The backstory. Or why I applied for a Fulbright…

Ok. Here I go. I’m almost a month away from my departure to India. I’m using my free time these days to attack the ever-growing list of things to do before I leave. One of the items on my list: start a blog. Well, update the blog that I started over a year ago. It’s sad. Over a year and I’ve only produced 4 posts. Ooops. I’m great at journaling. Blogging…not so much.

But hopefully that will change in the coming year. I need a way to keep my friends and family up to speed with what I’m doing thousands of miles away. I want to keep track of my experiences and the progress of my project. Blogs organize things well and keep track of chronology. Much better than I can. So, I’m taking a deep breath and re-launching this puppy. It’s got a new name and a new purpose. And I’ve got a new dedication to writing on here.

The first thing I want to do is share with you a tweaked version of the personal statement that I submitted as part of my Fulbright application. I figure if the Fulbright committee wanted to know why I want to do this project, you guys might be interested too.

I was sixteen and Belize was the furthest I had ever traveled from my home in rural Illinois. Dreaming of white beaches, jungle waterfalls, and a reason to get a passport, I signed up for my high school’s spring break trip to Belize. A few months later I found myself sitting beneath heavy humid air in Maya Centre, a small Mayan village that lies at the entrance of the Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Reserve. I sat facing Ernesto Saqui, listening as he told the story of conservation and development in his village. When the reserve was established in 1984, the families living there had to relocate to Maya Centre. Ernesto spoke of the exponential increase in tourism that the villagers had seen over the last two decades. Everything had changed.

Hours later I lay in bed, Ernesto’s words echoing in my head. What had he meant by “Everything had changed?” I felt compelled to find out what these changes meant to the families living in that tiny town.

Back at school, I was hungry for the classroom where roosters strutted beneath colorful hammocks. I proposed an independent study to return to Belize and interview villagers about development projects in their area. I spent 10 days in Maya Centre, designing a survey and speaking with families about an impending development project that would dramatically change the infrastructure and economy of many villages in the area.

I poured over a hefty Environmental Impact Assessment and Project Proposal. Every evening I spoke with Ernesto about what I had read in the proposal. I struggled to find a way to explain to him what plastic surgery and water parks were. I got lost in a maze of disbelief; here I was, 17, and desperately wishing that I had a bigger role to play in this experience. The conversations that I was a part of felt so meaningful. I hated that all I was going to do with this experience was give a presentation back at my high school.

Although I didn’t see the connections until recently, that journey was the beginning of a longer one. My experience in Belize quietly influenced which classes I chose at Sarah Lawrence College. Basing my decision on my time in Belize, I chose to spend my junior year of college on a comparative study abroad program called “Rethinking Globalization: Nature, Culture, Justice” (now called “Beyond Globalization: Reclaiming Nature, Culture and Justice”). Over the course of eight months I studied the impacts of development and globalization on agriculture, nature, and indigenous people across India, Tanzania, New Zealand, and Mexico.

During the two months that I spent in India I visited cotton farms and interviewed farmers. Guilt washed over me as I realized that, despite having worn cotton my whole life, I knew very little about how my clothing had been transformed from seed to shirt. I was ashamed that all this time I had been ignorantly contributing to farmers’ struggles with my consumer demand. Much like I had in Belize, I felt the need to work with these farmers in a more significant way. This time I was determined to do more than give a presentation at my school.

Back at Sarah Lawrence I continued to study cotton and development in India. I still want to do more and being picky about the cotton that I wear isn’t enough. I want to engage in a broader discussion with a wider audience. I want to go back to India and collaborate with cotton farmers. I want to collect their stories and share them with consumers in the United States and around the world.

Over the last few months I’ve realized that what I really want to do in life is travel, talk to people, and write about what I learn. I think the career title for this is “journalist.” Maybe. We’ll see.

For now I can at least cross off “re-vamp blog” from my “to-do before India” list.

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2 thoughts on “The backstory. Or why I applied for a Fulbright…

  1. so glad you’re doing this! each time i think to write you a letter (which is often) i will check back here and be instantly gratified…but i’ll still send a colorful letter anyway if you choose to keep me current-address-savvy….

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