10/14/10 — Wayne Country Day School student named scholarship semifinalist

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Wayne Country Day School student named scholarship semifinalist

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 14, 2010 1:46 PM

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Ama Zbarcea, 17, a senior at Wayne Country Day School, has been named a semi-finalist in the National Merit Scholarship program, which provides $36 million to more than 8,000 students nationwide. She moved to the United States with her family from Romania when she was 4.

A Romanian-born senior at Wayne Country Day School who takes tae kwon do, speaks four languages and plans to apply to 12 colleges, has been named a semifinalist in the annual National Merit Scholarship program.

Ama Zbarcea, 17, is one of approximately 16,000 high school seniors competing for the 8,400 scholarships, worth more than $36 million.

Qualification is based on academic record throughout high school, plus the outcome on the PSAT, or Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test, taken their junior year.

Ama came to the U.S. with her family 13 years ago. Prior to moving to Wayne County when she was in eighth grade, she lived near Boston and in the Washington, D.C., area.

She speaks fluent Romanian, learned English when she moved to America, and also speaks French and Spanish.

One of the requirements for the merit scholarship was to write an essay on a person or experience that has had an influence on her life.

"I chose to write about my experience taking tae kwon do," she said. "I have been training almost two years now. I'm a high blue belt."

She became interested after seeing a demonstration at a summer camp her two younger brothers were attending, she said.

"I was just hooked," she said. "There was this one competition I went to as an early beginner. They would fly through the air and they looked weightless, they would do flips and spins and break cinderblocks."

She hasn't mastered all those things yet, but she does aspire to become an instructor.

At Wayne Country Day, she is captain of the swim team, plays soccer and participates in the chess club and is on the Brain Game team. She also enjoys cooking, reading, drawing and painting, as well as tatting, a needlework art she learned from her grandmother.

She is undecided about her future plans, but is considering majoring in international relations or international business, or perhaps pre-med, since her mother, Gratiala, is a psychiatrist. Dad Hadrian is a software engineering.

Last year, she followed in her parents' footsteps in another way, becoming a U.S. citizen.

"It was a great opportunity and I realized that I'm really lucky to be here," she said.

These days, in addition to her studies and extracurricular activities, Ama's time is spent on applications -- for colleges as well as scholarship opportunities.

She has narrowed down her choices based on two criteria -- that they offer a broad liberal arts curriculum until she declares a major, and campuses that she can first visit. Thus far, she has narrowed her field down to 12, including Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill, Northwestern, Harvard, Tufts and Boston College.

"It's very time consuming, but I think it's worth it in the end," she said.

Initially, she admits, she hadn't considered in-state colleges, primarily because she has always had a fondness for the New England area.

That all changed, though, when she was notified that she has also been nominated for a leadership development program allowing students to attend classes at both Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill.

The Robertson Scholarship, established in 2000, was to create collaboration between the two universities. The four-year merit scholarships also offers summer enrichment opportunities and special courses.

"I've been working toward the National Merit Scholarship for the past three years. This was more of a surprise because I didn't know about it," Ama said, explaining that with the Robertson opportunity, "You take classes at either university but you do have to choose the primary university where you're getting your diploma from."

It's wonderful to have a lot of choices, yet also a bit nerve-wracking, she admitted.

"The waiting is the hardest part," she said.

She credits her parents and family with being very supportive throughout.

"They have always pushed me very hard but they have always been there for support," she said. "Mrs. (Diane) Price has been my adviser for three years and she pushed me very hard and never expected less than my best. I owe her a lot.

"With everything coming together, it's really exciting, but also a little intimidating. I'm a little nervous getting out of high school and going off on my own but I think I'm ready for it."