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Intellectual Pursuit Essay

Haverford College Honor Code


Haverford College has one of the oldest and one of the very few student-run Honor Codes in the U.S. Our Honor Code is not a set of rules, but rather a statement of shared values centered on the concepts of trust, concern, and respect.


Our Honor Code serves as an educational tool in and of itself and provides a powerful framework for our community, emphasizing and supporting qualities we see as essential to a Haverford education. Among other things, the Honor Code at Haverford shapes:


Academic Freedom: The Honor Code fosters an atmosphere emphasizing academic integrity, collaboration over competition, and the cultivation of intellectual curiosity. Differences and disagreement are respected, valued, and embraced, and open discourse is seen as fundamental to the academic endeavor.


Student Agency: The Honor Code upholds a culture in which students are deeply trusted to take substantial ownership of their education and to profoundly shape and define the Haverford community. Student ownership is reflected in self-scheduled exams, in the fact that every student completes a Senior Thesis, in shared responsibility for the residential experience, and of course in oversight of the Honor Code itself.


Community: The Honor Code establishes a supportive environment for living and learning, where the community experience plays a central role in one’s education. The inherent value of every community member is recognized, and diversity in all respects — including diversity of background, experience, and perspective — is nurtured, celebrated, and embraced.


Leadership and Engagement: The Honor Code allows every student to find and develop their own voice, to practice ways of improving community and acting on issues of importance, to learn methods of problem solving and conflict resolution, and to examine the ways they can and will impact the world beyond Haverford.


Before we delve into the supplementary essays, it is important to have a solid understanding of what the honor code really means at Haverford College. If your first impression is to be apprehensive about a school with an explicit Honor Code that “governs” daily life, consider that the role is not to scare students away or force them into compliance.


Instead, the code hopes to foster community, honesty, and maturity in its student body — something we all hope to have at university anyways. Students are afforded an unprecedented level of control over their education in part due to the expectation of adherence to its principles. For example, students can schedule their own final exams, and certain courses even offer take-home exams.


While the Haverford College Honor Code is taken seriously, consequences for infractions are not seen so much as a punishment as they are an opportunity to instill lifelong lessons. This is established by the role of student government officers and jury members in officiating the code, not members of the school administration.


Their hope is that students will take ownership in their bad decisions, learn from them, grow as a member of the Haverford community, and realize that they have the power to control their circumstances both in the classroom and out. For these reasons, the college is often regarded as having an unusually honest and respectful student body.


Haverford College Application Essay Prompts


Please give us a better sense of what you are looking for in your college experience by answering the following questions:


A. Tell us about a topic or issue that sparks your curiosity and gets you intellectually excited. How do you think the environment at Haverford and the framework of the Honor Code would foster your continued intellectual growth (250 words)?


Chances are, this is not the first intellectual vitality prompt you have come across in the college admissions process, so it is definitely safe to say that being an intellectually curious student is a highly valued trait. It is important, though, to make the distinction between “intellectually curious” and being an intellectual. Being able to score a “5” on every AP exam may be evidence of one’s intellect but does little to reflect their craving for knowledge.


Are you an avid documentary watcher? Do you find yourself delving deeper into a concept in class than would never be necessary for that level? Do you simply enjoy figuring things out? These are all signs that your curiosity for academia has been “excited,” and we encourage you to ask yourself what topic or issue creates this feeling in your mind before working on this supplementary essay.


Now in terms of what Haverford is looking for, your choices of topics are honestly limitless. By no means should you feel restricted to discussing traditional educational resources, like a theorem from Calculus or Machiavellian principles. If these speak to you, then by all means use them! But if politics grinds your gears or you find yourself gravitating towards YouTube videos concerning topics as foreign as Chernobyl, share those interests.


An admissions officer will be able to tell if you’re genuinely sharing a passion as opposed to a topic you’re using because you believe it’s what they want to hear. With that being said, do take into consideration that ideally, you will be able to connect this idea with your academic goals at Haverford in some way. This isn’t to say that it must be related to your major, but referencing a related on-campus organization or class at the college is highly recommended.


The most difficult aspect of this prompt will be incorporating Haverford’s environment and Honor Code into your discussion of an intellectual pursuit. It is vital that you reference both of these concepts. Failure to reference the Honor Code especially could imply that you have done little to understand it and might not be truly interested in the school, so while it might require a creative approach to weave the code into the overall discussion of your curiosity, don’t neglect this aspect of the question.


Perhaps you choose to delve into your fascination with documentaries and TED Talks — especially those concerning female empowerment. An excellent way to forge a connection with the Honor Code would be to mention Haverford College’s requirement that every student complete a senior thesis, and your desire to pursue a project involving research on women’s rights in developing countries — a unique opportunity you might not have at similar schools.


B. Please tell us what motivated you to apply to Haverford and what excites you most as you imagine your Haverford experience (150 words).


As this is essentially the very common “Why our school?” prompt, our recommendations for Haverford are in line with similar supplementary essays at other schools. First and foremost, stay far, far away from vague statements about a school’s affinity for “academic excellence,” or in the case of a liberal arts college, “the encouragement to pursue study in a variety of fields.” No matter how clever your wording, nothing will save such broad claims from sounding cliché.


While a campus tour and conversation with a current student are the best ways to gain a feeling for the student body and find examples of ways in which you fit into their niche, simply spending an hour or two reading articles in the student newspaper or familiarizing yourself with academic offerings and professors can have a similar effect.


At the end of the day, your reasoning can be anything as focused as a certain class to something more unusual, like a blossoming tree at the end of the quad. Regardless of what you select, the most important thing is that it must be specific to Haverford. Admissions officers want to see that you have done your research and can envision yourself as an active member of the community. Passivity or indifference are the last things you want to come across in an essay, so an enthusiastic or motivated tone is highly recommended for a “Why…?” essay.


Final Tips

While this could be said of any university, the importance of showing how you fit into a school’s community and why you are drawn to their environment is especially significant at small liberal arts colleges like Haverford. In addition to revealing more about your personality, these should be the primary goals of your supplemental essays. The key is achieving a fine balance between presenting your academic and extracurricular interests with their relation to the school’s values.


Show you have done your research and demonstrate how Haverford’s approach to education fits alongside your own. How will you benefit from the culture/environment? How do you envision four years at Haverford College impacting your future? What will you contribute to the student body? While you don’t have to explicitly ask and answer these questions in your essays, use them as a rough guide for the ideas you hope to convey. An admissions officer wants to see not only how you will fit in, but the perspective and influence you’ll bring to campus.

Translation: An Intellectual Pursuit

The nuance involved in translation ties into the intellectual element of considering the meaning of the source text. What does the text mean? What is it trying to convey?

Well-executed translation requires more nuance than simple word replacement—shades and levels of meaning that machine translators can’t deliver. Creating this nuance is what makes translation an intellectual pursuit.

Translation is often considered a commodity, and it’s referenced in the language of commodities with words such as “vendor” and “translation services provider,” or, more recently, “post-editor of machine-translated output” and “machine translation copy editor.”

In some circles, the translation enterprise is seen as a service that can be produced or manufactured entirely using machine-based processes. For example, computer-aided translation (CAT) has been marketed as a tool that increases speed and accuracy when performing automated repetitive tasks in the translation process.1

These tools have become a way for agencies to pay translators less, with nonpayment or partial payment for “full matches” (words in a document that are already translated in the translation software database) or “partial matches,” where “a sentence or a segment in a source document for which the translation memory tool can match some of the words in the target language […]” already exists.2 Paying by the word is not a reflection of what translators do, as it suggests word for word replacement, and detracts from what translators actually do, which involves editing (including the words in full and partial matches) when bringing the translation together.

This increasingly popular reductive thinking is based on an assumption that machine-driven translation can deliver a quality product simply by substituting words in one language for words in another. In reality, translation is a complex undertaking involving languages that are innately connected to the cultural ecosystems in which they are spoken. The core processes of translation operate in the mind of the translator, not in the bowels of a machine. True translation is an art that involves the translator understanding and appreciating the culture behind and reflected in the language. It’s the art of exercising an intellect.

Machine translation can play a productive role in assisting the translation process (e.g., as one of several tools a translator uses). It’s when computer-assisted translation becomes computer-only translation that the process becomes corrupted. Words are more than scribbles on a paper to be deciphered by a mechanical algorithm. A word can reflect a whole culture.

A Machine Does Not Consider Cultural Nuance

Take, for example, the word patria in Spanish. Will we translate it as Motherland? Homeland? How about borrowing terra nostra, a word from a third culture (“our land” in Italian), to describe what the word means for English readers? We could also go a different route and translate patria as “country.”

A translator has many questions to consider. How does the target culture refer to its own country? What implications does the word’s target culture have in its distinct cultural context? This is just a small taste of the intellectual work of translators.

Let’s look at the word “homeland” and its implications and history. In the U.S., the word came into mainstream use after 9/11 with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security—a powerful government organization charged with protecting the country from terrorist threats. “Homeland” was once a word used by the Zionist movement in the 1920s and 1930s to refer to a Jewish “homeland” in the Middle East.3 Later, Hitler expanded its interpretation to advance the idea that people needed a tribal-like devotion to land and country to create a sense of racial superiority.

Josh Marshall, editor and publisher of talkingpointsmemo.com, notes, “The phrase really got into the public vocabulary with the release of Transforming Defense: National Security in the 21st Century, a report on the future of the U.S. military by something called the National Defense Panel.”4 “Homeland” became related to “homeland defense,” which was inherently related to National Missile Defense.5

This word from worlds away would not be my choice in reference to Mexico. It simply doesn’t fit the history and context of the Spanish word patria. This patria refers to Mexican history; to mestizaje, the blending of Spanish and indigenous peoples; to two revolutions; to the intrigue and trickery of Mexican history; and to the blood spilled on Mexico’s earth. Even in this sense, the boundaries are blurred, because America was Mexico, Mexico is America, and borders change. The Mexican Cession of 1848 ceded the territories comprising present-day California, Nevada, Utah, most of Arizona, half of New Mexico, and part of Wyoming and Colorado.6 Most Mexicans living in these areas decided to stay and become Americans. But Mexicans are Americans in the same way everyone living on the continent of America is American.

So, how will a machine translate patria? As it’s been translated before or as it’s been translated most frequently? The machine uses what it knows, and what it knows are words and word combinations that have been published previously or uploaded to the internet, or that are in machine-translation databases. But will those translations even be relevant to the Mexican concept of patria? And what about when the translation database software comprises texts from Spain? Or Cuba? Or Argentina? Will it translate the idea of patria as it is uniquely felt in each of these countries?

The Importance of Objectivity

Translators obsess over what is behind and within words when they use them. A text’s flavor is soaked in associations attached to styles of writing, vocabulary selection, and collocation use. Translators must consider historical implications inherent in words while also being objective in their work. A product description, for example, might say a product is “the best.” But in English, that kind of language is subjective. It’s someone’s opinion, not a proven fact. Using this kind of language could give your text an unwanted or unwarranted commercial or advertising slant.

Barry Ritholtz, an American author, newspaper columnist, and equities analyst, in an article entitled “Two Rules Underpinning Intellectual Pursuits,” wrote that people need to “[g]et intimately acquainted with all doctrine, theory, ideology, and dogma, but refuse to allow these ideas to govern and shape your thinking.”7 Translators need this objectivity to translate well.

Literary translators might feel like the opinions of the authors they are translating are the translator’s own views, but they are not. The translator is a chronicler, a participant-observer who rarely “steps into” the text, and does so almost exclusively to address concerns of word order and logic in the target language.

But what do I mean by classifying translation as an intellectual pursuit? Let’s take a look at the essence of the translation process to clarify this idea.

Translation as Research

Translators are researchers. For each new document, translators create glossaries of words, concepts, and ideas to become familiar with the topic and as a reference. Translators become experts in general and in specific fields.

Translators have to keep up with translation. Being current and knowledgeable in the profession involves dedicating time to learning more about translation and areas of specialty. New word usage and vocabulary, new ways of translating, current events that change perspectives and ways of understanding the world—translators must study constantly to improve their craft.

Cultural Expertise in Translation

Translators use language to convey an idea from one culture so that it can be understood in another, seeking semantic equivalence within cultural contexts. And the best translation isn’t always clear-cut.

For example, if a text mentions the name of a volcano in Spanish, should you adapt it, translate it, or explain it? How about the name of a canyon? Would you translate Canyon del cobre as “Copper Canyon” or “Del Cobre Canyon”? What if another Copper Canyon already exists? Will you take its name and apply it to a different geographical area?

In Mexico and many other parts of the world, organizations and places often have multiple names. In Guadalajara, for example, a large canyon abuts the edges of the municipalities of Tonalá, Zapotlanejo, Ixtlahuacán del Río, and Zapopan.8 This canyon-park is known both as Barranca de Huentitán (Huentitán Canyon) and Barranca de Oblatos (Oblatos Canyon). While Huentitán and Oblatos refer to the canyon, on the side that abuts the Guadalajara Metropolitan Zone’s municipalities, each name refers to a different entrance to the canyon.

What about translating cultural events? Will you describe the event, create a new name for it, or use its original name, trying to bring readers closer to the target culture? Would you consider translating quinceañera as “sweet-sixteen birthday party,” a concept familiar to Americans, even though a quinceañera is a celebration of a girl’s fifteenth birthday in Mexico? Words belong to their cultures, but how do we describe the reality of one culture using the language of another? Is a “spice-infused roasted goat meat” stew the same as birria? How about adapting carne asada as “barbecue”?

Déjà vu, a French expression, has been seen and felt so much that some native English speakers consider it English. Is English other languages? Every word we use slants the resulting message. Words associated with places and societies give clues to readers about where and how a text fits into a language and its culture.

Writing in Translation

The translator is first and foremost a good writer. The translation of a text into another language involves the actual writing of it.

There are many steps to translating a document: reading it, understanding it, processing the information, expressing it in a different language for a different culture, and then editing it. Even if a document is poorly written in the source language, the translation in the target language should flow naturally and be well written. This necessitates having a conceptual understanding of how to balance culture with language.

Editing Translations

Editing is the elucidation of the text, bringing it into the light where it can be seen clearly and its fine-tuning appreciated. Editing a translation is what finally places it squarely in its own culture, bringing another culture alive for those who don’t know its language.

What Is the Intellectual Side of Translation?

The nuance involved in translation ties in to the intellectual element of considering the meaning of the source text. What does the text mean? What is it trying to convey? Words are here, there, and everywhere, but it is the meaning behind and within them that carries significance and tells us about origins, wars, and history as written by both the victors and the vanquished. History books, critical essays, and research published after major events attempt an objective accounting about what really happened.

When translators delve into what words mean in a historical context, they bring objectivity to translation, literary and otherwise.

What exactly is the intellectual side of translation? Which stage of reading-understanding-conceptualizing-writing-polishing is the intellectual part?

All of it. All of these efforts contribute to translation as an intellectual pursuit carried out by humans—research, cultural expertise, writing, editing, and learning. All this intense critical reflection is focused on making meaning for the benefit of those who want to understand and fully appreciate written texts in another language. It’s the human computing and processing that is intellectual. The most human part of translation is cognitive activity.

When machines can be thoughtful and intellectual, they too will be able to complete the operations of the translation process, matching each intellectual process needed to mold together the figure of written language. Until then, they’ll only be helpers (and excellent ones) to the actual brains doing the thinking.

  1. SDL, http://bit.ly/SDL-translation-productivity.
  2. Net-Translators, http://bit.ly/translation-terminology.
  3. “Time for the U.S. to Dump the Word Homeland,” Truthout (September 23, 2014), http://bit.ly/Truthout-homeland
  4. Marshall, Josh. “I Read An,” Talking Points Memo Editor’s Blog (June 5, 2002), http://bit.ly/Talking-Points-2002.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Mexican Cession,” http://bit.ly/Mexican-Cession-wiki.
  7. Ritholtz, Barry. “Two Rules Underpinning the Intellectual Pursuit,” The Big Picture (December 8, 2008), http://bit.ly/intellectual-pusuit.
  8. “Barranca de Oblatos,” http://bit.ly/Barranca-de-Oblatos-wiki.

Jesse Tomlinson is the administrator of ATA’s Literary Division. She is an interpreter, translator, and voice talent. Originally from Canada, she now lives in Mexico and translates from Spanish into English and interprets in both languages. She is currently translating Latin American authors born in the 1980s into English for Proyecto Arraigo. See her essay on uprooting (“La vida sin limones”) at http://bit.ly/la-vida-sin-limones. Contact: jesse@tomlinsontranslations.com.

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