Bridging the gap

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Claudia Crowie travels from South Africa to Flagstaff to expand her education.

Growing up in Durban, South Africa, Claudia Crowie wanted to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to assist culturally-diverse minorities on legal matters. With this goal in mind, Crowie graduated from law school in 2008. However, she soon found that, despite her considerable amount of legal knowledge and experience, she needed to broaden her horizons and gain an understanding of her clients on both a professional and personal level.

“I didn’t have the ability to observe, analyze, and understand cultures and social phenomena,” Crowie says. “I would not have been able to facilitate social transformation unless I possessed these skills. That’s why I chose to come to the States and study cultural anthropology.”

Crowie enrolled at Northern Arizona University to expose herself to various cultures and ways of thinking, and to take advantage of living and working among the American Southwest’s diverse population. Having wrapped up her first year of graduate study, Crowie is ready to begin her thesis on the cultural adaptation of South Sudanese refugees in the United States, under the guidance of her advisor, Dr. Cathy Small.

“I wanted to study cultural diversity and how to build bridges between people from diverse cultures,” Crowie says. “I want to be able to understand how people from different cultural backgrounds learn from each other.”

Learning in the field

Crowie didn’t waste any time – in order to educate herself about cultural diversity in the Southwest, she immediately began attending field trips to Sedona, El Morro National Park, the Grand Canyon, Chaco Canyon, and Wupatki National Monument.

While each of these trips have been largely insightful and educational, her greatest field experience will come from her work on her thesis, which consists of studying gender relations among South Sudanese refugee men and women in San Diego, California. Crowie believes that African refugees tend to remain invisible, and that she would like to study how they adapt and achieve success in their new environments.

“After having learned a bit about American culture, I became interested in how peoples from different cultural backgrounds adapt to life in the United States,” Crowie says. “I have chosen to focus on African refugees because, being an African in the United States, I understand that culture can change in a new environment.”

Creating a better understanding of tomorrow

Crowie remains busy with a number of activities that enable her to better engage with, and learn from, the Flagstaff community.

For example, last semester, she volunteered at Killip Elementary School, which enabled her to make connections with a younger generation of students from diverse backgrounds.

“I met students who spoke different languages, and who came from all different cultures,” Crowie says. “The fact I can come here and integrate myself into the community and make a contribution while studying is quite important.”

After graduating, Crowie plans to build on the experience she gained for her thesis by pursuing a career in in human development or policy-making, with the goal of continuing to benefit those in need.

“I think either way, I’m going to help people,” Crowie says. “I want to use my legal skills, as well as my skills in cultural anthropology, to be involved in promoting culture and protecting individuals.”

As her knowledge of other cultures continues to grow, Crowie’s studies are bringing her full circle by enabling her to reflect on her own heritage—a valuable experience she believes will greatly benefit her in the future—as she plans to return to South Africa. 

“Coming from a different country to the United States has offered me the opportunity to assess my own culture and to develop a new appreciation of where I come from,” Crowie says.