I think by writing. When I was in pigtails, my grandmother told me to take paper and a pen to bed to record my dreams. As a professor of art, she assumed that I would draw them. I didn’t—I wrote them down. I never stopped writing and had my first essay published at 17.
As the eldest in my generation and the first to go away to college, I had two choices: dedicate hours every Sunday night updating my large family individually by phone, or starting a blog. I started a blog named “FeelingElephants,” referring to a Hindi folk story about three blind men who must overcome an obstruction in the road. By examining each part of the blockage in detail and sharing their observations, they discover it is an elephant. I use each blog post to take apart complex problems post by post to see the whole elephant.
Many of the most complex topics I explore on the blog begin in the classroom. While studying abroad at Carnegie Mellon’s Qatar campus, I cross-registered through Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Doha. While writing my final paper for my African Politics and Government class at Georgetown on executive-level female political leadership in Africa, I discovered that no one else online had a list of female Presidents and Vice Presidents in Africa. I wrote one, drawing on my research, and that post has received nearly 1000 views since. Whether in an academic paper or through new media, I try to use words to help my readers—around 10,000 of them monthly—see our world with wonder and respect. But one language’s words are not enough to understand the global conversation on women’s roles.
The semester before I studied abroad in the Middle East, I began to take Arabic. While in Doha I tutored my peers in writing in English while they taught me snippets of Arabic. Though my job was to teach respect for the common semi-colon, I handed out beautifully written essays by Toni Morrison and Barbara Kingsolver and my students emailed me classical Arabic poetry. We kept each other company as we each wrestled with the languages. I got hooked on our bilingual exchanges and began to see where a lifetime of Arabic study might lead me. I found myself yearning to be part of conversations I could not contribute to; my students inspired me to try to reach more people with my writing by becoming truly fluent in Arabic.
I got an extra dose of encouragement the following summer when I was invited by the American Islamic Congress to contribute to their Arabic/English blog on women’s rights in the Middle East. I had a post in mind, but simply did not have the words in the right language at the time to do it justice. When, as the New Media fellow for the Polaris Project in Washington DC, I connected with young people in the Middle East, tweeting together in Arabic and English, I saw how language proficiency could help me truly join a global conversation. As I continued my Arabic study at Carnegie Mellon Pittsburgh that Fall, I stayed involved with my friends in Qatar and continued to measure my language skills against theirs.
In a way, this application is another way of meeting my grandmother’s challenge: I am writing you about my dream to use my language skills to bridge our communities. I want to contribute to the global conversation on women’s empowerment, and believe Arabic is the best language to do so in because the Arab region is where women’s roles are changing the most out of any place in the world. My dream is to use my communication skills, in English and Arabic, to support women in the Middle East as they build their civil societies.
 “High School Politics”, She’s Such a Geek: Women Write About Science, Technology, and Other Nerdy Stuff. Ed Annalee Newitz and Charlie Anders. Emeryville, CA: Seal Press. November 2006.
 According to my research, there have been 13 African female executive leaders in the past 15 years.
“There is no right way to knit; there is no wrong way to knit. So if anybody kindly tells you that what you are doing is “wrong,” don’t take umbrage; they mean well. Smile submissively, and listen, keeping your disagreement on an entirely mental level. They may be right, in this particular case, and even if not, they may drop off pieces of information which will come in very handy if you file them away carefully in your brain for future reference.”–Elizabeth Zimmerman