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.

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