Bridging the gap
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
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
“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.