“It was really tough for me, but I remember telling my dad ‘I think I found exactly what I needed’. Because usually, my personality gets challenged when I deal with authority figures who I felt they were not prepared enough. However, in this case, I felt that my mentor was going to be exactly what I needed, as a mentor. There is a key difference between a consultant and a mentor. A consultant sees it as a business relationship. My consultant (ASR Mentor) was like a professor and a mentor, and he was not going to go light on me. He will be straight forward, and that’s how it was. He woke me up, and pushed me to put in the work to achieve the goal…”
Sebastian: For most aspirational students for big universities, like Ivy League, it starts as a very intimidating and confusing endeavor. To be honest, it’s very hard to know how to start and where to start. In my case, I started just by asking friends, doing some online research and trying as much as possible. Luckily I found this architecture portfolio. I tried to make the first approach and see what happened. I wasn’t sure where it was going to lead me and, I thought it was really good. I remember the first response was that “Ok, you come in, or you send me some stuff that you’ve done, and I can do a review. Let me keep it for a few days and give it back to you, so you can get a more complete idea of what you need to do.”
Interviewer: You are talking about the evaluation process?
Sebastian: The evaluation process, that’s exactly the name. I thought it was an excellent first step, because like I said before, it’s a very confusing experience. You don’t know where to start, so this is a good step. It helps you to sort things out and organize. Maybe encourage you to make the second step; “Ok, this is how it works, this is where I’m standing today, and this is what I’m missing.” For me, I had no idea where I was standing. I had no architecture experience, so I had no clue where I was standing compared to all these other applicants that are looking for the same goal. It gave me some confidence and trust to make this personal relationship, and that was a very good thing. I feel in this confusing process, it really helps to have these kinds of conversations with someone experienced. That’s you in this case, and of course, I thought it was very intimidating. I felt like, “I’m not really prepared for this.”
I liked that you were very straight forward. The evaluation was like, “This is not subjective, this is what it is and this is what it takes.” It’s not easy, it might be tough for many people. It was tough for me, but I remember telling my dad that, “I think I found exactly what I needed.” Usually, my personality gets challenging when I get some kind of authority figures. I always had issues with my teachers. I didn’t feel like they were prepared enough. For this case, I felt like, “I know he’s going to be exactly what I need.” Not a learning or teaching point of view, but more like a mentor. I feel it’s the key difference in having a consultant and having a mentor. A consultant is like, “This is a business relationship and that’s pretty much it,” which I know it is because this is a business. However, I feel this professor; even though he is a consultant; he’s my professor and a mentor. He is going to be straight forward, and that’s how he was. It woke me up like, “This is what you want so this is what it takes. You got to wake up and put all these work hours into this if you want to achieve this goal.” Also, it came with a guarantee that you gave me, like, “This is what I’ve done with all these other students.” Each one of them had their own voice and their own background, which is interesting. It makes you feel as an applicant, “Ok, I can do it too, even though I’m different or not as good as portfolio number 3.” It gave me the confidence to see that I have a voice different from all the other portfolios. “Focus on that, and let’s work on that. All these other stuff that you’ve done is nice but it’s not going to work.” Sometimes that’s hard to hear, but it’s the truth, and for me, this is exactly what I need. I need to hear what I need, not what I want to hear.
The process was very demanding, and there were no excuses. Even though I know in some cases I gave many excuses because I was working full-time and it was a very demanding job. It came back to the same thing, “You decided this. You came. You applied for this, and because you want to get this, it’s irrelevant if you are working a full-time job or not. The admissions committee, they don’t care. You are as good as your application.” I remember having rough nights but I remember also thinking how “it was nice”. It was like connecting back to what I really want to do and buried talents I wasn’t using. This kind of process helped me to bring it back and also helped me to find some new things. New kinds of skills or different ways to do things. This mentorship helped me to, “Focus on this, or let’s dig on this. This is very interesting, and why aren’t you using this kind of specific thing?” It was like I had taken a complete course of something that involved a portfolio. An academic thing, but it was also personal enlightenment. It was an interesting process.
In my case, I got accepted to Cornell, which a great challenge and I was very proud of it. That wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t gone through this process, no way at all, so it was a very enriching experience. It was tough, but that’s what it takes and with my eyes closed, I would totally go through all this again. At this point, after two-three years, I’m finding myself again. I miss that. That’s what I need again, for my next step. I need to go under that kind of pressure and that kind of focus. I felt like I reached a great focus when I worked on the portfolio. I was able to reach a focus level because I had too, and now that I realized that, I want to go back to that. I know that process woke that interesting, methodical way of working towards design and architecture, that I didn’t know existed until I was put through that strict and focused process. It’s interesting, now I want that again [chuckle]. It’s good, it works in every way. In an intellectual way but also in a spiritual way, it really develops you in an overall way. [Crosstalk]
Interviewer: How did it help you in a spiritual way?
Sebastian: It started with the confidence it gave me. For me, it was a challenge to prove that I could do this. I could show that even though I wasn’t in this field, I could do it, and I could do it really well. When I first started, I wasn’t really confident. It started that way, first, it gave me confidence. Second I worked through it, and at the end, I actually believed in myself, like, “You know what, of course I could do this.” I left behind that anxiety. That was behind, so “what comes next.”
It’s maybe a spiritual way, an attitude, or mentality that changed. If you have that, you can do anything. It doesn’t matter if its architecture or its whatever. If it changes your way of thinking or your perspective and your confidence, then you are prepared to do whatever comes next. If it wasn’t the Master’s degree, it could very well be anything else so that’s why I feel like it was a very complete journey. That one-on-one, going back and forth and repeating. That’s what it takes and it takes time, so it woke me up in a very good way.
Towards the end when the time was running out, it was a nightmare. It was a complete nightmare. I remember I had to finish everything and you were also very busy. Specifically, it was Christmas time, and we had the days counted. I had to finish all these projects, and I fell behind on other months because of work. I had to come up with, I think it was the fourth and fifth projects, and also finishing the essay. My favorite part was when it was Christmas Eve. There was no one. I was by myself [chuckle] with all these chemicals. With dry leaves from Central Park that were all burnt because it snowed the day before. I had this bathtub full of water and I threw in the leaves so that they didn’t breakdown [chuckle]. I had run out of thread to work with the leaves, so everything was working against me. It was probably 3 am in the morning, and I was like, “I have to go back to Central Park to find the same tree.” It had to be the same material, and I had to go find the same tree. The first batch of leaves was in autumn, now it was winter, so it wasn’t going to be as fresh as before. It was going to change the material of work, naturally because it was an organic process. It was very interesting how each day that passed changed everything. It was more issues and more problems, but at the same time I remember having a fulfilling sense, like, “This is good, this is what it takes, and I’m anxious but this is cool.” That’s probably the moment I remember the most during the process, and I enjoyed it.