Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Personal Statement

Whilst considering my upcoming application process, I came upon my personal statement from my previous:

Personal Statement
George Washington University

Applicant: Doctor of Psychology Program

In considering my passions, I realize that there is an underlying theme that connects the various interests, hobbies, activities and employments. I believe that the theme reflects the core of my interest in psychology. The theme cannot be expressed with a simple adjective, but perhaps I can explain myself better with what follows.
The two most important aspects of my life may seem incongruous at first glance. My relationships, spending time and connecting with my family and friends, drive my day-to-day life. My escape from this day-to-day life, and from my relationships, traveling, is a passion of mine as well. In my travels and experiences living abroad, what provides me the biggest thrill is the feeling of complete solitude, the challenge of knowing that I must fend for myself, with nothing on my person except a backpack full of dirty clothes, a passport and some traveler’s cheques. Whereas in day-to-day life I thrive on the depth of my interpersonal connections, while traveling I thrive on the intensity of brief yet meaningful interactions with complete strangers. Whether it’s a significant personal interchange during a week on the road together with a group of Australians or the simple exchange of direct eye contact with the woman from Varanasi who sold me a samosa, the feeling of depth attached to these connections drive my travels. In day-to-day life, the depth manifests itself differently. The moments where I feel most useful are moments in which I help a member of my family, a friend, or a client, overcome a challenging situation. Whether I’m helping them through a difficult moment, providing personal insight, or simply giving them a chance to talk something out, I feel most productive as a person acting as a source of interpersonal assistance.
My two years living and working in Costa Rica were a combination of both worlds. My life there had the thrill of being a foreigner and the challenge of mastering a second language, combined with the stability of meaningful friendships. While teaching English at the Universidad Interamericana, I enjoyed the challenge of learning how to connect through cultural and language barriers, of making an entire classroom of university students release their natural first-day jitters and laugh, open up, express themselves. I consider my ability to evoke expression, both emotional and otherwise, as a skill that will help me immeasurably in my future as a psychologist.
During my years at the University of Michigan, I worked as a Behavioral Therapist for autistic twins in Ann Arbor. ‘The boys’, as we called them, taught me that there are numerous perspectives of reality, and the challenge of my job was to find my way into their reality. During those two years I became a part of their world, a world that was often characterized as lacking interpersonal connections, as being motivated by objects, stories, movies, and repetition.
When I started working as the Case Manager of the Transitional Living Program of the Latin American Youth Center, I was somewhat intimidated by the population with which I would be working: homeless males, ages 16-22, straight off the streets, many of whom had recently come to the country ‘on foot’ from Central America. I knew that they would be some fairly tough guys. I also knew that, unlike younger or more privileged youth, an open heart would not be enough to win their respect or affection. But I trusted in myself, and I trusted in what I had learned in my time abroad: that a warm, genuine smile, plus an ability to talk about a common interest, an ability to make another person comfortable and even make a person laugh, could win over just about anybody.
The lesson that was hardest for me to accept was that of dealing with problems that were outside my abilities as a professional and outside my control as a person. In working with youth with problems ranging from substance abuse issues to severe mental health issues, I had to learn that there are some problems that cannot be solved by a healthy chat. I have never felt as hopelessly incapable as I did in dealing with issues that were, to say the least, over my head. While I hope to hone my skills in dealing with issues such as these in a professional psychology program, I need to recognize, both for professional and personal reasons, that there are some problems that will not be solvable, some problems for which the goal will be to learn to live with rather than to solve. I must also learn that I cannot place too much blame on myself regarding cases that have not turned out ideally and to recognize that we are all works in progress. Lessons such as these drive my day-to-day life and, in a manner of speaking, are the fruits of my labor.

I am returning to Costa Rica in January. It will be my first time back since leaving my job, my students and my friends behind to work on the presidential campaign in May of 2004. I will be the Producer of a National Geographic-funded educational quest called Blue Zones that aims to understand why there are such a high percentage of centenarians in the country. The trip will combine several of my passions: the inspiring unknown of traveling, the logistics coordination and media production skills I learned working on the Kerry/Edwards 2004 campaign, the quest for a multifaceted answer to a challenging but significant question, the chance to make new interpersonal connections, and the chance to reconnect with old friends.
The future is exciting, but I see the past as the true source of knowledge of self. In addition to enjoying experiences retroactively through memory, the past is a source of lessons, and is the key source of growth. My knowledge of psychodynamics is limited, but my experience in utilizing my conscious past, my thoughts, my emotions and even my dreams as a road to introspection, to self-understanding and to learning is vast. I see every day, every experience as a valuable lesson. I try my best to learn from each simple occurrence, to be proud of myself for my successes, to be wary of making the same mistake twice, to understand why I do what I do and why I am who I am. These are questions that drive my life. To me, psychology is not only a science, a study, a route to a profession. To me, psychology, as the exploration of the self, is the main goal of life.
I am wise enough to know this: my knowledge is limited, my experiences numerous out of infinite, my ability to function as a psychologist fledgling. I recognize that I am years away from being the professional psychologist I hope to be, years from having the skills to sit in a room with a person and know that I’ll have the academic, experiential and professional knowledge to truly help them. This self-awareness of what I lack drives me. It has driven me, in this instance, to apply to George Washington University’s Professional Psychology program. But I also know that my self, the combination of my family, my relationships, my education, my experiences and my life have prepared me in the strongest way possible to do what I want to do and to become who I want to be. And I look forward to it.


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