I confess - I was unaware of the title - "1st place overall" at 2011 Muslim Interscholastic Tournament (MIST). Stumbling upon this success, I accepted the news in a daze. I came as a humble competitor with no years of MIST experience or siblings that forged their greatness in the past competitions. I came as a humble bearer of Islamic knowledge.
In my first year at MIST, I shied away from events that emphasized such knowledge, not only lacking confidence in my Islamic understanding but also my ability to overcome my "handicap." Daunted by the odds against seasoned competitors, I used the excuse: "How could a non-Muslim stand a chance against a Muslim?"
The following year, my limiting mentality shifted. I no longer saw myself as a non-Muslim but a friend of the Muslims, accepting them as they accepted me. When MIST came around, I vowed to attempt every event possible. Initially, this was a tactic to maximize the success of my underrepresented school, but I later realized my central motivation was to maximize my MIST experience. Why should I shy away? As I signed up for events, I smiled at my daringness and I began preparing without the thought of my "disadvantage." I prepared not to let my team down. I prepared not to let myself down. I set high expectations for myself (not to win 1st place) but to represent myself among the Muslim community -Let me make my mark, leaving behind evidence that "Alice Kim" was here.
As a foreign newcomer, the competition daunted me; so instead, I aimed to enjoy the opportunity to learn and meet new people. MIST proved to be just that as a women helped pin my hijab in the bathroom without a trace of question, "Why is a Korean girl struggling to wear a hijab?" I found myself in the arms of acceptance e as my friend taught me how to do Wudu and as I sat listening to a speaker who emphasized that Islam is about acceptance. I even found acceptance within the competition: my poetry (which described Abraham's sacrifice and cautiously noted the differences between Christianity and Islam) placed in the finals.
Again and again, MIST proved to be more than a competition between schools but a gathering of wonderful people, united by a common belief. United but with open arms to those, like me. A Christian Korean girl. The acceptance I received allowed me in turn to accept others. At Emory University, when I meet a student that is Muslim, I approach them with ease, surprising them with my knowledge, asking if they competed in MIST too, and later affectionately calling them "beta."
Although I do not declare myself a Muslim, I feel connected with Muslims, feeling the urge to protect them from slander. I use basic knowledge that I acquired from my friends and defend them against others' ignorance. I, however, wonder if I too would have a stood in ignorance if I had not took a chance in joining MSA and competed in MIST. So, I am grateful for this opportunity and forever blessed.
My advice for oncoming competitors: Don't play the game to compete. That falls short of a true motivation because it will rust over time and fail you in the end. Find your own motivation, a pure, incorruptible one. Try an event in every category - be confident in yourself. Take the risk and sign up for that event, ignoring the reasons why you should not and most of all, see MIST as I discovered it - a place where I can entertain strangers in Improv as I act like little kid on her way to the dentist who refuses to part with her barbeque chips; a place where a Christian girl can be accepted as someone who simply wants to know more and befriend all.