of children and the dates of birth painted on all the walls, much like the synagogue in the city of Prague. It was piece of history that I had yet to experience first hand and it was overwhelming. I was very glad to visit this camp in the winter because it made the experiences of the prisoners even harder to imagine. I was layered in sweaters, a coat, a scarf and a hat and gloves and I was numb and freezing. It was nearly impossible to imagine what the prisoners went through in the winter in only the barest of clothes. This trip, along with the other tours and experiences in Prague, cemented the idea that the Czechs are very aware and proud of their history. They have dealt with a lot in this century alone, and have not always had the support of the western powers. They seem to be a very proud people who are weary of sacrificing their history to western tourists who are now visiting Prague because it is the trendy, hot city in Europe at the moment.

            When dealing with history and public space, I saw both similarities and differences between these cities and the United States. The Ring in Vienna reminded me of the National Mall, with various statues and memorials scattered throughout one part of a city. It seemed as if nearly every twelve feet I was looking at another memorial to another famous Austrian.  Both the Czech Republic and Hungary also have had to deal with the issue of sites of memory to people and times best left to history: cold war dictators, communist propaganda and other relics of oppression.  Both Prague and Budapest have found different ways to cope with these unpleasant memories.  Prague seemed to be more open regarding its years behind the iron curtain.  The people were talked about with a little more jest and reticule, and the museum of communism was fascinating for both the items it displayed as well as the humorous slant it took on the years of communism.  Budapest, on the other hand, seemed to take the issue a bit more seriously, I would assume due to the fact that it suffered greatly during its years under communism.  The terror museum was fascinating and horrifying, with its painfully terrible images of murder and torture and its uncomfortable walk through a cold war era prison. It was a much more somber and sobering experience than the communism museum in Prague. Both of these museums are a way to keep the public aware of the hardships and oppressions both countries have faced and remember an era of history.  But both cities treat and choose to remember the subject much differently. Before this trip I had little concept about communism in this part of Europe, and was especially ignorant on the details of each country. This stark difference between the museums was very jarring and intriguing to me.

            This trip was an eye opening experience, and an incredible educational opportunity. Often times I forget the facts I learn in the classroom, no matter how well I did in the class or how much I enjoyed the subject. Learning about these countries through this tour, however, was a unique and unforgettable way to learn about central Europe. It will be hard to forget the images I saw, museums I visited, memorials I stood in front of and people I met. I knew that I would be exposed to a different history and culture, and that these things would be jarring and surprising to me. I did not quite grasp just how surprising the differences were until I experienced them.

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