The Study Abroad Personal Statement

(Personal Statement Examples, Advice, Critique, . . . )
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cl13
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The Study Abroad Personal Statement

Postby cl13 » Tue Jul 07, 2009 6:20 pm

Alright, so the consensus on these boards seems to be NOT to write about your study abroad experience. I'm interested in hearing thoughts on that from people who a) did use their abroad experience in a PS, or b) feel strongly about it either way. Arguments for and against? Things NOT to do? Does it have more to do with the topic or the way it's presented? Pretty much any advice or comments you guys have, I'd love to hear.

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bluejayk
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Re: The Study Abroad Personal Statement

Postby bluejayk » Tue Jul 07, 2009 6:37 pm

cl13 wrote:Alright, so the consensus on these boards seems to be NOT to write about your study abroad experience. I'm interested in hearing thoughts on that from people who a) did use their abroad experience in a PS, or b) feel strongly about it either way. Arguments for and against? Things NOT to do? Does it have more to do with the topic or the way it's presented? Pretty much any advice or comments you guys have, I'd love to hear.


I think it just sounds really hard to do without coming off as naive, pretentious, and spoiled. There's a perception about study abroad programs: they're an excuse for privileged upper middle-class kids to go to Europe, see a few museums, take an intro language class or two, and get wasted 6 nights a week for college credit. I personally know they're not all like this, but I also personally know that MANY are, it's just undeniable that tens of thousands of students do this every year. If you write a PS about how your summer in Madrid really opened your eyes about different cultures, you risk having an adcomm see you as flakey.

So what to do, you have to let them know that your experience was different. I'm sure it's much easier to write a good PS about a year-long program in Ghana than a summer in Florence. Second, you've got to show differentiate what you've got out of it, make it stand out to someone who's probably read 800 essays about the study abroad epiphanies. I tried this, and even though I felt my study abroad experience really, really was an important part of my personal growth, intellectual awakening, blah, blah, I realized that my draft PS was boring and bordering on cliche. If you can come up with a good spin on it, then go for it.

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monkey85
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Re: The Study Abroad Personal Statement

Postby monkey85 » Tue Jul 07, 2009 6:43 pm

It can work, you just actually need a meaningful experience.

Case in point:
55 Successful Harvard Law School essays on Amazon
(http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/031236 ... 1PDEAGR598)

The whole section titled "Travels" is basically a mix of well, traveling and study abroad. Read it, spin yours, get into a T14 (maybe).

Overall, nobody can say whether your essay is good until you actually write it. Yours could be awesome. Good luck!

kineticx
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Re: The Study Abroad Personal Statement

Postby kineticx » Tue Jul 07, 2009 6:47 pm

I think a large part of why study abroad / travel / mission trip PS-types fail is because everyone and his/her grandmother has an epiphany of "omg i'm sooooo fortunate" or "i need to see the world" or "i want to change the world" and none of those compels a law school to want you.

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frank_the_tank
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Re: The Study Abroad Personal Statement

Postby frank_the_tank » Tue Jul 07, 2009 6:58 pm

I wrote about my study abroad experience/working abroad experience. I'm positive it is why I got a *small* fellowship from Columbia.

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scott82
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Re: The Study Abroad Personal Statement

Postby scott82 » Tue Jul 07, 2009 8:24 pm

kineticx wrote:I think a large part of why study abroad / travel / mission trip PS-types fail is because everyone and his/her grandmother has an epiphany of "omg i'm sooooo fortunate" or "i need to see the world" or "i want to change the world" and none of those compels a law school to want you.


This.

Writing a PS about SA can be done IF (get ready for this) the writing is good.

The problem with SA in a PS generally comes when the author is giving the run-of-the-mill rehashing of their undergrad education and then thinks "I am going to blow your fucking minds with this revelation: I went to SPAIN for an entire GODDAMN SEMESTER!!!1 I, a simple American, dared to tread into the unknown labyrinth that is Western Europe!"

Basically, if you're going to get wet, go swimming: either write the whole thing about SA, or don't mention it. And it better be legitimately interesting and sufficiently different from others SA experiences. No one will believe that you had a catharsis at the Louvre which somehow inspired you to seek a legal career. Your mind is not vastly expanded from going on what is essentially an extended class trip/vacation.

General rules apply, because I seem to see this a lot also in SA themed PS's: Avoid the expressions "found myself" and "unique experience".

HTH.

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cl13
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Re: The Study Abroad Personal Statement

Postby cl13 » Tue Jul 07, 2009 9:33 pm

So the danger is mainly in sounding like an idiot when you relate your experience, either through naively believing it to be more than it was, or trying to impress them with it, or just overselling yourself and trying too hard? Granted, most people are not special, and most people's time abroad wasn't special either, at least to anyone but themselves. But everyone's gripes with the study abroad PS seem to be with those people that are morons and have no sense of context for their own experiences vs. those of others/more interesting experiences. At the very least, it seems to be a slightly larger step than most topics, in that you put yourself out there and at risk of sounding like a douchebag/moron when you talk about it.

Let's assume that it wasn't a Louvre or Florence or Pubs Abroad experience, what then? I'm trying to think of other potential negatives that could come from an SA statement. Potentially conveying an attitude towards 'locals' that reveals arrogance or ignorance, or good old fashioned racism? Specifically, in sketching out my PS, I'm slightly worried about how I approach descriptions of foreign police/law/justice. Broad unfair generalizations are obviously something to stay away from, but what if the reality of the situation calls for something that might sound like one? Sorry, this is all vague, so some context: Egyptian tourist police?

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excelsiorcaelo
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Re: The Study Abroad Personal Statement

Postby excelsiorcaelo » Tue Jul 07, 2009 9:35 pm

cl13 wrote:So the danger is mainly in sounding like an idiot when you relate your experience, either through naively believing it to be more than it was, or trying to impress them with it, or just overselling yourself and trying too hard? Granted, most people are not special, and most people's time abroad wasn't special either, at least to anyone but themselves. But everyone's gripes with the study abroad PS seem to be with those people that are morons and have no sense of context for their own experiences vs. those of others/more interesting experiences. At the very least, it seems to be a slightly larger step than most topics, in that you put yourself out there and at risk of sounding like a douchebag/moron when you talk about it.

Let's assume that it wasn't a Louvre or Florence or Pubs Abroad experience, what then? I'm trying to think of other potential negatives that could come from an SA statement. Potentially conveying an attitude towards 'locals' that reveals arrogance or ignorance, or good old fashioned racism? Specifically, in sketching out my PS, I'm slightly worried about how I approach descriptions of foreign police/law/justice. Broad unfair generalizations are obviously something to stay away from, but what if the reality of the situation calls for something that might sound like one? Sorry, this is all vague, so some context: Egyptian tourist police?


I was once stopped and frisked by the police in Tokyo for absolutely no reason. That was basically the opening of my PS.

thisguy456
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Re: The Study Abroad Personal Statement

Postby thisguy456 » Tue Jul 07, 2009 9:47 pm

cl13 wrote:Alright, so the consensus on these boards seems to be NOT to write about your study abroad experience. I'm interested in hearing thoughts on that from people who a) did use their abroad experience in a PS, or b) feel strongly about it either way. Arguments for and against? Things NOT to do? Does it have more to do with the topic or the way it's presented? Pretty much any advice or comments you guys have, I'd love to hear.


If you're a good enough writer to spin something great about a SA experience where the experience itself was pretty typical of the 1000s that adcoms read, then it probably doesn't matter what you write about. You could write about anything influential that happened in your life, and it would pass, because you're a good writer. I guess, in other words, if you can make it sound like a truly incredible experience, whether it really was or not, then sure, write about it.

I'm not so sure I would do this though at your reach schools. I would try to write about something that may differentiate yourself even more, maybe write a bit more of a risky PS, swing for the fences. Unless, again, your experience was truly incredible and unique, then maybe you can pull it off.

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cl13
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Re: The Study Abroad Personal Statement

Postby cl13 » Tue Jul 07, 2009 9:54 pm

thisguy456 wrote:If you're a good enough writer to spin something great about a SA experience where the experience itself was pretty typical of the 1000s that adcoms read, then it probably doesn't matter what you write about. You could write about anything influential that happened in your life, and it would pass, because you're a good writer. I guess, in other words, if you can make it sound like a truly incredible experience, whether it really was or not, then sure, write about it.

I'm not so sure I would do this though at your reach schools. I would try to write about something that may differentiate yourself even more, maybe write a bit more of a risky PS, swing for the fences. Unless, again, your experience was truly incredible and unique, then maybe you can pull it off.


Well, I can say two things in response to that. One, nothing I wrote about the "experience" would be bullshit, or even really exaggeration. Unfortunately, I can see it appearing that way to the adcomms, but there's nothing to be done about that other than write as well and honestly as I can. The other thing is, I'm not sure there is anything else I can write about that would be riskier or more interesting to read about.

Sidenote: Can some people volunteer experiences (fictional or otherwise) that meet the 'unique' threshold, in their opinion?

thisguy456
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Re: The Study Abroad Personal Statement

Postby thisguy456 » Tue Jul 07, 2009 9:59 pm

cl13 wrote:
thisguy456 wrote:If you're a good enough writer to spin something great about a SA experience where the experience itself was pretty typical of the 1000s that adcoms read, then it probably doesn't matter what you write about. You could write about anything influential that happened in your life, and it would pass, because you're a good writer. I guess, in other words, if you can make it sound like a truly incredible experience, whether it really was or not, then sure, write about it.

I'm not so sure I would do this though at your reach schools. I would try to write about something that may differentiate yourself even more, maybe write a bit more of a risky PS, swing for the fences. Unless, again, your experience was truly incredible and unique, then maybe you can pull it off.


Well, I can say two things in response to that. One, nothing I wrote about the "experience" would be bullshit, or even really exaggeration. Unfortunately, I can see it appearing that way to the adcomms, but there's nothing to be done about that other than write as well and honestly as I can. The other thing is, I'm not sure there is anything else I can write about that would be riskier or more interesting to read about.

Sidenote: Can some people volunteer experiences (fictional or otherwise) that meet the 'unique' threshold, in their opinion?


Yeah, just for clarity's sake, I wasn't suggesting your SA is typical or for you to exaggerate. Just to write and communicate very effectively. Without knowing too much about your SA, I'm just taking a broad view and characterizing the topic as "SA," even though you could be writing about something that just happened while you studied abroad, and it may not have anything to do with stereotypical SA experiences.

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frank_the_tank
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Re: The Study Abroad Personal Statement

Postby frank_the_tank » Tue Jul 07, 2009 10:06 pm

cl13 I'd be happy to send you my PS if you like. I admit it isn't the greatest, but you can see another example of a "study abroad PS".

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Mells
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Re: The Study Abroad Personal Statement

Postby Mells » Tue Jul 07, 2009 10:18 pm

Is it just as bad writing a personal statement about a semester in the scholars program at Oxford? I was thinking about writing my PS about this, but if it isn't a good idea, then perhaps i should re-think this decision.

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zombiebyte
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Re: The Study Abroad Personal Statement

Postby zombiebyte » Tue Jul 07, 2009 10:21 pm

I went to India for a week learning about development and globalization. We spent time at orphanages, worked at a bio-fuel station, etc. Do you guys think this could work out to a good personal statement?

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kurla88
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Re: The Study Abroad Personal Statement

Postby kurla88 » Tue Jul 07, 2009 10:32 pm

zombiebyte wrote:I went to India for a week learning about development and globalization. We spent time at orphanages, worked at a bio-fuel station, etc. Do you guys think this could work out to a good personal statement?


Yes, but, um, be wary. There's a lot of Indian people on the boards, maybe have one of them read it to test for any offensiveness?

Mells wrote:Is it just as bad writing a personal statement about a semester in the scholars program at Oxford? I was thinking about writing my PS about this, but if it isn't a good idea, then perhaps i should re-think this decision.


Unlike the study abroad semester in Europe, I think this is something most applicants do not have. Oxford just sounds impressive.

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DavidYurman85
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Re: The Study Abroad Personal Statement

Postby DavidYurman85 » Tue Jul 07, 2009 11:46 pm

What about a PS on an awful SA experience?

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bluejayk
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Re: The Study Abroad Personal Statement

Postby bluejayk » Wed Jul 08, 2009 12:36 am

DavidYurman85 wrote:What about a PS on an awful SA experience?


This could be awesome if done well.

My semester in Spain was one of the most trying time in my life. I swear, the banks are only open about 45 minutes a day there, so God help you if you wan to cash a traveler's cheque. You've got to haggle over every little worthless purchase you want to make. They've got this national obsession with this gross dish that for some reason they call "tortilla" even though it's just cold fucking scrambled eggs and potatoes. To top it off, they speak some weird moon-man version of Spanish that will make you sound like an effete priss if you ever try speaking with someone who speaks regular Spanish, which basically defeats the whole point of learning a foreign language, which is to be able to impress chicks, which let me tell you, is impossible when you try to buy a girl a "thervetha" and you wind up covering her in spittle trying to get the word out. Basically while you're there, everyone guilts you into going to see like a thousand random castles and cathedrals which are boring enough, but then you've also gotta spend a day or two walking all across Madrid and back to see whatever museums the culture-fascists decided everyone should see. And all this suffering so I could endure sweltering heat to wait in line to see a giant black-and-white painting of a bunch of giant deformed cows being bombed? There's a bunch of other art-type stuff to see, if you're into that stuff, but apparently it's all ripped off from Italians anyway, so there's no real point. Anyway, the whole process really made me realize how much I can handle as a person, and also how lucky we are in America not to have to put up with any of that bullshit. I guess I'm a better man for it, and I like to argue, so I think your law school would be a great fit. TYIA, and don't be stingy with the scholly's!

mabelgs
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Re: The Study Abroad Personal Statement

Postby mabelgs » Wed Jul 08, 2009 12:44 am

bluejayk wrote:
DavidYurman85 wrote:What about a PS on an awful SA experience?


This could be awesome if done well.

My semester in Spain was one of the most trying time in my life. I swear, the banks are only open about 45 minutes a day there, so God help you if you wan to cash a traveler's cheque. You've got to haggle over every little worthless purchase you want to make. They've got this national obsession with this gross dish that for some reason they call "tortilla" even though it's just cold fucking scrambled eggs and potatoes. To top it off, they speak some weird moon-man version of Spanish that will make you sound like an effete priss if you ever try speaking with someone who speaks regular Spanish, which basically defeats the whole point of learning a foreign language, which is to be able to impress chicks, which let me tell you, is impossible when you try to buy a girl a "thervetha" and you wind up covering her in spittle trying to get the word out. Basically while you're there, everyone guilts you into going to see like a thousand random castles and cathedrals which are boring enough, but then you've also gotta spend a day or two walking all across Madrid and back to see whatever museums the culture-fascists decided everyone should see. And all this suffering so I could endure sweltering heat to wait in line to see a giant black-and-white painting of a bunch of giant deformed cows being bombed? There's a bunch of other art-type stuff to see, if you're into that stuff, but apparently it's all ripped off from Italians anyway, so there's no real point. Anyway, the whole process really made me realize how much I can handle as a person, and also how lucky we are in America not to have to put up with any of that bullshit. I guess I'm a better man for it, and I like to argue, so I think your law school would be a great fit. TYIA, and don't be stingy with the scholly's!


:lol:

Wow. Thanks for making my night.

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onwisconsin25
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Re: The Study Abroad Personal Statement

Postby onwisconsin25 » Wed Jul 08, 2009 11:07 am

I know what you mean, i just copied and pasted that to my friend's facebook. pretty much describes her experience.

However, if that's how you wrote your PS, it sounds like "boo hoo i had to wake up early to withdraw money and eat food i didn't like"

Example of an experience that you could use: Maybe you got mugged in an Eastern European country so you didn't have your travel health insurance, couldn't speak the language to tell the doctors what was wrong with you, the hospital was obviously poor quality and not equipped to help you, etc. What did it show you about the world? What did you learn about yourself? How did it make you more capable to take on law school?

I also agree with what people said about not being different. A million kids study abroad and a million people who are out of undergrad have traveled for either work or pleasure. Traveling doesn't really make you unique. I would pick something you do on a normal basis or an inherent characteristic about yourself to write about.

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worldtraveler
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Re: The Study Abroad Personal Statement

Postby worldtraveler » Wed Jul 08, 2009 11:27 am

Mine talks about study abroad. It's in the samples thread.

I think it's fine to use if your experience was exceptional or if it profoundly shaped you in some way. Most study abroads don't do that. There are some people who have some pretty demanding experiences abroad, and it goes beyond the "I had to learn to order breakfast in another language" stuff.

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LawandOrder
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Re: The Study Abroad Personal Statement

Postby LawandOrder » Wed Jul 08, 2009 11:28 am

I studied a broad one time. Then she turned around, punched me, and got a restraining order. :(

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puppleberry finn
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Re: The Study Abroad Personal Statement

Postby puppleberry finn » Wed Jul 08, 2009 3:27 pm

I helped a friend write a personal statement (not law, though) that tied in study abroad (in South Africa) to growing up in a rural, poor area of the US, to wanting to improve the US educational system. Any one of those topics sounds overdone, and then to put the three together? But it worked, and when he was admitted, the head of his department called him to say how amazing and touching his personal statement was, and all of the professors in his department had apparently passed it around and commented on it when they first met him. Point is, even seemingly terrible topics can turn out really well--but I wouldn't expect to be the exception.

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wardboro
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Re: The Study Abroad Personal Statement

Postby wardboro » Wed Jul 08, 2009 3:37 pm

Wrote on a year an experience I had negotiating a small transnational business deal in China. I did it as part of an internship I did during a year-long program in China. I don't think it helped or hurt me in admissions, and if anything it helped. I didn't write about how eye-opening living abroad was, but I did address how some cultural differences created issues for me that I had to deal with.

It probably was a B+ paper (mandatory curve at 3.3).

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170plusorbust
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Re: The Study Abroad Personal Statement

Postby 170plusorbust » Sat Jul 11, 2009 7:01 pm

i'm writing about China as well. trying to tie in my personal background & education to my interest in gender equality and social change etc.

i SAed and visited a "sweat shop" in a rural town, and i travelled there after college only to find college grad women are working as prostitutes or whatever in the big cities.

what do you guys think about this? is it weird to talk about this? im scared that it might sound overly feminist, cliche or just hard to believe... any help would be appreciated!

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corresponding Cor
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Re: The Study Abroad Personal Statement

Postby corresponding Cor » Sat Jul 11, 2009 11:23 pm

monkey85 wrote:It can work, you just actually need a meaningful experience.

Case in point:
55 Successful Harvard Law School essays on Amazon
(http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/031236 ... 1PDEAGR598)

The whole section titled "Travels" is basically a mix of well, traveling and study abroad. Read it, spin yours, get into a T14 (maybe).

Overall, nobody can say whether your essay is good until you actually write it. Yours could be awesome. Good luck!

I second this. This book was very helpful for my DS.




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