[W]hen most people hear that I have chosen to major in Middle Eastern Studies, they tend to assume that I have family from the Middle East. Indeed, despite having been raised in a culturally Jewish environment, my political interest in the Middle East region also originates from another, entirely different source. For as long as I can remember, I have always been interested in solving interpersonal conflicts, on both an individual and grand scale. Subsequently, the politically tumultuous atmosphere of the Middle East caught my eye when I was still in high school.
The rich history of the Middle East, the region’s relevance to my relatives in Israel, and my upbringing around many Iranians are all aspects which inspired me to major in Middle Eastern Studies and write my thesis on the sociopolitical development of the Iranian Diaspora in California. The first obstacle which I encountered in my major department at Berkeley was the hostility toward Israel and even, to some extent, toward Jews harbored by much of the faculty. This adversity encouraged me to focus my research on an area not directly related to Israel.
Although I enjoyed my research very much, my senior thesis proved the greatest hurdle yet in my academic career. It was not long until I realized that my thesis supervisor was consistently labeling my thesis question as ‘nonsensical’ and my writing style as ‘absurd’, while refusing to provide me a direct response as to how I could improve my work. Soon after, I began consulting with former students of this professor and came to learn that she was, despite her own Jewish background, biased toward Jews. After three months of visits with my professor, I managed to pass the thesis course. Notwithstanding, despite this stressful period in my studies, I have learned so much about the Middle East as well as my own capacity to work relentlessly at a task.
My experience with bias in grading as well as lecture content inspired me to emphasize my own peaceful intentions on campus. Combining my research focus with my own heritage, I used the current political tensions between Iran and Israel as a means of proving how the issues between authorities do not have to reflect the issues among the masses. I established the Iranian-Israeli Student Coalition, a student organization with the mission of intercultural dialogue between Iranian and Israeli/Jewish students. Following our first event, at which Iranian students risked their families’ safety to associate with Israelis and Jews, I knew for a fact that I wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy. These students’ willingness to rejoice together despite political propaganda was simply remarkable, an incredibly rewarding experience that was made possible primarily because of my choice of major. Therefore, graduating from UC Berkeley with a degree in Middle Eastern Studies, fluency in two Middle Eastern languages and a hands-on understanding of intercultural mediation, will provide me with the basic skills necessary to begin on the path to a career in Foreign Service.
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