Personal Statement (still in the works)

(Personal Statement Examples, Advice, Critique, . . . )
Anonymous User
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Personal Statement (still in the works)

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Oct 14, 2013 6:06 pm

Hey, I was wondering what people thought of this. Not done yet, looking for some advice where people think I could take this, if maybe it needs some pruning on info, etc. :

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I was not yet in high school when the war in the Balkans was reaching its conclusion; nor did I live through it. Although I was born in the Balkans in the late 80s, by the time of the war I was living in the relative safety of Jamaica Avenue in Queens, New York. Still, I was far from distanced or shielded from the brutal realities of the war. At the age of 11, as Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian dictator, launched a campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, my cousin and I volunteered to help my uncle in the task of translating asylum application statements made by hundreds of Kosovar Albanians fleeing the war and persecution. The work would continue until the end of 2001, when a truce was made between Albanian guerrillas and the state authorities in the Former Yugoslav of Macedonia, bringing the flood of asylum seekers to a drop. This work has had been pivotal in my own personal and intellectual development, and central in fostering my concern with the individual narrative as central to understanding an event as a whole.
The task of translating seemed simple enough at the beginning; however, I soon realized how difficult my job actually was. The stories were far from easy reads: they involved police brutality, persecution, arbitrary arrest and seizure, and, in some occasions, even murder. At the age of 11, I asked my uncle what the Albanian word “perdhunim” (abuse, or rape) meant. My uncle did not answer and simply took the personal statement away from me; I learned what the term meant only a few years later. At other times, I would engage in long discussions with my cousin or, more commonly, older family members to discuss the more precise translation of an individual sentence. The entire process felt like a far bigger education than school seemed to provide; moreover, it felt invigorating and meaningful.
While your average elementary and junior high school student watched Fox Kids, my cousin and I were trying to find a way the meaning to and a proper translation of terms such as “cheta” (the term used to describe a guerrilla soldier), or UDBA (the name of the Yugoslav secret police service), or identifying what the “Scorpions” (Serb irregular right-wing paramilitaries) were. This work helped to provide me with a worm’s eye perspective of what was occurring in the Balkans, something that was easy to miss when watching the distanced CNN videos showing generic masses of refugees moving in a long line along a small road. People seemed less human when viewed in such a way, whereas I could be moved to tears (or anger) when reading about the long separation one man
The amount of work also had its drawbacks. The narratives tended to be similar, and after a while, the task became increasingly mundane and repetitive: an initial reading of the statement, followed by a rough translation, followed by a correction of the English, and then a final comparison between the English and Albanian. By late 2000, I would poke fun at the likeness of certain stories, especially those involving arbitrary arrests and police beatings, which were so common that they helped launch an uprising in Macedonia. It took a personal meeting with an individual to make me realize that even when stories often seem identical, they are still a part of a particular individual’s experience, and that alone makes them unique.

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yot11
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Re: Personal Statement (still in the works)

Postby yot11 » Tue Oct 15, 2013 11:04 am

Macro critiques:

1) It seems on the short side to me. You can expand it while addressing some of the other issues by focusing on a particular anecdote, rather than a broad-stroke story.

2) I see what you're trying to do with the last paragraph, but it's not fleshed out well enough to work (in my opinion). As it stands, it makes you sound like a terrible person for making fun of arbitrary arrests and police beatings. If you want to continue with this thread, you have to make this the whole PS so that your realization that every story is unique is not relegated to one sentence at the end.

3) Tying the first two together, there are two threads in this PS. Becoming aware of the grievances of the world early through your translation work, and the "every story is unique even though they appear the same" thing. Neither are explored enough to do either topic justice. I would pick one and rework the PS around it.

That being said, you have an interesting background that would make for a good PS. The foundation is there. I personally like the way that you started heading in the last paragraph but it needs to be the whole PS and it needs to be carefully done to make sure you don't sound inhuman. The translation work angle would be the safer option if you don't think you can (or have time to) execute the other way.

Anonymous User
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Re: Personal Statement (still in the works)

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Nov 01, 2013 9:54 pm

Thanks. I took note and wrote this first draft:

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Every night throughout the late 90s I sat in the living room with the rest of my family as we watched CNN reports of the turmoil in the Balkans. Although I was born to a Balkan family, from Albania, and had only recently immigrated to the United States, I felt little connection to the people I saw on television. While the images were real, the stories seemed too abstracted: reporters spoke of “war crimes” or “massacres” in Bosnia, and, later, Kosovo, but I did not really get a sense of what it meant.

This changed when, at the age of eleven, as Slobodan Milosevic launched a campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, my uncle recruited my cousin and me to the task of translating asylum application statements made by hundreds of Kosovar Albanians fleeing the conflict and persecution. The work would continue until the end of 2001, when Albanian guerrillas made a truce with the state authorities in the Former Yugoslav of Macedonia, ending the decade long conflict. This work proved to be pivotal in fostering in me an interest for the individual’s plight, something that is so often lost in the search for the “bigger picture.”

While your average elementary and junior high school student watched cartoons after school, my cousin and I were trying to find the meaning to and a proper translation of terms such as “cheta” (the term used to describe a guerrilla soldier), or UDBA (the name of the Yugoslav secret police service), or identifying what the “Scorpions” (Serb irregular right-wing paramilitaries) were. Although this translation work felt intellectually stimulating, the work had a more important effect in that it provided me with a worm’s eye perspective of what was occurring in the Balkans, something that was easy to miss when watching CNN’s aerial videos showing generic masses of refugees in giant refugee camps. People seemed less human when viewed in such a way, whereas I could be moved to tears (or anger) when reading about one man’s extended separation from his family while he was held by the Yugoslav secret police. Still, while I was moved by the experience, I did not internalize any lesson to be learned by what I was doing. To a young boy, these still seemed like exciting stories.
As I worked on the statements for longer and longer, I slowly began to lose sight of the fact that these were real events. After a while, the similar narratives became increasingly mundane and repetitive (sometimes leading me to think that these stories might be fake), and the translation process quite mechanical. By late 2000, I had to keep myself from poking fun at the likeness of certain stories, especially those involving arbitrary arrests and police beatings, which were so common that they helped launch an uprising in Macedonia. It took a meeting with an individual whose statement I had helped to translate to add an extra element to the entire process that was able to bring it all home. The individual was blinded on one eye, which, as he stated in his statement, was the result of being a severe beating he suffered while he was questioned by Serbian police. Looking at the eye, I imagined the pain he must have felt and I realized that no matter how similar each subjective experience is it is a unique simply because it belongs to that individual.

It was while working in a small law firm after college that my interest in personal narratives was again renewed. I began working on visa applications for people who wished to work in the US, along with some asylum applications as well. Although I no longer did the translation work, I found myself once again dealing with personal narratives of individuals who wished to escape the hardship in their respective country, or just wished to bring their expertise to the United States. Unlike my previous work, I now also dealt with the bureaucracies dealing with American immigration. It was here that I would once again have to keep my focus on the individual’s experience if I was to maintain my motivation in spite of the burdensome and repetitive nature of work dealing with large institutions.

During the course of my life, I have come realize how easy it is to ignore the personal while trying to understand the general. We may often lose heart while fighting daily battles for small and personal victories, since we might feel that we are not doing enough to foster greater change. Yet what I have discovered is that true connection with one’s work must be done on an individual level, and that it is all too easy to lose sight of this when dealing with numbers which one must think of in the abstract. While watching the CNN videos of the large refugee camps, I did not see people or experiences. What I saw was an anonymous horde. It was my run-in with the name I had helped to bring to the US, his amazing story of survival that allowed me to imagine what the war truly must have been like. Seeing images of bombed villages was horrifying, but far less so than listening to a woman describe what it was like to lose one’s shelter.




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