Writing About Your Experiences Abroad

By - Nov 1, 06:30 AM Comments [0]

Writing about your experiences abroad

You studied, worked, or volunteered abroad and now you want to include part of this in your personal statement. Maybe you want to show that you’ve experienced a different culture or that you’ve managed to go outside of your comfort zone. Maybe you’ve had interesting experiences – met people, climbed mountains, or lived without air-conditioning. Or maybe you had the opportunity to help people who genuinely needed it.

How to Make Your Experience Stand Out

But, at this point, you’ve also realized that many other applicants have had similar experiences. While the experience may have been transformative for you, requiring you to learn how to operate without your usual safety net in a foreign environment, you need to ensure that your study abroad experience serves a role in your essay as something other than window-dressing.

There’s an old Onion article which jokes that someone’s short work experience in Africa allowed her to post a better Facebook photo, and, without the proper analysis, descriptions of abroad experiences can feel the same way in an admissions essay. Often, I read essays with lush descriptions of exotic scenery and people who speak different languages, yet you the writer – the most important person – stays the same. Without showing admissions committees why a study abroad experience was transformative, these types of stories simply blend together and give the impression that you were there simply to add another notch to your resume.

Don’t Forget the Most Important Question: WHY?

Studying abroad can be a pivotal moment in your personal journey, but a personal statement needs to explain exactly why. If, indeed, gaining experience with other cultures was important to you at that stage, what exactly did you learn? It can’t be enough to just give a story about someone you met while traveling, you have to explain why that person changed you. An admissions committee member once told me that it mattered less what an applicant’s experience was, what mattered was how they talked about it. Even the most seemingly dull experience can be transformative to someone who is really paying attention.

Do you need help taking your experiences and using them to create a unique, compelling – even exciting – personal statement? Explore our Admissions Consulting & Editing Services and work one-on-one with an expert advisor who will guide you through the admissions process to acceptance.

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Jessica Pishko graduated with a J.D. from Harvard Law School and received an M.F.A. from Columbia University. She spent two years guiding students through the medical school application process at Columbia’s Postbac Program and is a former Accepted admissions consultant. Want an admissions expert help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!

Related Resources:

• Leadership in Admissions, a free guide
• How to Add Detail to Your Social Enterprise/Community Service Goals
5 Elements to Telling an Attention-Grabbing Story

This article originally appeared on blog.accepted.com.

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