Alumni Voices: Dilia Zwart '15

June 1, 2015
Alumni Voices: Dilia Zwart '15

I grew up in the Sonoran Desert where my Dutch upbringing and Arizona’s multicultural legacies inspired my own interests in language, culture, migration, and human rights. Every summer my family would visit relatives in the Netherlands, and in high school I began traveling independently to study language in Germany and Costa Rica and to learn about organic farming in Scotland. Throughout my travels, I felt attuned to learning from a “local” perspective by living with host families and taking classes in city centers. Only at Harvard did my interests fuse together in anthropology, a discipline I had not heard of before. I learned that I could focus through an academic lens my love for traveling and studying languages.

Going into college, I was interested in finding a way to bridge the social sciences and the sciences, or to find ways to use science for humanitarian causes. Growing up in the desert, I was particularly interested in the intersection between water and politics. Additionally, I was interested in global health because my dad is an endocrinologist. I felt that I had to pick a science to pursue my interests and do something "practical" with my education. At first I thought I would study biology, and then came across the human evolutionary biology department. From there, I discovered anthropology and it was an immediate “fit.” I took Arthur Kleinman and Paul Farmer's Case Studies in Global Health course and while I remained interested in water and health, I became more and more intrigued by anthropology as a method and lens to explore issues at a deeply cultural level and then apply innovative and locally sensitive solutions. I also took Memory Politics, taught by Kimberly Theidon. This class convinced me that I could use anthropology to delve into specific issues pertaining to human rights, historical legacies, and politics. Inspired by an internship in the European Parliament for a Romanian politician, I wrote my final paper for this course on corruption and the communist past in Romania, and discovered that I enjoyed the research process.

In the spring of 2014 I set off to the Western Balkans to study abroad and conduct fieldwork in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Ethnographic research is one of the highlights of my years at Harvard. An unprecedented protest movement swept across Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Mostar was full of new energy. Protesters were eager and open to speak to me about the problems troubling their city and their country. In addition to my fieldwork, I co-founded and implemented a summer school in Mostar. This added another layer to my experience in Mostar, and connected me to numerous NGO activists and university students who in turn also became a part of my research project.

In the summer of 2015 I will continue my work in Mostar and coordinate the Mostar Summer Youth Programme (MSYP). With the Richardson Public Service Fellowship, I will return to the European Parliament in the fall before traveling to Mostar to continue working on my education project. In the future, I am interested in bridging the gap between politics/policies and grassroots projects especially in developing regions such as the Western Balkans.