Friday, November 5

Personal statement for the Rhodes

Take this as a negative example. If you really want a Rhodes Scholarship, don't write a personal statement like this one.

I studied journalism at Gonzaga University because I believe it can change the world for the good. Quality reporting reveals injustices and informs complex issues. It makes our communities and nations better places. I enjoyed my work with the student newspaper, but I became frustrated as I realized the gap between advocacy and action. On the one hand, there are the journalists and other observers who identify problems and draw attention to them. Then there are those who do something about those problems. The ability of reporters to change the world is real, but it is a passive ability. It depends on others reading their article and acting, devising solutions, organizing support, finding funding. It is the difference between Nicholas Kristof writing about human trafficking and Carol Sasaki founding the International Humanity Foundation (IHF) to protect children from a future in prostitution. The work men and women like Mr. Kristof do is valuable and necessary, but I no longer wanted to be just the inspiration for change. I wanted to be the change itself.

To learn and to make a difference I joined IHF after graduating from Gonzaga and served as a director at its orphanage in Kenya and education center in Bali, Indonesia. That year was the most physically and emotionally challenging of my life. I was responsible for the children's health, education and happiness. I organized and attended monthly famine feeds to drought-stricken East Pokot. I managed a staff of twenty and served on the online Directors Executive Committee. I adapted to a radically different culture. The work required all my attention all day, and at times it bordered on overwhelming when there were power outages and when new children arrived at the center. I was forced to dig deeper inside myself than I ever had before to find the energy to meet it all. I was proud of what I accomplished in Africa and Asia, but I found myself frustrated again. More could have been done for the children, more needed to be done for them, but even at the extent of my abilities, I could only do so much. More people needed to be involved and contribute in different ways if a substantial difference at the orphanage, in Nakuru, in Kenya, in Africa, in the world were to happen. I could not be the change alone.

Some months into my service (and perhaps tardily), I asked myself how I had arrived in Kenya and become responsible for over one hundred children. Though I had been active in service from a young age through the Boy Scouts and my church, my high school self would have had a hard time imagining directing an orphanage on a different continent a mere five years in the future. This change was not some instantaneous transformation. It was a gradual evolution that began with a twenty-hour service placement required by my freshman colloquium and developed through a spring-break service trip to San Antonio and the student club Program for International Education and Relief where I led projects to welcome refugee immigrants to Spokane. As a junior and senior, service became a practice when I took a front-desk position at the House of Charity, a homeless shelter. As soon as I became comfortable with one position and one group, I moved on to the next, pushing further to face new challenges and to take greater leadership. By the end of my senior year, joining IHF as a center director was simply the next logical step in this progression.

In researching my undergraduate honors thesis and through conversations with the director of Gonzaga's community action department, I learned this development was designed under the theory of service-learning. It was an education that did not treat students as mere vessels to be taught skills and concepts. It was an education to make us morally better people. The concept fascinated me. This went well beyond teaching a survey of ethics and asking students to consider abstractly the categorical imperative in relation to the greatest good for the greatest number. Service-learning asked us to consider how best to apply our unique skills, passions, positions and resources for others. It encouraged us not to be content with just filling a bowl of soup at a homeless shelter or mentoring a child in need but to form relationships with the served and be available for them emotionally and socially. Service-learning demanded constant self reflection to avoid complacency and to discover where the need was greatest and where we could best serve.

Now, my year of service abroad complete, I am impelled to gather myself before taking the next step, the largest step. With the Rhodes Scholarship I will read for Higher Education and Comparative International Education, two one-year Msc degrees. Professor Ingrid Lunt, director of graduate studies for the department of education, has already indicated I would qualify for these programs.

Prepared by these studies and degrees I will educate the educated about the poor. I will design and implement study-abroad programs in developing nations and communities. Through these programs I will teach students the realities of poverty's origins and persistence. They will discover the differences between urban and rural poverty and the different challenges facing the impoverished in nations as different as Thailand and El Salvador and Guinea-Bissau. These programs will be a synthesis of advocacy and action. The students will learn first hand about some of the world's most intractable problems. They will know what needs to change, how they can change. Then, through these direct, personal experiences they will discover how they are best suited to act and to make the world better. I will teach them, and we will be the change.

No comments: