If you backed an admission official up against a wall (not a strategy that The Dean advises, by the way), most would probably tell you that a student with a “hook” is one who is:
-a recruited athlete
-an under-represented minority student
-a legacy (child or grandchild of an alum … siblings, nephews, nieces and cousins don’t count at the more selective colleges)
– a VIP (connection to a person who is important at that college … professor, dean, big donor, etc. … or in the world in general … i.e., a celeb of some sort).
Strictly speaking, atypical qualifications (e.g., published novel, starring role on Broadway, Teen Jeopardy champ, INTEL science competition winner) are really “Accomplishments,” but they are often lumped under the “Hook” heading by some admission folks as well as by students, parents, teachers, etc.
A student who has overcome significant obstacles, or who has an uncommon background (e.g., growing up on a houseboat or in a homeless shelter) would stand out in a crowd and could benefit at decision time because of it. Although The Dean wouldn’t call these circumstances a “hook,” others might.
Traveling every year as you have might fall under the “uncommon background” rubric but the travel would have to be frequent and very unusual for it to qualify. For instance, if a parent is a National Geographic photographer who moves from country to country each week and home-schools you in a yurt, this would be eye-catching. If you go to Cancun every winter, Cape Cod every summer, and have been on nine Disney cruises, this would not.
Work experience in a foreign country is probably not a hook (unless you’re working for Queen Elizabeth who happens to be your grandmother), but it does sound like potential fodder for an essay, even if included on a resume, because the resume offers very limited room to explain your adventures. But do keep in mind that most admission officials encounter piles of foreign-travel essays, and thus you should try to avoid clichéd conclusions (“People are all the same at heart, wherever you go” or “I have learned to appreciate the advantages of my life in America”) … as true as they may feel.
The majority of “hooks” (except perhaps athletic prowess … which can be developed through effort but commonly begins with innate gifts) are beyond a student’s control. Most teenagers can’t pick their relatives … or their race. So The Dean’s advice is to use your applications to highlight your strengths and your uniqueness and you will probably land at a place where you will be happy and engaged, even if the only advantages you have in the admissions process are those that you created for yourself.