study abroad: writing the personal statement

Dear Prospective World Travelers and Global Students,

As you collect your materials for your study abroad applications, which are probably due presently, you are also drafting your personal statement.  Many of you are writing in your language of study.  Some of you are terrified.

For once, I will refrain from posting a list or creating a formula that will help you perfect your personal statement.  A list would be unhelpful and a formula would be dishonest.  Instead, I will offer you a single piece of advice: WRITE. IT. YOURSELF.

To back up, I don’t think any of you are plagiarists and this is not an indictment.  In fact, you are probably most guilty of being over-conscientious.  Some of you probably have friends who speak French, Spanish, German, and will ask them to edit your work.  You should, in all your communication, check that your readers understand you and work tirelessly to unite word and idea.  You should not, however, ask your knowledgeable friends to help you write a more authentic-sounding language.

You are not a native speaker, and that’s okay.  In fact, it’s great!  Your personal statement is a forum for you to demonstrate your drive to learn a language, not your mastery of it… which brings me to another key piece of advice: MAKE. MISTAKES.

I mean, obviously, don’t make mistakes on purpose, but don’t be afraid of them either.  Say what you can using what you know; this method occasionally produces awkward results, but it demonstrates your desire to think in a language rather than to translate to a language.  When applying to a study abroad program that includes study of a foreign language, define yourself as a student and a curious mind – not an expert.

You defeat yourself when you falsely represent your ability.  About halfway through my semester abroad I discovered that, unbeknownst to me, a significant portion of my cohort had cheated on the French placement exam our program had administered during orientation.  The results, for those who placed into higher French classes, were unfavorable and even humiliating.  After seeming to breeze through the exam, they struggled in their classes.  Don’t be ashamed of your ability, and don’t ever be afraid to say, “I’m still learning.”  Everyone is.

Even the most confident people can experience insecurity when speaking a foreign language.  We become vulnerable when we risk error, so remember that, regardless of experience, everyone is at least a little terrified.

Bon courage!

Love,

Thea

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