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--------------- Print Magazine --------------
 
  May 2016
 
  April 2016
 
 
 
 
STUDY ABROAD
Getting into Harvard Law School

Since its founding in 1973, Franklin Pierce Law Center, now the University of New In this series of essays, Lawyers Update helps you to get into world’s top law schools.


Words and Language
DEREK COLLA


I have found myself in a lot of uncomfortable situations over the course of my life, but none more so than the first time I visited my Italian relatives in Parma. This visit took place in the fall of 2003 while I was spending the semester studying in Rome.


No one in my immediate family had ever met our Italian cousins, but an older American aunt who was acquainted with them sent a letter arranging for me to stay at their apartment for a weekend in early October. I thought they would probably be able to speak English, and if they did not, I hoped that the Italian I had picked up during my first month in Rome would suffice. As soon as I stepped off the train and tried to start a conversation, I realized the gross inadequacy of my Italian skills. Asking people how to get to the bus station and ordering at a restaurant are quite different from carrying on a dialogue with anxious relatives. Speaking only in situations of the former variety, I had built up a false sense of confidence that quickly washed away in Parma. My cousins were extremely gracious and hospitable (giving me so much food to eat that I nearly killed myself trying to be polite), but the experience left me disappointed because I believed the visit had the potential to be much more meaningful and enjoyable. My greatgrandfather Madardo Colla emigrated in the early 1900s, and I wished to find out the circumstances behind his decision, the history of my ancestors in Italy, and information about any relatives in Italy. Because of my deficient language skills, I missed the opportunity to learn these specific details about my background and develop a more robust self-identity. I agreed to come back and visit again in December, mainly because I did not know how to respectfully decline, and I consoled myself with the realization that I had another two months to improve before returning.


I felt a real lack of self-confidence after my dismal performance that weekend, but during the train ride back to Rome I convinced myself that I had the ability to learn the language over the next two months if I worked hard enough. Fervently setting about the task, I initiated conversations with anyone (who) would speak to me in Italian. And carried a pocket dictionary in order to go back and look up words I did not understand. By watching television, working through the Gazetta dello Sport at least a few times a week, and participating in a language course at John Cabot, I gradually improved my Italian, and on the second trip to Parma I spoke well enough to ask everything I desired to know. While not completely fluent, I possessed the ability to understand and be understood. Comfortable and engaged, I felt rewarded for the hard work I had put in to conquer a problem that had seemed overwhelming after the first visit. Just being able to say, “The food is wonderful, but if I eat any more I think I will explode,” was invaluable.


I think this experience demonstrates the sort of person I am, and why I believed will do well in law school. Some people are so brilliant and talented that they immediately succeed at nearly everything they try to by relying solely upon natural ability. In high school, innate talent carried my academic performance, but the parity of ability in college forced me to work much harder. I developed the capability to learn quickly from mistakes and became resilient and persistent. This builds character in a person, and character is the most valuable asset I have gained from my time at college. As I look ahead to the challenges that law school will present, I am confident that I have the right mix of ability, work ethic, and positive attitude to thrive.

 
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