Study abroad and cover letters

I can’t really tell you the exact number of times I have written a cover letter or revised and updated my résumé, but I can tell you it is definitely in the hundreds. I guess I could tell you the exact figure if I opened a folder in my Dropbox account entitled “Applications” and counted all the different jobs, scholarships, and programs I have applied to between my first year of undergrad and now. These documents are organized by type of application, subsequently by year, and finally, by the organization’s name. I have a different kind of master résumé and cover letter for each kind of application as well. The database is getting rather large and it probably accounts for most of my written records up until this point in my life (well, excluding undergrad and grad school classes, perhaps).

In any case, the number of documents isn’t as important as what they symbolize. When I am revising my résumé or I am writing yet another cover letter, what runs through my brain is that I am trying to wrap-up my image onto a few pages. Each time, I am honing what is old, yet relevant, and adding what is new and interesting, into an amalgam that is supposedly the best of what I have to offer. I am creating a representation of myself that I hope will capture the best parts of who I am and my experience thus far, but I only have a finite number of words in which to do this in—a very hard task for someone who is notorious for run-on sentences, too many ideas crammed into one document, and stream-of-conscious writing tendencies. Nonetheless, at this point I think I have a handle on writing these cover letters and writing a decent résumé as well.

Currently, as I try to decide what I will do next, I have been really drawn to the idea of being able to work for a study abroad program. In particular, I’m interested in working with a program that is socially conscious and that is interested in giving its students an experience that helps them think critically about the world around them, appreciate the wonders as well as the drawbacks of a world outside their own, and helps cultivate a spirit to make the world a better place. It saddens me that, according to NAFSA, only 1% of U.S. students in college or university do study abroad. I suspect it’s even less for minority or low-income students or whose colleges or universities don’t even offer programs overseas.

During my first year of undergrad, one of my favorite activities (more accurately, one of my favorite procrastination activities), with my college roommate was to look at study abroad brochures in order to decide where we were going to spend our semester abroad. At Goshen College, my undergrad alma mater, study abroad was compulsory to graduation. Your options were to study abroad for at least a semester, or to take twelve units of classes dealing with themes of cross-cultural learning or learning a foreign language. Anyone in their right mind, I thought, would choose study abroad over taking courses that only gave you a glimpse of what being overseas was like. In fact, most people during the years that I went to GC chose to study abroad. Moreover, at this particular school they have their own study abroad program called SST, or Study Service Term, which basically means that you go abroad for a semester. The first half of the semester you study the language and get acclimated with the culture and for the second half of the term you do some kind of service work in the community, more often than not, in a rural location.

My roommate and I, both Spanish majors at the time, decided that we weren’t going to do SST, instead, we were going to look into other options with other study abroad programs. We wanted to go somewhere different than the SST destinations and we wanted to meet people that weren’t from the same school as we were.

To this end, we regularly procrastinated from our school work by flipping through study abroad brochures to decide where we were going to go. I don’t know if it was the giant turtles pictured in the expertly glossed promotional materials, the fact that the equator most definitely runs smack-dab through the middle of the country which automatically means sun all-year-round, or our first winter that we experienced in northern Indiana characterized by snow every day and temperatures that made you wish there were tunnels underground in order to get to class without freezing your ass off, that made our decision an easy one. We didn’t hesitate in signing up for the following spring to embark on our study abroad adventure in Ecuador.

As I look back on this experience, je ne regrette rien de la décision.

And now back to the other main topic of this post—cover letter writing. When writing these letters of introduction, my analytical skills, coupled with my intuitive nature, come in handy because I can analyze where I have been so far and tell you how my skills match what it is you need. Of course, it also depends on what you are looking for, but that is another story entirely. Not only have I helped countless numbers of youth with preparing documents such as these, but I am a very introspective person and I think I can write pretty accurately about myself. I guess I have failed more than I have succeeded if you take into account the ratio of times the result of postulations have been positive as opposed to negative. All the same, I do seem to find a way to have a steady stream of acceptances to keep me going. Below is an example of a cover letter that captures where I am currently at and where I would like to go.

March 3, 2014

Dear Future Boss:

I was delighted to hear that you are hiring for the                   position. I am currently in Guadeloupe for the school year, teaching English in the French public school system. After my time here is up, I am looking forward to continue working with adolescents, but in a slightly different capacity. During my time here I have come to realize that I want to be part of a more experiential learning process, instead of solely teaching. My goal is to combine my skills as a mentor, counselor, and leader into one. I am thrilled for the opportunity to work with an organization whose mission it is to support youth through meaningful pathways to higher education. My experience in many educational settings, my familiarity with living and working abroad, and my commitment to life-long learning both for myself and others are all reasons that contribute to my desire to work for your organization.

My work experience reflects my commitment to and passion for working with young adults. Before my current post, I worked with many non-profit organizations that worked alongside under-resourced, immigrant, and low-income youth as well as youth who were first in their family to go to college. This work focused on nurturing the youths’ social development skills and fostering continued education. My colleagues and I became familiar with many different methods and philosophies of education including critical pedagogies, cross-cultural exchanges, and experiential learning. We worked together in order to ensure the populations we served were able to think critically about their, most often times, discouraging situations, and find, together with the youth, viable solutions to their circumstances.

In my work with young adult populations and elsewhere, I am a woman that aspires to build bridges across cultures through language, common experiences, and ultimately, education. I grew up abroad because of my parents’ work with indigenous communities. The places I lived, the people I lived alongside, and the customs I learned, have become entrenched in my identity ever since. Upon relocating to the U.S. when I was twelve I fully appreciated the value of global citizenry and have always tried to surround myself with people who are committed to being connected across continents and borders, and across ideologies and classes. My continued determination to follow a path of learning through getting to know other cultures motivated me to study abroad in Ecuador in the spring of 2005, return to Argentina in the summer of 2006 to do my teaching practicum, and again in the fall after graduate school to work on an organic farm. My ongoing dedication to the Spanish language and the cultures behind it inspires me to teach other people about the value of knowing more than one language and culture.

Besides my passion for working in educational settings with youth and my experiences abroad, I pride myself in being a life-long learner. In 2013 I completed my M.A. in Education. I pursued the degree in order to gain a better understanding of the population I serve, best practices when working with youth, and current research in the field. Most recently I decided to be immersed in a culture and language I knew very little about. This is my first time in a country where I cannot speak the language fluently and where the culture is totally foreign to me. It has been a rich experience and I want to accompany and guide others as they experience similar journeys. I am excited to continue learning, together with like-minded people (both co-workers and young adults), and working in an organization that will be instrumental in defining where my professional path leads.

I am confident that I will be a great addition to your team as a ____________. I welcome the opportunity to speak about what I can offer your organization and what I can learn from such an impactful program. Thank you for your time and I am looking forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

Raquel Wigginton

At the end of the day, the cover letter in and of itself may be impeccable, but what really matters is what the person on the other end of the communication is looking for. Nevertheless, through this type of cover letter I am trying to express the spirit to which I come to the application process with. My main objective is that my energy and my passion for the position is relayed.

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