From Quora: My Answer to "If I’m an American who grew up in a foreign 3rd world country and now lives in the US again, will it help my chances at college admissions?"
Detailed answer: Yes, especially if you faced hardships or learning experiences (those are often, but not always the same thing) and actually learned from them. Learning often comes from pain, deprivation, and suffering, since people having problems to solve often find creative ways to solve them. However, you can learn in a very pleasant environment (otherwise, most elite colleges and universities wouldn’t spend so much on “student life,” since it would be a better idea to make students suffer ;-) ). So Jack Gerdes’ answer is good, but a bit incomplete.
You don’t have to have lived in a grass hut, eking out a living through subsistence farming, to learn from having lived in a Third World country. Did you learn another language (e.g., Spanish, Tamil, Hindi, Mandarin, Portuguese)? Was that a hardship, or simply a pleasant and enriching experience? Did you live in a city or the countryside? How did they differ from U.S. cities and rural areas? Did you experience “culture shock” when you moved here? That could be a hardship or simply a minor difficulty, depending on your point of view.
While “simply coming from a place probably won’t help you,” as Mr. Gerdes put it, all that means is you have to show you had some meaningful experience as a resident of whatever foreign country before you moved back to the U.S., or that the move back to the U.S. itself was a meaningful experience you wouldn’t have had if you’d always lived here. If you lived in a compound where no one spoke any language but American English, you never ate local food, learned the local language, did anything that was part of the native culture (e.g., sports, arts, dance, theater, etc.), then Jack is right- that experience won’t help you.
Emphasize what you learned about that country’s culture, your interactions with natives of that country (did you attend school with them? Participate in charitable activities with/for them?), and how that makes you a valuable addition to the college’s community. Cultural diversity is a good thing, and extremely valued by any (good) college or university. Seriously, look at any college’s prospectus, application, etc., and try not to find a statement about how the institution welcomes and actively seeks diverse applicants. You can’t do it, and they mean business. Basically, that’s a good general rule for any applicant to an elite college: “How do I differ from other applicants in a good way? What makes me special?” Then write about how you’re so happy you had this wonderful opportunity to grow up in another culture, then return to your homeland, and you hope you’d be able to enrich the culture of [Whatever Institution] while being educated there. Hope this helps.
Author: John Linneball Who did you think? ;-)
I'm the proprietor and only tutor for this business; that's why I named it after me.