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Our ridiculous expedition was scheduled to conclude with a birthday celebration, a climax that my girlfriend anticipated and expected to savor. “Won’t it be wonderful,” she would muse, “that the trip will conclude the day after my birthday in Paris, the most romantic city of all?” Of course I responded that, yes, it would be magical, and that she would indeed have a birthday to remember.
Those who never took the opportunity to backpack across Europe after graduating from college might romanticize this as a carefree voyage consisting of a rich array of museums, landmarks, and whimsical train-hopping between cuisines and languages. The reality proved far less glamorous.
The events leading up to Lizzie’s birthday were surely memorable: a mugging in Barcelona, a credit card cancelled due to shady hostels in Italy, and a myriad of unforeseen transportation costs meant that we were completely out of money by the time we arrived in Paris five days before her birthday. Fortunately, Paris was the one place that we could stay for free because of a friend of my father’s. Unfortunately, though, we learned that it would cost us another thirty euros each — despite our EuroRail passes — to travel to Madrid for our departing flight. Funds were low, and we knew that even if we ate baguettes with vinegar for virtually every meal (as we had done for six days straight) and avoided any sights with entrance fees, we would still be close to broke. Conversations of magical birthdays had ceased in Italy, but by the time we reached Paris, the idea had become the elephant in our luggage: we hauled it everywhere we went.
Our parents had already given us an additional deposit after what they had claimed would be their final financial provision under any circumstances; asking them for more money was not an option. I spent three days wracking my brain for ideas. Then, as we walked back from viewing the Eiffel Tower from its base — thus foregoing the steep entrance fee for a trip to the top — we passed a North African street performance group drumming along the bank of the Seine. I was reminded of my time abroad in Sydney, during which I had embarked on a trip up the western coast, surfing by day and spending most evenings with various Aboriginal tribes. As a drummer, I noticed that the Aboriginals could utilize their wooden drums in a considerably more musical way with a different technique. After demonstrating that technique to them, they included me in their drum circle, which was one of my most treasured memories from my time in Australia.
With a very valuable four euros and the confidence that I could charm the street performers as I had the Aboriginal drummers, I bought a pair of drumsticks. I showed up to the same spot the following day, asking the timbale player in my mediocre French, “Can I play with you?” I was ignored. The following day, I showed up early and used what was then one-sixth of my total net worth (five euros) in an attempt to bribe my way into the group. “Yes, play,” said another member of the group as he handed me a bucket and a stool. At the end of the day, I was handed back my five euro bill. “See you tomorrow?” they asked. I was in.
The next day they didn’t ask for my money. At the end of the second day, I was handed fifteen euros. “See you tomorrow?” I asked. “Yes,” my new friend responded. The next day was Lizzie’s birthday, and I spent the first part of the day playing a bucket while she watched. When they took a break, I told them that I had to leave and they handed me twenty euros.
That evening, Lizzie and I went to a very respectable café. We each ordered a Niçoise salad and we split a crème br?lée for dessert. It was the hardest-earned dinner of my entire life. Whether for that reason or because it was our only expensive meal in a month and a half, it also tasted the best.
I could have complained. I could have called my parents and told them that I was going to need to starve for the final 36 hours or so of my trip unless they made one more deposit. I could have told them I had been mugged again. Instead, I used the tools I had in my arsenal: a bit of French, eleven years of experience with various kinds of percussion instruments, and a consistently innovative problem-solving ability.
Lizzie and I had been dating for a year and a half before embarking on that trip. We got through that difficulty and many others together, but eventually some difficulties proved insurmountable. Nonetheless, I will always treasure that experience, and certainly the life lessons learned. The most important lesson might be that I learned to be self-sufficient and to use all of the resources at my disposal. I apply that lesson in my work at Boston Cares every time I allocate sparse resources, solve a problem or quandary the organization is facing, and encourage volunteers to take on more hours. Looking back at my adventures in Paris, I realize that my actions weren’t necessarily just about my feelings for the birthday girl. Rather, I desired to solve a problem for someone else, to put someone else’s interests above my own. That is the same part of me that led me to AmeriCorps, and it is the same part of me that now leads me to the practice of law.
I applied to Georgetown last year, and it remains my first-choice law school. After not being granted admission, I decided to spend this year as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer working for Boston Cares through a government grant. I also rededicated myself to LSAT preparation in order to raise my score, thereby demonstrating my aptitude for the study of law and my desire to attend the Georgetown University Law Center. Doing so allowed me to complete my degree and gain the benefit of a higher GPA. I hope that my willingness to attend either the full-time or part-time program demonstrates my eagerness to attend Georgetown. If admitted part-time, I look forward to supplementing my education with a meaningful experience that would expand upon my network of contacts in Washington, D.C.
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