This is my first draft for my personal statement essay for the anthropology grad program at american. Any comments would be greatly appreciated:
A boy, probably no more than eight years old, came up to me grinning from ear to ear. In one hand he waved a slice of watermelon, while the other clutched a fistful of bullets from an M-16.
"Come," he said in broken English, "Have watermelon. I show you where the soldiers they shot at my bed."
I was spending a month in the West Bank with a group of international volunteers, helping bring food to Palestinian families unable to leave their homes because of military curfews. Just several months earlier I was attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison and intending to major in anthropology, but after my first year I decided to take some time off and live it for myself. During this month I was totally immersed in Palestinian life, sleeping with families that offered us housing, documenting their stories, sharing meals with them, and spending long coffee-fueled nights discussing their lives, sometimes until the sun rose. I witnessed murders and violence, but also the most profound kindness I was ever offered. It was hard to grasp how Israelis and Palestinians, two cultures that shared the same land, spoke languages of the same origin, and held many of the same values could become such bitter enemies. Anthropology, I believe, is a powerful tool that can help people understand each other across deep divides of borders, languages, and barbed-wire checkpoints.
Eventually I returned to school at the University of Minnesota and finished my undergraduate work, shifting to a degree in Urban Studies. While still interested in anthropology, I found it to be too academic, and I hoped that Urban Studies would help me understand the stakeholders and power plays that make up city life and give me a practical base of knowledge for getting involved in community organizing work. I found, however, that this program was more designed towards creating graduates who would go on to become developers, the traditional enemies of organizers around the world. Many of the classes I ended up enjoying more were the ethnic studies classes I took as electives-East Asian Studies, Chicano studies, and African-American studies.
Upon graduating I spent several months volunteering with another community of refugees, this time in Guatemala. I had read the book "Paradise in Ashes" by anthropologist Beatrice Manz and became engrossed in her story of Santa Maria Tzeja, a small community that witnessed a massacre during the country's armed conflict. Manz lived with the community in the early 1990's when members were dispersed amongst refugee camps, small resistance communities in the jungle, and military-controlled "model villages" in Guatemala. She was one of the few anthropologists at the time that spoke out against the genocidal campaign of the Guatemalan government and denounced other anthropologists for focusing solely on the remnants of past cultures at a time when descendants of those very same Maya were being slaughtered. I admired Manz and the work of her colleague, anthropologist Myrna Mack, who was killed by the Guatemalan military. It was through her book that I came to know many of the residents of this community before meeting them in real life, and it was the same book that showed me that anthropology can reach a wider audience outside of the academic world.
What appeals to me about anthropology is its holistic approach to looking at human groups and the problems that affect them. Many disciplines these days seem to be so specialized that they fail to grasp the bigger picture when looking for ways to solve society's problems. I am excited about the Public Anthropology program at American University because, unlike other Anthropology programs, it seems to put as much emphasis on "public" as it does on anthropology. I would like to work in a non-profit that deals with human rights, rather than in academia, and I feel that your program helps prepare students to produce research that will reach a wider public instead of being passed around within academic circles. I am also eager for the opportunity to work with instructors who have similar interests in refugee issues, militarization, environmental justice, and community organizing. Upon graduating I would like to do field work in Juarez, Mexico which has the highest level of crime in the Western world and explore how this violence affects people living there, especially journalists, who risk their lives on a daily basis.