Posted by: Josef Korbel School, Office of Graduate Admissions | January 26, 2011

The implosion of career goals

The Middle East has pretty much always been my area of interest and expertise (with “expertise” being open to some interpretation).  I’m fascinated by the history, cultures, people, politics, religion… pretty much all of it.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been my primary area of interest, and for the past several years my career aspirations included working in the Palestinian Territories.  When I was applying to grad school last year all of my statements of purpose included this steadfast belief in the Middle East as the region I would eventually end up in.  I was so sure….until I actually started grad school.

For the past few months I’ve been going through a sort of mini-crisis, with new interests and aspirations struggling against the old.  The Middle East no longer holds my attention in quite the same way it used to.  I’m increasingly drawn to Africa.  Africa, the continent I never gave more than a passing thought to previously, convinced that it was a quagmire of conflict, disease, and malnutrition (in much the same way that many people write off the Middle East as a hopeless hotbed of Islamofascism, terrorism, and gender inequality).  However, the more I learn, the more I think that Africa, specifically East Africa, is the region that I should focus my studies and career goals on.  I’ve been reluctant to fully commit to this new course, not yet ready to abandon my years-long devotion to studying the Middle East.  Of course, there’s nothing that says I have to pick one or the other, but I have yet to meet someone at Korbel who isn’t dedicating nearly all of their energy into one region (and often one country) and I’ve found myself falling into that same “just pick one” mindset.  As a result, I’ve been tying myself into mental knots over the issue…. “Africa or the Middle East?  Both?  Just one?  Which one?  Africa?  The Middle East?  I’m not ready to decide!  Arghhh!”

I decided to share this dilemma with you all because apparently this is a fairly common issue.  I’ve spoken to some second-year students as well as my bosses at the Admissions Office, and apparently it’s pretty rare for students to stick with whatever interests/goals they outlined in their statements of purpose.  Which makes sense, I suppose.  We’re being exposed to issues and regions in our classes that we had never previously had an opportunity or interest in studying and it’s natural for many people discover new interests that supersede the old.

So I guess the take-away message of this blog post is for anyone who has struggled (or is still struggling) with exactly what they want to do “when they grow up”: even those of us who had a clear direction often end up being just as confused as you are.  But no worries, we’ll all figure it out eventually, myself included.  🙂



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