Harvard Law School

Application Essays – The World DANIEL MCMANN

What Worked for them can Help You Get into the Law School of Your Choice 

I was sweating profusely. Was it the sweltering heat, the spicy kimchi, or the nerves? I’m convinced it was a combination of all three. With bare feet, I sat on the floor with my legs tightly crossed under the stout table. I maneuvered my chopsticks carefully; the last thing I wanted was for my new co-teachers, especially the principal, to think poorly of my table manners. I read extensively on Korea’s Confucian-rooted dining etiquette before I left for my new life in Seoul. Now I was expected to put this etiquette into practice. It didn’t help that my new co-teachers hardly spoke a word of English. Equally, the only Korean I could remember was annyeong haseyo and kamsa hamnida. Accordingly, I found myself greeting and thanking people all too frequently. Life had been simple and comfortable in Canada, but now I was a blond-haired, functionally illiterate foreigner in a strange land who stood out like a sore thumb. A week prior, I had been incredibly thrilled for this opportunity to live abroad, now I was not convinced that moving to Korea was the right decision.

It is always the case that nerves, challengers, and fear of the unknown swing my mood from excitement to pessimism when I begin my travels abroad. Fortunately, this pessimism vanishes rapidly when I am fully immersed in another culture. It is thrilling, mind-opening experiences and meeting new, remarkable people that fuels my passion for traveling. As I walk through the streets of Seoul I find myself learning, like a child, to read again. I can read Hangul, the Korean alphabet, to the point where I can pronounce most words. But, my Korean vocabulary is still severely limited as most Korean words remain meaningless sounds to my ears. As time progresses, I am confident that I will grasp a solid understanding of the language that once seemed to be from a far, inaccessible place. In just weeks, I have had experiences that would be unimaginable in my home country. I have held monkeys in Bangkok, ate pig’s nose in Seoul, rode elephants in southern Thailand, and been warned that “Drug trafficking is punishable by death in the Republic of China.” I no longer have any doubts that starting a new life teaching English in Korea was the best decision I could have made.
My mother has always told me that “The experiences you have while traveling will be the ones you will always remember.” True to her word, the lectures from the first week of university remain fuzzy in my mind, but I can remember nearly every word of conversations I had with Cubans in Havana from my several trips to the tropical island. I even remember the locals ensuring that the door was closed and voices kept down when the conversations turned to sensitive topics, such as politics. I cannot recall many of the Christmas gifts I exchanged with my family, nor the fairs I attended as a child, but I could never forget the Carnival de Mazatlan in Mexico. Nor could I forget the lights of Las Vegas, the sounds of Times Square, or the thrill of the Space Mountain roller coaster in Disneyland. Equally, I cannot recall the origin or destination of a single taxi ride I have taken in Canada, but I do remember the difficulty I had finding a tuk tuk that would take me directly to my hostel in Bangkok. The fare of taxis in Thailand is very minimal; accordingly, many taxi drivers insist that you make two or three stops en route to your final destination where you are expected to go inside selected stores so the driver can earn a commission. If you wish to see Bangkok for cheap, hire a taxi for pennies to drive you all over the city to different shops; the taxi driver will be more than happy to collect the commissions at every stop and will require only pennies as payment from the passenger.

My experiences relate to a quote from the Harvard Law School’s International Legal Studies information page: “At Harvard Law School, ‘international’ is not just something we teach. It is something we are.” I seek to study international law at Harvard Law School through the International and Comparative Law program of study. My travel experience, coupled with my economics degree, set a solid foundation for studying international law, with possible focuses in international trade, law and third world economic development, anti-poverty law, international finance, and business and corporate law, I believe that I would fit well into the Harvard community and will be a valuable member of the International and Comparative Law program.

Daniel McMann’s enthusiasm for traveling and his love for new mind-opening experiences are evident in his writing. The admissions officer reading this essay can readily see McMann’s passion through the way in which he conveys his adventures to the audience. McMann describes a variety of firsthand experiences with vivid detail. Although he is sure to drive home the point that he loves traveling and immersing himself in other cultures through a direct statement. Notably, McMann shares the lessons that he has learned from his travels and shows how they have shaped his personality and outlook on life.

A drawback to McMann’s essay is that at times it can feel as though he is merely listing all of the places he had traveled. International travel can be a powerful, formative experience – especially for one interested in international law, but an essay should explain how that international exposure informs and influences him. McMann takes the reader on a Cook’s tour; we see him encountering a colorful variety of local bits and oddities. We hear him explain how other parts of the world are more exciting than home in Canada. But we don’t understand how his ventures are more than travel for the sake of travel. Far too many Harvard Law applicants have international experience to make that a distinguishing factor in itself. How that experience engenders growth is what counts.

What McMann does manage to show is a passion for the world and for exploring it. He clearly hasn’t opted for time abroad, whether as a traveler or an English teacher, as filler for a resume. McMann’s most fleshed-out example, his time in Korea, might leave the reader wanting to learn more, but it does showcase his commitment. He struggles with becoming “fully immersed in another culture,” and yet he is determined to achieve it.

-Katherine M. Kulik

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