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FROM VILLAGE TO COLLEGE Writing an Outstanding College Essay about your Global Experiences at the Language Villages

{ Greetings } Greetings! We know that every year villagers in our programs have transformative experiences that prepare them in important ways for the academic rigors of college and the opportunities for globally oriented careers. We designed this booklet to help you take an aspect of your Language Village experience and turn it into an essay that helps colleges better understand who you are and what you want to achieve. Along with some general tips about writing college essays, we include four Village-focused, sample essays that former villagers have used in recent years. Each essay is also accompanied by commentary that explains why the essay was particularly strong and provides specific suggestions to help you focus and revise your topic. Your Village experience challenged and stretched you in some of the same ways that a college experience will in the near future. We’re happy to help you tell your story more effectively as you take what you learned at the Villages to a new arena. Best of luck in the future – and please share your essays with us. Sincerely,

Carl-Martin Nelson Director of Marketing and Communications

Carl-Martin Nelson has helped over 1,000 students write personal narratives and college application essays in the 18 years he worked as a writing teacher at St. Johnsbury Academy, an independent school in northern Vermont. Carl-Martin has served as dean of both Waldsee, the German Language Village, and Hometown, Europe, the English Language Village in Switzerland. A National Board Certified Teacher, he earned an M.A. in writing from Northeastern University in 1996 and now directs the marketing and communications department at the Language Villages. In 1983 Carl-Martin wrote his college essay about his family’s move to Vienna, Austria for two years when he was in junior high school and the challenges associated with learning a new language and adapting to a new culture.


{ CHOOSING A TOPIC } from your village experience Tell Your Story Well Many students are afraid that they don’t have an amazing topic that will blow the college admissions team away. In some ways it’s simply best to choose a topic that has changed how you see the world or has shifted your perspective on something – even if the shift seems a little subtle. This new perspective demonstrates willingness to learn, open-mindedness, curiosity, and a mind that is working.

A great college essay is very often a great story told by an engaging narrator. Make sure the reader can easily discern the setting and characters and follow the plot. The more you refer to what you see, taste, feel, smell and touch in your story, the more effectively the reader will understand the plot. Keep it energetic, keep it real, and keep it short!

As you think back over your Village experience you may want to consider one of the following topics:

Strong Opening Line

• Developing a more profound understanding of community as part of a cabin, class, activity, language group • Seeing another country, its people, and its culture in a more sophisticated way • Seeing your country, its people, and its culture from the perspective of others • Feeling academically and socially challenged and working through those challenges successfully • Coming home from the Villages and seeing your home, neighbors, classmates differently • Feeling a new sense of vocation or identifying a career as a result of a Village experience In selecting a topic it might be helpful to think in terms of a twostep process: • First, make a quick list of the ways that your experience at the Villages has changed you. • Second, identify a specific event or day or encounter that embodies that for you and can demonstrate it effectively. All four of the essays featured in this booklet do exactly that to some degree. • Remember: you can illustrate growth through smaller shifts in point-of-view as easily as through dramatic challenges and adventures.

A strong opening line is a very important part of a college essay. Unfortunately, there are few rules that govern creative opening lines. One suggestion is to use the language or somehow juxtapose the setting of the Villages with the U.S. For example: “Guten Tag! Pass bitte!” were the first words I heard when I stepped across the border from Minnesota into Germany." Or "I felt really good about my part in the presentación de comida."

Edit, Edit, Edit It’s probably best to plan on several weeks and multiple drafts to complete your college essay. Start with an initial brainstorming session (read the prompt carefully and answer the question fully!) followed by a quick rough draft, then let it sit for a few days before coming back to it. After each draft, find three people who don’t know you well and ask them to read your essay and answer the following three questions: 1) What is the strongest part of this essay? 2) Where did you feel lost or confused as a reader? 3) What three qualities come to mind as you read this essay?


Anna Krenkel Hometown: Stillwater, MN Village Attended: Salolampi

My appreciation for everything Finnish began at a young age, and played a critical role in shaping my interests and character. When I was eight years old, my parents thought Concordia Language Village language immersion camp would be an opportunity for me to enjoy myself and learn something. They assumed because I took French in school I would choose to continue it; they didn’t count on the Finnish neighbors, who convinced me to study their language. It seems like a week at camp shouldn’t be a defining moment in a person’s life, and I suppose that first week, where I learned to count, say the colors, and ask for the butter really wasn’t. But when one week for one year turns into two weeks for five years, and then into two four-week high school language credit sessions, it’s safe to say that what was once a child’s whimsy has changed me. Salolampi (“Lake in the Woods”) is idyllic - on a lake with a wood burning sauna, imported Finnish cabins, and a flagpole flying the Finnish flag. But it moves beyond the idea of summer camp, and even the idea of language lessons. Salolampi’s multicultural focus and international staff motivated me to contemplate the world community, my place in it, and the effects of my actions. Like the wall in the laundry room at home, where there are marks tracking my height, Salolampi is a way to measure my personal growth. Each time I return I have different perceptions of the experiences. When I was eight, Winter War Capture the Flag was only a game. Now that I have studied Finland’s role in World War II, I understand why one side (Russia) gets more players than the other. But by the end of my second year as a credit villager the close community began to feel a bit constricting. I continued to love the immersion in Finnish traditions, but I was ready for something more. I found it last summer when I spent seven weeks on a farm in Finland. My Salolampi experience prepared me well for my Finnish homestay; the language, customs, and food were familiar. I was able to enjoy the nuances of my visit because I was already comfortable with these dissimilarities. I could easily chat with older relatives, read recipes, use public transportation, and command the family dog. Even outside Finland, I feel at ease traveling in other countries thanks to the global focus of my camp experience. Combined with an interest in current events and history, this exposure to Finnish culture solidified my personal goals of working to improve our country’s relationship with others. Most people don’t find their passion at age eight, and at the time I certainly didn’t recognize it as such. As the influence of Finland became more significant in my life, I realized that my affinity with the Finns and my time at Salolampi have moved beyond an interest or a hobby. The connection I feel has shaped my character, and continues to color my perception of the world.


Essay 1

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Definitely highlight any kind of multiple year commitment to a Village. You want to demonstrate that you can stick to a quality program and that you develop allegiances.


Nice, simple image that evokes growth, maturity, and change.


Great example demonstrating her point and showing how she has developed and grown over the years.

A note about tone: One of the most appealing things about this essay is the writer’s straightforward almost conversational tone. I feel like I’m listening to a sensible, soft-spoken person who is opening a window just a crack into her life. She uses simple images and ideas without gushing hyperbole - commanding the family dog or talking to the Finnish neighbors - to make her point. The writer asserts that she contemplates her position in the world community differently as a result of her Salolampi experience. This kind of assertion is often unearned in high school prose; this writer, however, earns the requisite credibility with her simple, thoughtful, confident tone.

Always keep in mind who your audience is when you write – particularly with a college essay. Try to match the content of your essay with what is important to the school. If the college identifies itself as a globally engaged school, stress the global nature of your Village experience. If there is a strong emphasis on community or self-reflection or academic rigor, choose examples that highlight these aspects of Village life.


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This writer shows that attending Salolampi has already spurred her to new and engaging things. Unique experience A (Salolampi) has already led to cool experience B (seven weeks on a Finnish farm) which we can easily believe will lead to global experiences C, D, and E…

Humor is a tricky thing to pull off in a college essay– wry humor like this– without a hint of sarcasm– is probably the best and easiest. If you think it’s important to be funny, be careful that your humor is not condescending or self-deprecating.

Even after leaving Salolampi for the last time my experiences there continue to color my perception of the world and affect my life. I am currently in the process of applying to spend a semester at the University of Helsinki in Finland, and look forward to returning to my study of the Finnish language and culture. - Anna Krenkel


Stephanie Denzer Hometown: Washington, D.C. Village Attended: El Lago del Bosque, Spain Study Abroad

I remember telling my campers that they could wake me up for any reason at any time. When I said it, I didn’t envision Malena timidly tugging at the side of my pillow at 3 a.m. I groggily ask, “What’s wrong?” though I know exactly what the answer will be: “I miss my parents and I can’t sleep.” Being away from mom and dad has been more difficult for Malena than for the dozen other campers in our cabin. At midnight we had talked for half an hour about her homesickness, but when that didn’t help, I had tried something more creative. “Think of a fruit that starts with each letter of the alphabet.” Apparently the alphabet only provided enough thinking material for three hours, for now at 3 a.m. I would have to find a different approach to ease Malena’s thoughts. I ask her, whispering, “What do you do at home when you can’t sleep?” “I go into my parents’ room and sleep next to them” she sniffles. At first I am stumped; I am not about to cram into her cot as a proxy parent, but I find a suitable surrogate – a rolled-up coat – that I place beside her. “Pretend this is your dad,” I tell her, “and when you lean up against him, you’ll feel better.” I stumble back into bed, listening for the tell-tale whimper and patter of small feet that would signal my failure. Thankfully, I awaken to the beeping of my watch alarm. I switch on the lights and exclaim brightly, "¡Buenos dias! ¿Como dormieron?” I smile at Malena, knowing that with our full day of activities, she won’t miss home for at least another twelve hours. Not only will Malena take part in countless summer camp activities, but she will also participate while hearing all the directions in Spanish. The camp isn’t a typical summer camp, it’s Concordia Language Villages, an immersion camp, aimed at teaching campers Spanish and replicating many cultural aspects of life in a small Spanish “village.” Only when tears streak or blood flows, do we counselors speak English. Otherwise, we convey everything in Spanish and, often, through elaborate charades as well. While at night I play the role of compassionate counselor, during the day, my new role of teacher overpowers my nighttime role of big sister. I plan songs, games, and activities to teach Spanish vocabulary to two “tertulias,” or small learning groups, of nine campers each. It is not easy. As the youngest counselor, I realize I have much to learn. Luckily, I am surrounded by mentors. Not only do my peers have more years of life experience, but many are also native speakers from countries such as Argentina, Mexico, and Spain. Several have been counselors for many years and were my counselors, years earlier, when I was a villager. Closer than a family, the group’s tight-knit ways provided the main reason I wanted to be a counselor. Now, though, I was faced with the challenge of bridging the gap between camper and counselor. Although I had spent an enriching month in Spain, and many years in innumerable Spanish classes, a weight heavier than any English-toSpanish Dictionary was placed on my chest when I began conversations with other counselors like Hector from Mexico, whom as a camper, I had always looked up to. I agonized over the structures of my sentences, when all I wanted was to have a casual, even mundane conversation. My desire not to make mistakes while speaking in Spanish – especially when talking with someone I respected so much – gave me those queasy feelings. I realized how neurotic I was while singing a Diego Torres song we had been teaching to our campers. Torres sings “Es mejor perderse que nunca embarcar,” which translates: it is better to lose yourself than never to set forth. After a couple of false starts, I was able to speak to other counselors without feeling as if my heart would stop if they found my Spanish not completely perfect. With a little practice, I was also able to confidently teach my own tertullias group. The campers from my group would return to their “madres” and “padres” able to share songs and games full of new Spanish words. I knew that I had found a place in the family of counselors when, at the end of my six weeks, Hector would enter a room and begin to tease me as if I were his younger sister, and I would retort with a particularly tart Spanish remark. I don’t know if Malena felt the same weight on her chest – at 2:55 before she decided to patter across to my bunk – as I felt before I realized I could speak to a counselor from Argentina or Spain without consulting a Spanish textbook, but I do know we both stepped into a new world this summer. With a little help, she managed to get through the rest of camp, only crying on the last day, at the thought of leaving camp. I learned that life only slightly resembles the Spanish of my classrooms; it is no longer the language I study; it is now another world I am allowed to enter and explore. Once Malena and I set out into our new worlds, it took only a short time until we realized that the worry of being lost is much smaller than the reward to be gained.


Essay 2 {

This is a nice use of language in the text of an essay – it adds credibility and is very different. It’s also pretty easy to understand.


The writer does a fine job of transitioning from the story of the villager – Malena – into recounting her own experiences. In fact, she sets Malena up as a parallel figure to herself. The reader learns about Malena and the writer at the same time. Nicely done.


This sentence is a little confusing and a bit long. While you don’t want clipped, terse prose, you do want to make sure the reader can follow easily. A member of the college admissions committee may read hundreds of essays each week and may simply give up on your essay if your narrative gets muddy.


Again, nice use of language and a great quote – it shows that the writer is open-minded and hasn’t “figured everything out” already.

TIP: Show Don't Tell Every English teacher you’ve ever had has told you this – because it’s true. The best essays do not draw conclusions about you for the reader. Simply summarizing what you learned can feel insulting to the reader’s intelligence. By eloquently describing the details of your narrative the reader experiences your story with you, making it unnecessary to offer trite conclusions at the end of your essay.



The writer ties the story of Malena and her own challenges together very well in this section. While there’s little doubt how the stories will turn out, as a reader I’m rooting for Malena and the writer.

Overall this essay shows growth and development. As a younger villager the writer admired the staff and aspired to one day be as capable, confident and caring. She demonstrates in this essay two important things: compassion and the ability to grow. She demonstrates the compassion easily in the opening scene and walks the reader through her transition from villager to anxious young staff member to colleague (with little sister status) to the very people she admired as a villager. The transition from high school to college is academically, socially, and financially challenging. Try to choose a topic that shows you can grow and change. This essay feels more honest because she talks about how nervous she was at first.

After being a villager for 3 years, I wanted nothing more than to return to El Lago del Bosque as a counselor. By the time I started my freshman year at college I had spent two summers working at El Lago del Bosque. The experience and knowledge I gained from interacting with so many different kinds of people was completely invaluable and definitely impacted who I am today. My experience at Concordia went as far as to shape important choices I made in college where I studied Hispanic Studies and Economics and spent a year studying abroad in Argentina. -Stephanie Denzer


Catherine Blanke Hometown: Bloomington, MN Village Attended: El Lago del Bosque

The smells hit me before anything else. Freshly chopped White Pine firewood mingled with the aroma of traditional Mexican tortillas, neither of which was strong enough to cover the lingering smell of sweat. I kissed my mom, an eight-year old struggling with the reality that she was being left alone for the first time. I entered the intimidating large lodge that stood in front of me as she directed the car slowly down the dirt path on which we had entered. The noises that accosted me as I walked in were loud and unfamiliar; I pushed back my tears, refusing to show the weakness ripping me limb from limb on the inside. The babble of voices surrounding me was an incomprehensible mix of English and Spanish. The unknown adults who were supposed to look out for me for the next week seemed to leer at me. As I approached the front desk, I was confronted with the reality that I would not be able to use English while I was here if I wanted to be understood. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand a word of Spanish. The counselor began talking to me, making faces, miming desperately a point that was simply beyond my grasp. I nodded dumbly, sure that I would hate my week in Concordia’s Language Immersion Camps. I meandered around the camp, unsure of how to find my cabin. I suddenly saw a sign in front of a cabin that corresponded with the one my dad had written for me on the back of an envelope. The cabin I was going to stay in for the next week had a pleasant musky smell to it. The bunk beds, laid out in their orderly rows, reminded me of the Madeline stories my mom used to read me. I frowned, though I felt a little more relaxed as I heard some of the other little girls speaking English to each other. Finally, there was something that I could understand without difficulty. We were agreeing that we were not going to shower while we were at camp when our counselor popped her head in the door to introduce herself. Her name was Isabella and I was entranced. She was pretty and friendly and my first role model. That was the moment that I first became obsessed with languages. I tagged after Isabella for that entire evening as we went to dinner, determined to be just like her. My inability to communicate efficiently with her galled me. I worked hard to interpret her mimes and paid little attention to the horrible food that was served for dinner. The girls from my cabin gibbered incessantly about silly things like missing their parents. I said not a word but rather listened raptly as Isabella tried to communicate some of the basic differences between Mexico and Minnesota. While I could understand very little, I knew that I had to find out more. I became addicted to languages. That night as we prepared for bed, I watched the shape her mouth made when she told me “Buenas noches, y que tengas buenos sueños. As other girls were falling asleep, I was dutifully repeating those words to myself, touching my lips with my fingers to check if it was making the exact same shape Isabella’s had. I tossed and turned, suddenly aware of how much I didn’t know and how much there still was to discover about the world around me. I couldn’t wait to wake up and discover more. Eight years later, the smells still hit me before anything else. Freshly chopped firewood combines with the scent of enchiladas made fresh, neither of which is strong enough to cover the sour smell of sweat. The heat of the day urges me to stand still or even sit down, but erupting joy prompts me to enter the familiar lodge where I spent the majority of my childhood summers. The clamor of voices surrounding me, both halting stutters and easy conversation, is a comprehensible mix of English and Spanish. The adults who are to be responsible for my well-being for the next month are making faces and animatedly acting out their meaning to bewildered children who don’t understand a word being said; I smile knowingly and wonder if those children will find their passion here, just as I did. That night, as I settle into bed, I realize that I can’t wait to wake up and discover more about the world around me, y traeré esta curiosidad con migo a la universidad.


Essay 3 {

The narrative in this essay weaves both the writer’s admiration for Isabella, her counselor, together with the story of the frightening and alarming becoming comfortable and encouraging over time. The reader knows that the writer uses appropriate role models to help steer her through challenging situations. The shift in tense in the final paragraph is difficult to pull off, but also conveys the change in the writer’s perspective and provides even more contrast with the parallel elements in the opening paragraph.

This writer supplies more than enough detail for the reader to see, smell, and experience a first-time Village encounter. She uses mostly active verbs to describe what happened and how she felt in the first minutes after her mother left.


While something of a stereotype, this is a fantastic detail woven with great skill into the narrative


The desire to blindly emulate someone is much more effective if the story you are telling, like this one, reflects a youthful admiration for an older role model.

Desire to Engage/Succeed



Another nice detail that helps the reader understand the writer’s determination and the influence Isabella had on her.

TIP: Colleges typically try to determine if you have the drive and stamina to succeed in a rigorous environment. Make sure what you describe conveys curiosity, engagement, and a mind at work.


I think that the camps made me feel more comfortable living with other people. I have been an only child and was only ever responsible for my own well-being. Camp taught me to cooperate and share responsibilities with other people. Even little things like cabin cleaning make a big difference in a completely new setting like college. - Catherine Blanke


Minako Hometown: Honolulu, HI Village Attended: Mori no Ike

The best way to learn anything is to jump into it and not think too much about what is happening. Being terrified by what you’re about to do helps as well. Only when you let go of everything do you gain anything. I learned some Japanese this summer in a high school credit immersion program offered by Concordia Language Villages in Dent, Minnesota. I knew a few people who had gone to Concordia’s other language camps, and they all seemed to have survived, so I decided to suggest it to my parents. My family thought it would be a good way to get me to spend some time away from them. I signed up for it in November. For eight months I questioned my sanity. As the brochure promised, it was a true immersion experience. Only the other campers and the nurse spoke in English unless “it concerned our safety.” I learned quickly that begging and pleading-in English or Japanese-did not work. The credit teachers’ expectations were high. To receive credit, we had to pass the classes with a 75% average or better, fulfill a community service requirement, submit a portfolio of our work, and survive the “Nihongo no tatsujin”-24 hours during which we could only communicate in Japanese. Living with 13 people I had never met before in a place hundreds of miles from home where nobody knew me, I could be who I wanted to be (within reason). At camp, my dad wasn’t the band conductor and my mom didn’t hire the teachers. No one had any prior knowledge of who was fluent, smart, popular at home, or even what our real names were because we all chose Japanese names upon arrival. We had no access to phones, non-Japanese books, music, or e-mail. Being cut off from everything I knew gave me a chance to decide who I would be. Would I sing loudly and confidently at campfire, or would I mumble and pretend I didn’t know the words? Would I stand in the first row during rajio taiso (traditional Japanese morning exercises), even though I knew I looked stupid, so I could see to learn the steps, and later be able to help new campers learn them, or would I hide out in the back, as I would at home? Did I really want to keep my old habits so badly that I would consciously prevent myself from learning anything? This was what I had to decide. With no one within 600 miles even knowing my real name except the business manager who sorted the mail, did it matter that I didn’t usually act this way at home? Was there really a good reason not to let myself get into it and do what I could while I was there? There wasn’t. The only real question was “What will I do when I have to go home again?”


Essay 4 { { {

The writer weaves this ‘thesis statement’ throughout the entire essay without overstating it. She does more to expound on a theme – drawing from examples and very brief anecdotes – rather than tell a story. She does this well.

This gentle, humorous comment demonstrates introspection and sets up the change in perspective that this essay is all about.

The writer establishes the rigorous nature of the program and the high expectations of the staff.

This writer demonstrates that she is asking good, tough questions about herself and questioning appropriately the things that seem to inhibit her learning. Coupled with the sense of adventure that clearly emanates from the final question of the essay, she demonstrates that she is ready to make the most out of a new and exhilarating challenge. While this essay does not tell a story, there are anecdotes and details that help the reader understand – and cheer for – the transformation underway in the writer.

TIP: Honesty



While our communities help shape our identity and inform how we interact with each other, the Village experience (like a college experience) is an opportunity to remake yourself and focus on who you want to become. Colleges are likely interested in how you managed a “fresh start” at the Villages as it could anticipate the one you will be embarking on soon.

College admissions staff will read hundreds or even thousands of college essays each year. They can detect exaggeration, hyperbole, and dishonesty with little effort. Keep your narrative real and focused using strong, precise words.

Being a gakusei at Mori no Ike raised my confidence tremendously, and forced me to break out of the familiar, comfortable roles I had been taking in high school and in my life up to that point. I had to start talking; I had to make my needs known; I had to step out of my shell. And not only was I explicitly encouraged to do this; the program was a living example of the benefits I could gain from it. Why not do something daring, or something a little odd, and have more fun and get more out of the program, when your capacity to choose is the only thing holding you back?

" - Minako




Concordia College, 901 8th St S Moorhead, MN 56562 USA

Concordia College


There are many great general resources in your schools and on the internet designed to help you write a fantastic college essay. Check on-line or with your guidance office for further resources. Some excellent books on the topic include:

• Conquering the College Admissions Essay in 10 Steps: Crafting a Winning Personal Statement by Alan Gelb, 2008 • The College Application Essay, Revised Edition by Sarah Myers McGinty, 2004 • Peterson's Best College Admission Essays by Mark Alan Stewart and Cynthia C. Muchnick, 2008

Some very good online resources include:




College Essay Handbook  

A Guide on how to write about your village experience for college applications.

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