“I’ve always been an observer, and that’s what anthropology is focused on—making observations and being analytical. Since I’ve been working mostly with [anthropologist] Mirka Prazak [whose work is based in East Africa], I’ve taken a lot of Africa classes, and although my own interests have been more focused on India, I’ve noticed a lot of common themes. The concept of ‘development,’ for example—anthropologists like to challenge that term—is something that’s particularly relevant in both Africa and India.
“Now I’m shifting toward the Middle East, and the ideas are still applicable, especially in the context of globalization. For my next Field Work Term, I’m going to Beirut, Lebanon, to work with an NGO [non-governmental organization] on an initiative to promote culturally relative volunteerism to the Arab world. Anthropologists sometimes view NGOs as kind of iffy because they may promote or impart foreign ideas to a culture where they weren’t before, but the coordinator of this NGO is actually a former professor of cultural anthropology, so I’m interested to see how she approaches her work.
“I never imagined when I first came here that Field Work Term would be such a huge part of my education. It’s really allowed me to get over the angst I had in high school about being stuck in one place. I’m at Bennington for 14 weeks at a time, and in between, I’m going out into the world, and my life is constantly moving forward. For my previous Field Work Terms, I’ve filled up 200-page journals with notes.
“During my second FWT, teaching English conversation at an English school in northern India, I had a major breakthrough. I was looking around the one-room library of the school, and the only materials there were children’s books and textbooks. I was thinking: These students are trying so hard to improve their English, but no one is reading for fun; it’s a purely academic activity. The principal’s response to my concern was, ‘I’ve always felt if you have time to read, you should be reading books for class.’ And I sat there dumbfounded, thinking, ‘What is the value of reading?’
“That’s the question I’ve been trying to answer ever since. In my family, we were raised with the idea that reading is the most legitimate way of spending your time. It’s been hard for me to challenge that idea, but I think I may construct my senior project around that question…. Bennington is just so conducive to independent work, which is something I value. It’s allowed me to go confidently in whatever direction I choose to go.”