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
      • ADD MUCH MORE
    • 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.

Erica

Advertisements

Interviews, Thinking Ahead, & LSE

I’ve had two interviews so far (1 per day since I’ve been here), and I have another at 5 p.m. tonight. The first two interviews went well, but as with most things in Italy, the timing is a little less certain. Both of the places I interviewed are interested in giving me a job, but because most schools in Italy don’t start until early to mid-October, they don’t know what their numbers will look like in classes yet. To add to that, often students don’t sign up for private English classes until a few weeks into the school year. Like I said, I have another interview tonight, and then one on Monday and one on Tuesday next week. Hopefully one of those schools will have something to offer. I can also work for a few schools and cobble together a full schedule if the schools I met with already come back with hours that do not add up to full time. Hurry up and wait!

If I get a job here, I’m going to have to enroll in a school (usually an Italian language school) so that I can obtain a student visa when I return to the U.S. in December. I’m here on a tourist visa, which you automatically get upon arrival, and which is good for 90 days. Technically you’re not supposed to work on a tourist visa, but most schools, especially in Rome, don’t “worry” about that part of the law. I, however, am a bit paranoid about working with the correct papers, so if I do get a job, I’ll obtain a student visa in December when I come home. I already have an appointment at the Italian consulate in Chicago because they book months out. I’ve done the student visa route two other times, so I  know what to expect.

In lieu of an Italian school if I get a job, I have also applied to audit international relations classes at the American University in Rome. I ultimately want to go to graduate school for international relations at the London School of Economics. I applied last year in late March, and they have rolling applications so by the time I applied, there were very few spots remaining, and I did not get in. This year, I want to apply as soon as possible, and the applications open on Monday, October

I will look into other schools because I know that applying to one school, and one of the best in the world that doesn’t accept many students, is putting all my eggs in one basket. But I’ve researched a lot of the American schools, and almost all of them (I can’t think of one that this isn’t the case), take 2 years (LSE is 1 year), and require a foreign language component. Now, I wish I had an “ear for languages,” I really do. It’s one of my biggest faults as someone who loves to travel that I do not (I’m going to write a post in the near future called “Confessions of an Imperfect Traveler,” and that is one of the reasons). I have a lot of guilt that I find foreign languages so difficult because I want to show the people of whatever country I am in, that I am open to their culture, way of life and values, and speaking at least some of the language is one of the “easiest” ways to do this. But I struggle so mightily with this, and speaking English as my native language makes it even “easier” to get away with. For example, in Reggio Calabria, it took me 2.5 tries to pass the first 1-month introduction to Italian class. I guess what I’m trying to get at is I know my strengths, and foreign languages are definitely not one of them. It would be hard for me to justify to myself taking a language for the mere fact that it’s part of the curriculum. I’m trying to justify this to myself, so I’ll stop now.

Anyway, I need to write a personal essay for LSE that explains why I want to pursue a master’s degree in the international relations field, how my background has prepared me to be a good candidate, etc. I’m really at a loss for what to write because I did my absolute best on my essay last year, and I don’t know what I can write differently to make me a stronger candidate. Even though this year I’ll be applying early, I think it would appear lazy to just send in the same thing, even though I did my absolute best on my essay last year. I’m going to include the essay below, and if anyone has ANY ideas what I could possibly write differently or more persuasively, I would LOVE to hear the ideas, because I am at an absolute loss. Thanks in advance for ANY ideas or advice you might have.

Erica

LSE essay from my application earlier this year:

As soon as I was given my first assignment as an intern in London in 2008 at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, which was covering a  war crimes trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague, I put on the headphones to watch the live streaming court video and was plunged into convoluted disputes over military chains of command and technical clashes over communications intercepts.  I spent my first week of the internship pouring over indictments and background documents on the seven defendants, brushing up on the history of the conflict, and wading through the backlog of information an 18-month trial will create. Throughout the four months of the internship, I was able to explore the delicate interaction between nations and aspects of international law. I ventured to a London suburb to profile Zimbabwean exiles in a constitutional fight to get their expatriate votes counted in a contentious presidential election, and I wrote pieces analyzing United States policies towards the International Criminal Court and international justice in general. Now with the benefit of hindsight, I see how this and a myriad of other experiences unwittingly prepared me to excel in a career in international relations.

I have longed to see the world with my own eyes for as long as I can remember, and this inspired me to visit Australia and New Zealand at the age of 12, not with my family, but instead as a “student ambassador” with a program called People to People. The program originated under U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956 when he defined an international vision for People to People that sought diplomatic alternatives to the recent wars of the 20th century, which he had witnessed firsthand. This emphasized “personal diplomacy” through contacts between non-governmental citizens of different nations. I applied and interviewed for a spot in the program and, when admitted, attended monthly meetings. During these sessions, I, along with the other accepted students, studied the history, politics and culture of Australia and New Zealand as well as brushed up on our own country’s history so that we would be informed and positive representatives of our nation. The three-week trip, then,  was more of an educational and cultural immersion than a typical sightseeing vacation. This type of travel would provide a template for my explorations of the world thereafter. Half the “fun” in traveling is how I prepare for my trips by pouring over guidebooks where I highlight and underline important historical and cultural information about the destination. For me to fully enjoy and put into perspective the Colosseum, for example, I need to know its storied history and the history of the place and the people who created it.

It was on the trip with People to People on an island off the coast of Australia where I first identified a metaphor for my “need” to see the world. I was lying on a grassy hill staring at the stars, and instead of seeing the familiar Big Dipper constellation, I was gazing at the Southern Cross. I realized that though I was staring at the same sky I did at home in the Northern Hemisphere, the change in my location and perception gave me the opportunity to see an entirely different part of the heavens. Likewise, any number people can look at the same issue and interpret completely different realities depending on their vantage point. For me, to travel and immerse myself in cultures that seem “alien” to that in which I grew up is to break down barriers and see the vast similarities all around the world while also celebrating and acknowledging the many differences. Since that night on a grassy hill off the coast of Australia, I have visited more than 25 countries, and this has honed my ability to adapt to new situations and ideas, find creative solutions when challenges inevitably arise, and interact with people from all types of backgrounds.

My desire and aptitude to study international relations doesn’t end with my unrelenting urge to travel. From a young age, current events, politics and history fascinated me. At age 8, while most kids were watching cartoons, I devoured news and my favorite show, the investigative current events program, 60 Minutes. Even then, when I discovered a topic that interested me, I would pull down the relevant volume from my parents’ set of World Book encyclopedias and pour over the entries. For example, my interest in the Middle East, particularly since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, resulted in still dog-eared pages of encyclopedia volumes such as “I” (Israel), and “P” (Palestine), because of the number of times I read and referenced them.

As my undergraduate degree in journalism suggests, I had first imagined that my “mark in the world” would come via the glossy pages of a magazine or on the crisp paper stock of a book. Then, I thought my place would be in a courtroom debating the nuances of laws. And while I gained invaluable experience and knowledge in both degrees, something was missing. Nothing could quiet the restlessness that I had inside of me my entire life: wanderlust. Thus after law school I spent a few years traveling the world, specifically throughout Europe and the Middle East, dabbling in part-time jobs to earn money Stateside in between travels. Still not sure in which direction my life would go, in 2015 I moved to Italy to teach English. This second experience of living abroad solidified my desire to pursue an education in international relations because even though Italy is a developed, westernized nation like the U.S., I was still able to view the world through a different prism.  That is, my diverse mix of education and experiences drove me to thoroughly evaluate different career tracks and occupational fields before I finally obtained a firm understanding of my personal passions that resulted in my decision to further my education in international affairs.  With this goal in mind, I returned to the United States, and I interned in the U.S. Congress to gain exposure to the political world. Following the internship, I moved back to my hometown to apply to graduate schools, and I found a job working part-time at a Motel 6 as a Guest Services Representative. While this job may not directly relate to my desired future career path, I try to find value that I can apply to future jobs in interacting with the varied clientele whether the guests are from China or if they come from two towns over.

My education and background in journalism and law has prepared me to excel in the international relations field. Journalism school enhanced my ability to clearly communicate information and ask questions as well as to carefully comprehend new information and the diverse thoughts of others. Additionally, my three years in law school further refined my ability to present diverse and complex topics in a clear and simplified manner as well as critically consider and analyze multiple sides of an issue. The coursework necessitated that I often work independently and manage my time and study responsibilities on my own. The very nature of a legal education requires extensive reading and examination of often controversial and in-depth material, and it presupposes that the reader will challenge even conventional assumptions. Both journalism and law have given me opportunities to engage in critical thinking through a type of learning that reinforced my natural inclination to ask questions, especially when those questions do not have concrete or obvious solutions.

The London School of Economics’ International Relations Master of Science program exactly tracks what will prepare me for a career in international relations. The coursework suggests a practical and relevant approach to international affairs rather than a study of lofty, abstract ideas and theories that do not translate to practical application in the real world. Coming from a legal background, I appreciate the encouragement at LSE to question and debate ideas with people from a vast array of backgrounds and ideologies. Moreover, the variety of elective courses available will allow me to focus on my specific interests in the Middle East and conflict and peace-making while obtaining the necessary grounding in international affairs through the foundational International Politics class. The location of LSE in such a diverse “city of the world” undoubtedly leads to a pragmatic interchange of ideas between the school and the outside world, which will make my studies practical and relevant beyond the classroom.  Having studied, lived and interned in London, I cannot imagine a better “living laboratory” to further my education and propel me to an international relations career.

As with my first assignment at IWPR in an internship in London, my skills, experiences and strengths – a love of politics and current events, an eagerness to learn, passion for travel, and the ability to work independently as well as a member of a group – will make me a valuable contributor to the LSE community.