Class of 2010
I fell in love with Africa as soon as I picked up my first words of Swahili as an eight-year-old. after moving overseas with my family, I lived in Tanzania and Kenya for ten years until I returned to the United states for college.
Immediately fascinated by the culture, I soaked up everything I could - the language, folklore, and, to my mom's chagrin, the local fashion. Over time, this placed me in an odd category. I spoke and acted like an East African village girl, and felt the second-class status accorded to local women keenly. I knew I must drop into a low curtsy, bow my head and keep my eyes downcast anytime I addressed a man, and I believed it was right for men to eat before women. But thanks to my pasty skin, I was also unmistakably part of the elite white class who, despite the end of colonialism half a century earlier, were placed above their African peers. while my race accorded me privilege and power, as a female I simultaneously felt vulnerable and inferior.
This bizarre blend caused chilling run-ins with the Kenyan police in my teens that instilled in me an acute sensitivity to how power structures affect behavior. In Kenya, the police commonly pull cars over to solicit a bribe, and one's perceived wealth often determined the police officers' demands. when travelling with other expatriates, it often fell on me to diffuse tensions using Swahili. But this role also exposed me to threats the police would not have dared utter in English. Once anAK-47 wielding policeman demanded I step out of the car and accompany him to a police station in a different city for "questioning" due to another passenger's seat-belt violation. another time, two officers waving AK-47s isolated me from my group and proceeded to reveal their intentions toward me in no uncertain terms.
These experiences and others like them gave me insight, albeit imperfect and colored by my own relative privilege, into how power imbalances undermine equality before the law. My vantage point gave me an appreciation for the complexity with which power dynamics unfold, and also provided a window into the incongruous experiences of the powerful and vulnerable. This sparked my desire to work toward extending equal opportunities in education, employment, and participation in government to vulnerable individuals, particularly those in the developing world.
In college, this aspiration translated into a passion for politics and international development. But while I loved learning, knowledge alone was not satisfying - I yearned for practical ways to express my convictions. accordingly, I worked with refugees in the Chicago suburbs, assisting families in their transition to the US through World Relief's mentorship program, teaching English as a Second Language, and tutoring struggling refugee students. In the summer of 2009, I lived in a vast shantytown outside Cape Town and worked with local community leaders and steely yet every-so-often sweet victims of domestic abuse. I loved these jobs, but often felt frustrated with how government policies tied community workers' hands. at the time, I simply learned to creatively skirt broken systems. In the long run, however, these experiences taught me that justly designed laws form the core of fair societies, and my frustrations crystallized my desire to enact change at a policy level.
With this in mind, I worked hard to pay-off my student loans while still in school. Checking my bank account as I graduated a semester early, I was thrilled to be free to turn down an executive-track position with AT&T for one at the American Enterprise Institute that paid half as much.
AEI has given me the opportunity to learn how policy is formed, develop recommendations vetted through intensive research and analysis, and explore new fields of study. Early on, I was asked to pinch hit for AEI's South Asia scholar even though I had no background in the region, having been hired to cover international health and development. Intrigued by the new subject, I asked to stay on even though it meant doubling my workload. I researched how [South Asia country's] Right to education act led to improved school enrollment among girls in rural areas and greater access to reading materials for many low-income students. Unfortunately, as [my co-author] and I argued in an essay in XXX magazine, flaws in the law led to decreasing educational attainment even as expenditures increased.
I will always be fascinated by the ideas, principles, values, and conflicts inherent in politics. In shifting from a think tank to a career in law, though, I want to move from articulating the ideas that form public policy to working out their application.
I believe pursuing a law degree will give me the skills to tackle problems like these and creatively translate big ideas - equality, opportunity, justice, and freedom - into concrete policies required to make them a reality.