Graduate school essay purgatory

I promise my love of travel and Rome in all its glory will return – and hopefully more destinations! After all, that’s why I started this blog.

But RIGHT NOW, this graduate school essay. Technically, I need to write more than one essay because I’m going to tailor each to the school and the program to which I’m applying. But the heart of the essay will be the same because I’m applying to International Relations programs.

As I’ve explained in a previous blog, I’ve over-researched what to write and ideas, so as of now I’ve gotten the main points I need to cover in my essay down to this far-from-brief outline (feel free to skip it, much of it may not make sense; also, IR = International Relations, exs. = examples, int’l = international ,etc.):

  • Demonstrate IR knowledge/academic interest
    • multidisciplinary approach – why my unconventional background fits this field perfectly
    • understand appropriate contributions from other disciplines (sociology, poli sci, law, etc.)
    • no “1 view” of IR – diversity of approaches & methods to understanding the world
    • “Big picture” – how state/territory fits with neighboring states & into a global context
  • Why now (back to grad school)? CONCRETE EXs.!!!
    • Steps I’ve taken to be better informed about this new field (IR) & better prepared to make a lasting commitment?
    • Beyond academics – illustrate real-life experiences & hardships that have made me qualified for this particular field of IR (exs.)
    • Why I didn’t do IR right away (& what I gained from law school) & how I’ve changed since then
    • Demonstrate personal progression
  • Why specific school
    • Why THIS school not just grad school
    • School’s unique features
  • Transferrable skills
    •  Journalism
      • Communication
      • Write in clear, consistent, precise & compelling way
      • Tailor messages to different cultures & audiences
      • synthesis
    • Law
      • Independent study
      • textual analysis
    • Other
  • Anecdote(s)
    • Use elements of narrative prose: scene setting, dialogue, depictions of actions, internal reaction
    • 5 senses
  • Future goals
    • Building on law degree à went out of way to take int’l law classes à human rights & int’l law?
  • How contribute to the school & what bring to program?
    • Full, well-rounded class due to my unique background
  • My uniqueness
    • Unconventional background – allows for thinking, action, reflection, failure & resilience in ever-changing world
    • Self-awareness – understand strengths, weaknesses, biases,
    • Creativity – independent personal contribution to understanding of a subject AND offer insights not dependent on past thinking (outside the box, unorthodox background)
    • Ability to see problems from variety of perspectives
    • Research
  • Gaps & discrepancies that need to be explained
    • Focus on positive – make “blemishes or deficiencies” into positive experiences
    • Description of internal changes often driven by challenges faced
    • Introspection about my internal development in response to external events
  • Other
    • How have I changed intellectually?
    • DEPTH over breadth – 1 or 2 key themes & ideas
    • EVALUATE my experiences rather than simply describe
  • “Living without regrets means owning the choices we make.”

As you can see (and this is just the “add” part to some paragraphs I’ve already written and may or may not keep), that I have WAY too much going on for a cogent, full essay that emphasizes depth and not breadth. I know, I know that my personal statement/essay is only one part of the overall picture the admissions committee will get of me, and that I cannot change the past 6-8 years since law school that I’ve spend largely wandering and not exactly contributing to world peace or even climbing a career ladder. Because of that, I feel a huge amount of pressure to make up for it in my personal essay and to defend why I have such an odd and unconventional recent past that probably doesn’t look too appealing to graduate school admissions committees.

So… I’ve realized that the only way I can really spin my essay is to play up the unorthodox path that has led me to where I am right now. I’m obviously not going straight from undergrad, and I have very little – if any – related work history since I graduated from law school in 2012. Given this, how in the world do I convince these people on the admissions committees that I’m a great candidate whose life path has led me to what now seems to be obvious – a career in international relations?

If there is an admissions application essay muse, now would be a great time to pay me a visit.


On finding a permanent place to live

I have no idea what it’s like to be an immigrant or a refugee, to be someone who is forced to leave your country because of poverty, war, or violence. I don’t know what it’s like to be forced to move to a country where you don’t speak the language and where very few people speak your mother tongue (English is obviously the exception because it is so widely spoken around the world).  I cannot imagine moving to a place where you feel unwanted and unwelcome and a complete outsider.

What I do know is this: I have applied to more than 250 rooms in apartments in Rome for a more permanent location than where I’m staying now, and not one has come through. Oh, I’ve been to see places, I have corresponded with people about various rooms, but nothing. The most frequent response I get is none at all. Often the response is, “The room has just been rented,” (and why they then don’t take down the advertisement or listing is a mystery to me). I have encountered people that won’t rent to non-Italians, and I have been told by others they don’t want someone who isn’t fluent in Italian. This I can understand, as I would want to speak the same language as someone sharing an apartment with me. I am in their country, and it is not crazy for them to expect me to speak fluent Italian if I plan to live here for an extended period of time. What I don’t understand is when I go to an apartment two times to see it and meet the residents and THEN they tell me that they don’t want a non-Italian speaker when I follow up the next day because they didn’t call me as promised. Why waste my time as well as their own time? Or what about the girl who said there was no way I could come and look at the room before Saturday, and then on Friday marked the room as “sold.” When I asked her about it, she ignored me before saying she actually let some people come before the Saturday that she swore was the earliest I could see it. That’s happened a few times.

I’m sure if I had a more flexible budget, this would be less of a problem. Money talks, and money makes life a whole lot easier whether anyone wants to admit it or not. But I don’t have or make much money, and so today I’ll go to another apartment and scour the multitude of websites that advertise rooms to rent in Rome. Maybe today I’ll find something. At least I’m in Rome. And what luck or what a blessing that is.