Iona

Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge

UCAS Personal Statement

I was six when I first grasped that other languages and cultures existed. I stood in the Forbidden City on a trip to adopt my sister, surrounded by women saying "hen piàole". I was frustrated; I could not understand. What were they saying - why were they pinching my cheek? This curiosity to understand and communicate has evolved into a fascination for languages, literature, learning about other cultures and an interest in linguistics that I want to explore further at university.

 

The social and historical aspects of the IB syllabus have been a springboard to develop an interest in 20th century French and Spanish history and literature. Within my Extended Essay in French, through exploring the new understanding 'Meursault, contre-enquête' brings to 'L'Etranger', I realised there can be a dichotomy between self identity and societal acceptance. The tragic contemporary insight that 'Suite Française: Tempête en Juin' provided of panic under German occupation led me to focus on the treatment of Jews in Vichy France in my History Internal Assessment. 'Bodas de Sangre' introduced me to 1930s Spanish culture, while 'Trece Rosas Rojas' and 'La Casa de Bernarda Alba' helped me to understand the courage of women fighting forms of repression during the Spanish Civil War. Like novels, theatre reflects its cultural context. I have found this in Lorca's critiques of 1930's society and in the absurdism of Beckett and Ionesco, whose works are a reaction to the devastation of World War II. To immerse myself in French and Spanish culture, I spent ten days as an au pair in Paris, learning key vocabulary. A week's work experience in a Valencian music school taught me the differences of Spanish and English music systems. I learned about regional varieties of the Spanish language, something I first had become attuned to whilst studying in Granada. On a service trip to Cuba, I was struck by the extent to which the communist revolution influences daily life. I expanded my knowledge of European politics when I won a scholarship to study at Sciences Po last summer.

 

Curiosity about language acquisition led me to read 'The Language Instinct' by Steven Pinker and 'The Articulate Mammal' by Jean Aitchison. These works fascinate me; in particular, I was intrigued by Chomsky's proposition that language is innate and human-specific. Language and languages excite me. Although limited by my school to studying two languages, I taught myself Mandarin to explore a non-romance language and have successfully completed the IB Mandarin ab Initio course on top of my diploma studies. I have also begun teaching myself German, and have taken an online course and attended an ab Initio taster day. I am curious about the structures inherent within German, and aim to master them. My fascination with German, and my reading of James Hawes' 'Shortest History of Germany' and plays by Brecht, have motivated me to represent Germany as co-president of my school's Model United Nations Club. I have shared my love of languages by creating a Modern Language blog and tutoring younger students in Spanish. I love theatre and was a founding member of my school's Tech Club, learning lighting, sound and stage management skills. Last year, I directed and produced a 10-minute play based on an award-winning short story which I wrote. I plan to continue my involvement in theatre at university. I have also earned all DofE awards, in which I learned to persevere and to motivate, skills I am honing as school Student Council Secretary.

 

Recently in China, my sister was surrounded by a crowd and I heard that familiar phrase "hen piàole". I knew they were calling her cute. I no longer felt frustration. I understood that language can shape our perceptions of reality, and unlock the door to cultures across the world.

Behind the Statement

How did you make start on your personal statement or begin planning?

I began planning by making a list of all of the things I had done and all of the experiences I had had that related to languages (this was made easier by the fact that I had my CV already and had a list of experiences there to draw from). I then separated my experiences into topics, and added books I'd read and ways I'd been able to go beyond the syllabus, making sure that each topic was connected. I also read a lot of other successful personal statements, which helped me to understand how best to structure a statement and what kind of experiences to include.

How did you decide what experiences to include in your personal statement? What did you cut out?

I chose the experiences that most closely related to languages and why I wanted to study French and German at university. Although I did write quite a lot in my first draft, I cut things out by separating each statement up to make it clear which experiences were most needed and how to relate them to each other so that each sentence was needed and was a necessary step forward from the sentence before.

How did you get these experiences in the first place?

I got these experiences by going to programs in Europe and various clubs at my school.

How did you structure your personal statement? 

I structured my personal statement by writing out all of the experiences and books I'd read, then separating them into themes and paragraphs. Once I'd made a plan of my statement, I could see it more clearly and move things around; I then wrote a first draft and colour coded the various themes and experiences of my statement so I could move pieces around more easily.

How did you decide on an introduction for your personal statement?

I decided on a story as a 'hook' in order to draw the admissions tutor in; this came from my brainstorm of experiences in the first stage of writing my statement, and I thought this was a good start to the statement as it wasn't too common or abrupt (and was personal to me), and led very smoothly into the rest of my statement.

How did you decide on a conclusion for your personal statement?

I decided to end my personal statement with a conclusion to the story I had started at the beginning of my statement; this wrapped up my statement and made sense, as it created some closure while still subtly displaying my passion to study languages further.

What do you think are the strengths of your personal statement?

I think one of the main strengths of my personal statement is the 'hook' or story that seems to run throughout; in conjunction with this, the structure of my statement is strong as each theme is tied to the next and makes sense as to where it is in the essay. The statement is also very succinct as I had to cut some experiences down to just a sentence, and although this was difficult I feel that I succeeded with this in my statement.

Is there anything you wish you knew beforehand/advice? 

I wish I'd known how best to cut down in a statement beforehand and how to concisely pitch yourself in just 4000 characters, as I found this very difficult and spent a lot of time cutting down my ideas since I ran on a bit at times and repeated myself in my first few drafts. Getting some advice early on in the process would have made this process a bit faster, and facilitated the essay writing process.

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