Friday, August 31, 2012

Good bye, Michigan!

I am now in Chicago, Illinois.  I have left Michigan...not quite forever.  I am training back up on Tuesday to meet Mum and Granna in Kalamazoo for our road trip east.  I have, however, said "good-bye" to numerous people who I will miss dearly.
Fair thee well, Megsie and Maddy and Tinna and Marie and Chrissy and Nicky and...and...and.
The existence of video-chatting through things like Skype, Google+, and FaceTime has made good-byes much easier than they would have been one hundred years ago...I'll still be able to "see" people and chat with friends (whom I shall start calling "mates" any day now).  But I am still putting out a general call for friends to come visit me in England...aren't I the perfect excuse to explore Europe?

Friday, August 24, 2012

And it begins!

The traveling adventures begin today.  In twenty-six minutes, I will end my employment at MSU as I walk out of the Center for Gender in Global Context.
I am getting in the car and driving to Mount Pleasant where my parents live.  I'll stay there till next Wednesday, visiting Mum and Papa and taking care of appointments and last errands (packing sorting, doctors, all the fun stuff).  Next Thursday, I take a train to Chicago to visit some family friends.  Their house has been a vacation spot for me for six will be strange indeed to not see it for quite a while.  Tuesday, September 4, I take a train from Chicago to Kalamazoo, where I'll meet Mum and Granna and off we go, roadtripping to New Haven!  Stops for theater and good food will be happening; Broadway music will be belted all the way.  Mum and Granna will stay in New Haven for a day or two and visit Kevin, and then drive back to Michigan.  I'll stay with Kevin till Wednesday the 12th.  He has classes going on (read about them here), so I'll be lazing about (read: finishing my research work for the Department of Philosophy and doing web design for the Shalom Center for Justice and Peace, but close enough).  Thursday the 13th I'll train to DC and stay in Rockville, Maryland with the beloved Franna and Leila, whom I housesitted for last summer while interning at the White House.  I'll pop into the office to say "hi" to everyone and give the poodle Shammi several good walks.  Then Sunday, the real work begins...Marshall Scholar Orientation starts at the Embassy!  Flight date to England is Wednesday the 19th.
Twenty minutes left we go!!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


The application for a visa is quite the process when you are planning to stay for two years.  I mailed my passport and application off last Friday via priority mail, but I was desperately worried that it might take a while to process and might not be delivered to the condo before I left.  But, happiest of days:

"Your UK visa has been issued.
We encourage you to give feedback on the UK visa application process at:

Delivery times:

Within the USA: Next business day"

Hurray!  I will have my passport and be all set to go.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The University of East Anglia

Things to know about the school I am going to:
  1. It's one of the world's top schools for sustainable development studies
  2. It's been in the Top 10 for student satisfaction every year since the (British) National Student Survey began
  3. It placed 1st in the What Uni student choice awards 2011
  4. It's in the World Top 150, European Top 100, and UK Top 20 (Guardian League table 2012)
  5. It's GORGEOUS.  Verify this fact by watching the photo tour below.

Bye-Bye, Kevin!

My boyfriend Kevin begins his Divinity School journey today...he drove away from East Lansing early this morning with a very full car.  He stays with his parents near Detroit tonight, loads the U-haul, and drives to New Haven, Connecticut tomorrow.
Kevin has his own blog - read about his adventures at

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Why the UK?

The final essay in the Marshall Scholarship process involves reflecting on the United Kingdom and why/how a potential scholar would benefit from being in England.  Below is my formal argument.  (Confession: In the interview, I totally added "And it's England.  England would be cool.  I'm allowed to admit that, right?")


College is often viewed as a "stepping stone," something you have to do before "real life" begins.  This is a major pet peeve of mine.  I believe that education is an important chapter in peoples' lives, during which time they can have as much (or more) influence as they will in their "real world" jobs.  Trained as an anthropologist, I give great credence to the effects of culture in shaping individuals and institutions - and vice versa.  We both affect and are affected by our surroundings.  This can be especially true during university years, when a person's worldview solidifies.  To benefit as completely as possible from their education, students must be fully engaged with the administration of their university and should be involved in organizations and activities in their wider community.  Additionally, students should receive training and instruction from a variety of educational systems.  By doing so, students expose themselves to a multitude of cultures and worldviews, expanding their own.  Exposure to multiple pedagogies played a huge role in my undergraduate education, thanks to my time in Israel and Egypt.  Graduate study in the UK would continue this tradition in a more extensive way, opening my eyes to yet another way of understanding the world.
The UK has a history of relations with countries in the Middle East and North Africa that continues to greatly impact present-day realities. Understanding these relations (between universities, governments, organizations, and individuals), and becoming comfortable working within them, is a vital part of my professional development.  Additionally, the UK is home to several of the most well respected academic communities exploring sustainable development and political ecology.  The University of East Anglia is known as both a think tank research institute and an activist institution, moving and shaking global food and water policy.  Oxford's rich history of training global public leaders is unmatched.  To receive training from these two institutions, following in the footsteps of so many great men and women, is not only a personal dream but also a professional necessity.
Of course, Britain is not known only for its academic prowess.  Just as important as the universities at which I will study are the people I will meet, the communities I will join, and the stories I will hear.  Burgeoning gay pride movements, expanding feminist ideologies, and growing migrant populations are rapidly affecting the UK, making contemporary Britain a society constantly in flux.  Norwich has a motto of independence: Do different.  I plan to live by this guideline during my two years in the UK, doing what I can to bring awareness to issues of diversity and inclusion.
Beyond academia and activism, Britain's rich culture will feed a deep and abiding addiction: musical theater.  Norwich's Theatre Royal and the Oxford Playhouse, among others, will supply me with a steady supply of plays, musicals, and concerts.
We are informed by and inform our cultural surroundings.  I look forward to learning from the UK as my presence changes it, if only slightly, hopefully for the better.

Proposed Program

A large part of the Marshall Application process is identifying an academic program in the United Kingdom and providing your rationale for studying there.  Below is more information about the two degree programs I will be pursuing.
"Give me a lever, a place to stand, and I will move the world." 
In academia, I have found my place to stand.  But I am going to need a lever.
As I began searching for graduate programs, I faced the same infuriating dilemma that plagues my undergraduate thesis work: No one is looking at food security in the Middle East.  The perfect academic program does not exist for me, because adequate attention to the issue does not exist.  However, the University of East Anglia is well known as a center for sustainable development research and instruction.  Its programs bridge environmental and geographic studies with public policy and international development.  The Master of Science in Water Security and International Development, under the direction of Dr. Mark Zeitoun, intentionally seeks to understand "water security" in its broadest meaning, as it affects and is affected by climate change, food trade, food security, energy security, and military security.  Mark and I have been in e-mail discussion and believe the program, with its focus on the broader concerns of political ecology and Mark's expertise in Middle Eastern water concerns (inextricably connected to food distribution and justice), is the best fit for me. Courses such as "Water Security Theory and Concepts," "Water Security Tools and Policy," "Globalised Agriculture and Food Systems," and "Political Ecology of Environment & Development,” will prepare me to focus explicitly on food and water issues in the Middle East and North Africa during an end-of-program dissertation.
After gaining a deeper understanding of geographic realities in the Middle East and North Africa and the intricate connections between food and water security through the MSc at UEA, the Master of Science in Nature, Society and Environmental Policy at Oxford University will allow me to focus on governance.  Core courses will explore international environmental law, policy-making, and research methodologies.  Electives such as "Climate Change Diplomacy" and "International Economic Integration" will allow me to explore issues of regional environmental integration, something I believe to be critical to the success of food and water security in the Middle East and North Africa.  A second dissertation will allow me to expand my environmentally focused dissertation from UEA to a politically focused proposal and help highlight possible topics for a doctoral thesis.  Oxford frequently works with students to appointment additional thesis supervisors from external institutions; this will give me the opportunity to continue formal mentorship with Mark Zeitoun while taking advantage of the additional resources Oxford University and the surrounding community have to offer.
Seriously impacting issues of food and water security in the Middle East and North Africa will require knowledge of geography, public policy, agriculture, economics, environmental studies, and peace and justice studies.  The University of East Anglia’s expertise in sustainable development combined with Oxford University’s history as a world leader in environmental issues and international relations will provide me with this knowledge.  With these institutions' help, I can create my lever.  And with it, I will move the world.

Personal Statement

A year ago, I completed my application for a Marshall Scholarship.  I was also in the running for the Rhodes and Mitchell Scholarships.  The result was a lot of personal confusion - I had spent a lot of time writing about three possible but rather different versions of "Becca" that could exist.  When I was asked in MSU's internal interview which of the three fellowships I would most like, I replied "Marshall."  I thought I would share with you the (only slightly angsty and cheesy) written statements that informed my application.


Academia is often spoken of as an “Ivory Tower,” a place where liberal ideas are floated around in a dream world.  Unlike the majority of my friends, I never thought I would be an academic.  I did not dream of teaching courses, churning out articles, conducting overseas research.  I dreamed of completing my undergraduate studies and moving to the Middle East, doing community-organizing work around issues of peace and justice.  I envisioned myself a staunch advocate, gaining a great deal of experience on the ground before perhaps entering the policy realm.  I saw myself as the action girl.  My friends entering academia were going to think about it.  I was going to do it.
Then, a hidden itch surfaced.  And demanded to be scratched.

In the beginning of my junior year at Michigan State University, I began work on my honors thesis.  At first, its topic was incredibly broad: food and water issues in the Middle East and North Africa.  My mentor and I expected to find a plethora of possible foci to explore, necessitating a decision about where my research would center.  But as we conducted an extensive literature review, we found something incredibly unsettling: There was not too much to consider.  There was too little.  There was a good deal of scholarship on irrigation technologies coming from Egypt and Israel, research seeking to maximize large-scale commercial productivity.  But we found almost nothing on issues of food access and distribution.  The phrase "environmental justice" was virtually nonexistent.  We emailed colleagues and authors around the world, asking for resources on food issues in the Middle East and North Africa.  Always the same reply: "Huh.  You're right.  I haven't really seen anything."
I was shocked.  Having spent summers in Egypt and Israel exploring issues of peace and justice, I knew that hunger was a widespread problem.  Having worked on a research project exploring the history of hunger relief and food justice in sub-Saharan Africa, I knew how much attention was given – academically and politically, internationally and locally - to issues of hunger and famine in that region.  How was it that equally-starved populations in the Middle East and North Africa region garnered almost no attention from international and scholastic communities?
A false dichotomy has emerged in discourses surrounding the Middle East and North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa regions.  In media, global aid funding, and academia, the same separation is seen: Politics happens in the Middle East; hunger happens in Africa.  This false dichotomy was clearly seen during the "Arab Spring" that took place in Spring 2011.  When the events began, major news outlets mentioned "unrest in Tunisia over food prices," mentioning one street vendor who had committed self-immolation over economic woes.  Within a week, those headlines were gone.  And suddenly a "democratic movement" was sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa.  When the same political movement entered sub-Saharan Africa, though, and unions went on strike, oppositional presidential candidates were arrested, and people formed their own "Tahrir Protests," headlines read along the line of "Food riots in Uganda."
Recently, political scientists and international relations scholars have begun fighting against this dichotomy.  Theses, books, and courses on African democracy and political systems are emerging.  They have yet to achieve equal status with the attention given to political theory in the West and in Asia, but the scholarship exists.  And now it is time for the dichotomy to be further dissected.  Attention must be given to issues of food distribution, hunger, and environmental justice in the Middle East and North Africa.  I believe the international academic community missed a great window of opportunity when they allowed the "Arab Spring" to come and go without challenging the dichotomized reaction that quickly emerged in media and political discourse.  We cannot let it happen again.

My anger over the world's reaction to the Middle East and North Africa region's "Arab Spring" versus sub-Saharan Africa's "food riots" confirmed for me what had been a growing dread: I am called to be an academic.  I need to help break down this dichotomy, and my experiences at Michigan State University have convinced me that working in academia is the best way to do this.  My professors and mentors at State have lived in anything but an Ivory Tower.  Speaking with instructors out of class hours, I have heard just how greatly academics can influence domestic and international policy decisions.  Interning at the Center for Gender in Global Context, I see firsthand how high-ranking professors can utilize grant funding to put seemingly lofty plans into practice.  Sitting on numerous boards and councils has stressed the incredible impact academic institutions have on the world, from local community advocacy to research results that are truly changing lives.
The more involved I became in my university's administrative and academic affairs, the more I saw academia’s true power.  And that hidden itch strengthened.  With each new article a professor-friend published, each policy proposal an instructor was asked to write for President Obama, each NGO success story told by a grant-writing team, I felt the need to scratch.  My teachers, friends, and family started hearing "I'm having this terrible feeling I'm going to wake up one day and find myself an academic.  And I won't do it!  I won't!"
I fought it for years.  But resistance was futile.  The problem with a call is that it does not go away.  I am called to be an academic.  I have seen the incredible power of academia in shaping international opinion, affecting funding patterns, and changing policy decisions.  I believe that a career as an academic will enable me to be the activist-advocate I have always wanted to be, in an informed and influential manner.  And so I am going to climb the Ivory Tower.  And then I am going to let down my hair.

Thank you, Marshall Commission!

I am very gratefully preparing to pop "across the Pond" for a delightful two years as a Marshall Scholar, fully funded by the British government for graduate study.
Learn more about the Marshall Scholarship program here.
Learn more about me - especially me as a Marshall Scholar - at the Marshall Scholarship page. Learn even more from a Michigan State University press release.