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Rhodes Scholar Essay Example 3 - Personal Statement

Provide a short Personal Statement describing your academic and other interests. This statement should describe the specific area of proposed study and your reasons for wishing to study at Oxford

My grandmother clutches her rosary and wags an admonishing forefinger at me as I sort through the dozens of saris she has collected over eighty years. Fish curry cooks over a wood fire in the kitchen while a cow saunters in the street outside. It is a soggy monsoon afternoon in Sampige, the village home of my mother’s family since before Vasco de Gama landed in India. My summer is drawing to a close. I have done bloody battle with leeches in the jungle, wrangled a classroom full of children yelling, “Ajith said a bad word—beat him!” and encountered a man who, hearing I was American, growled and proudly showed me the pixilated Osama bin Laden on his cell phone. Yet few memories stand out as vividly as my grandmother and the unlikelihood, bordering on absurdity, that this woman’s granddaughter should sing the fight song at college football games, use the word “Google,” or watch MTV’s Pimp My Ride.

Daughter of a Midwestern boy and a girl from Calcutta, I find it amazing that my Indian grandmother, experientially a world away, set the stage for my life. As I have studied for degrees in Letters and International Studies, the interconnectedness of human experience across time and culture has been a recurring theme. Just as religious nationalism in Serbia has parallels to India’s Hindu-based BJP party, knowing about the governance of Sparta under Lycurgus lends historical perspective to the fusion of faith and governance. My academic background forms a broad and rich foundation for the English Language and Literature B.A. at Oxford. Having seen the interplay of various academic disciplines, I am anxious to apply this awareness to studying the intertwined development of literature and language.

I have known for several years that I want to become an English professor and a writer. Like most word-geeks I am fascinated by the ability of skillful writers to capture images and convey effects through their handling of language. I want to explore the technical and formal aspects that make it possible for literature to reflect and change the people who read it. One of the best courses I have taken was an introductory American History class in which we read novelists from Alger to Kesey to DeLillo. Along with learning about historical events, we discovered through literature how those events had shaped Americans’ view of the human experience. Understanding history, philosophy and politics gives literature its grounding while literature gives those subjects their life. One reason I love literature is its power to challenge me and refine my view of myself and others. Literature charts my common ground with characters as diverse as a street urchin in a Dickens saga and a modern Japanese businessman in a sketch by Murakami.

Studying at Oxford was a childhood dream of mine, discarded along with my tutu. I was originally attracted to the fact that Bertie Wooster was an Oxonian, but the English Language and Literature B.A. degree and the tutorial system rekindled my interest when I participated in the Honors at Oxford program. The English B.A. focuses on giving the student a solid grasp of the development of English literature from Beowulf to present. Learning the foundations of literature provides the basis for future specialization just as a background in the broader humanities enriches the understanding of literature. Reading James Joyce’s Ulysses taught me how literature and culture anchor a writer’s work and broaden his scope of possible expression. Anyone could describe Leopold Bloom making a pot of tea. James Joyce chose to relate the event in the form of a catechism, borrowing cultural and literary associations of Christianity which lend Bloom’s every thought and action a preternatural significance and make a statement of bold humanism without ever straying from the narrative. Without Joyce’s knowledge of his historical and literary family tree from Homer to Yeats, Ulysses would have been un-writable. Without a similar awareness on the part of the reader, it is unreadable as well.

The best professors I have encountered have been those who combine their expertise with knowledge and interests beyond their specialties. In their offices a question about Iraq turns into a discussion of Virginia Woolf. They are the professors who see their own subject as a contribution to my broader development as a scholar and as a person. Literature in particular is a fertile ground for interdisciplinary application and has practical relevance in other fields. As an English professor grounded in both literary history and interdisciplinary studies, I hope to bring students in touch with the beauty and power of the written word, with an eye to helping them clarify their own values, discover their potential and find their niche in the world.

As an aspiring writer, I know that producing two papers each week will be invaluable to my development. I have written for friends and family and known the delight of a well-formed sentence from an early age, but it was not until college that I took my own writing very seriously. I have learned to appreciate the connotations and sound qualities of individual words and to notice how those attributes can be used to create subtlety of meaning. Writing an opinion column for the school newspaper has exposed me to the challenge of distilling my own thoughts and observations for the consumption of strangers. I enjoy examining a narrow facet of life and seeing how it reflects upon the greater whole.

I have always tried to live my life with initiative. Whether traipsing onstage in a bikini when my friends dared me to enter a beauty pageant or visiting my Grandmother in Sampige, through a wide range of experiences I view life from a variety of angles and incorporate them into my worldview and writing. Studying English at Oxford is a logical next step towards a career of using literature to examine assumptions and discover unsuspected commonalities, thus bridging a span as wide as that between myself and my grandmother, who recently heard that she is mentioned in my essay for the Rhodes Scholarship. “See how good God is!” she exclaimed. “My name is going to Oxford!”

Original Source: University of Michigan Provost

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