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Curious about changing careers from teaching into government. Now’s your chance to find out with snapshots, conversations with professional practicing and applied anthropologists. Let’s meet a deadline. Adela Rahmati, is a multi ethnic woman with brown hair and brown eyes. She wears a black shirt and sits in front of a large bird of paradise. She is a management analyst for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. And as a cultural anthropologist working to reduce poverty and homelessness.
How did you get interested in anthropology?
Adela Rahmati 0:51
I got into anthropology, probably, in a roundabout way, I don’t know if other people get to anthropology in a roundabout way. But I was teaching English as a foreign language. And I have always loved culture. But I didn’t realize how much culture affected the educational environment and people’s ability to learn, actually. And so through teaching and teaching abroad, I just got so much into the cultural aspect of education, that I decided to go back to school and study culture. And I wanted to talk about that and teach about it and let that be the focus, rather than grammar and punctuation and things like that. And so I think, you know, some other influences. I always, I always felt like the work I wanted to do, I wanted it to improve people’s lives somehow. And when I started to learn more about like anthropological theories, which I fell in love with, I really wanted to make sure that I was actually bringing that into my practice, and that the things that I was doing, are not just like in my head, and written on a page, but actually starting to bring that into practice.
How has the anthropological perspective or training enhanced your contribution to your workplace?
Adela Rahmati 2:35
I, I’ve just started a position in Housing and Urban Development, and, and so applying that toolkit and that sort of skill set toward figuring out the complexity of housing for low income, houseless, homeless individuals, and what that actually looks like, in a very bureaucratic, complex web of, you know, grants and programs and who runs what, and how does this actually happen? You know, how, how much anthropology, it seems like, you’re the just the voice of common sense, a lot of times, just listening to what people are saying, and just saying it out loud in a different way, or something. And I don’t know, I guess I’m learning that it’s not so common somehow, or that people really struggle to see things from multiple perspectives. They have a very specific sort of vision or endpoint or goal about what they’re trying to do. And they’re really focused on that. And I think, I’m a much more bigger picture type of thinker, but also just being able to understand things from multiple perspectives. And so a lot of times, I feel like I’m a little bit of a translator in that way, where I’m just seeing something very clearly a need or what someone is saying, and trying to translate that into, you know, like a business question or a procedure or a, you know, a decision about moving forward with something. So I think that’s probably the most underrated skill, you know, that I bring to my job.
Do you recall a moment that changed the way you practiced anthropology?
Adela Rahmati 4:45
When I was applying to grad programs? Something I met a woman I toured a university in Austin and the woman that I wanted to work with, she said, I was I was in different departments and, but she was part of anthropology. She’s part of sociology. And she got her PhD in textiles. And here she was in the anthropology department, sociology department, Middle East Studies. And I had such a hard time wrapping my head around that. And she told me something that, you know, she was she literally, I think, told me, it honestly, doesn’t matter what your degree is in like, very straight face, it’s all about how you apply it, and what you end up doing. And that’s what’s gonna be what shapes what you do. And that totally blew my mind. Because I think as a student, we have more rigid understandings about the way the world works that like, well, if I have a degree in law, then I’m going to practice law. And if I have a degree in psychology, then I’m going to be a psychologist. And, and that’s actually not the way the world works. And, and I think, especially in academia, but in in really how you ended up applying it, you know, it’s, it’s more about the work you do, and that’s very self directed. Of course, the theory behind it, the people you work with are going to shape that process. So I do think that that’s important, like finding a good match there. But I think I didn’t realize how open ended it all was, and it was just very creative.
What was one thing about anthropology that nobody told you as a student?
Adela Rahmati 6:37
My very good friends, and also an anthropologist, linguist, Dr. Tamrika. And she, she told me that, you know, or not even she told me, I watched her do it in life. And I did it with her sometimes. And, and that was to volunteer and like, not worrying so much about getting paid for things. And you know, but just like, if you actually care about solving problems, and helping people, like just do it, just do it. And it was crazy how how many doors that opened, you know, and not just about, oh, networking and professional development, but I just mean, from a very human level about like, I really care about this. And regardless of where that gets me professionally, or anything else, like, I just want to do this thing. And I think some of the most incredible experiences I’ve had, as an anthropologist, have not been paid at all, you know, and the people that I feel like, have sat with me, I’ll remember forever, you know.
What advice would you like to pass on to future anthropologist seeking roles in professional fields?
Adela Rahmati 7:59
This is a wish, for sure. And I think that is to just take the initiative, you know, and step into spaces that call for you to, to act or to speak or to create something, you know, I think that’s really hard as, especially as a young person, because it’s like, we’re always unsure or seeking permission. And I want to say that you don’t need to ask for permission, or, or, like, if you see a need, or you see a space to create something, do it. And everybody will be so grateful, even if they don’t know it yet. But I do think we just have these moments and opportunities to do it all the time to create all the time. And I would encourage you to be brave and just do it.
Thank you, Adela for sharing your story as a practicing anthropologist. For more snapshots Find us at practicing anthropology.org, LinkedIn, Meta, and Twitter.
[On Screen Text] Many Thanks to NAPA’s General Council for their Support! NAPA is a section of the American Anthropological Association. Practicing Anthropology.org Directors: Reshama Damle and Suanna Crowley Producers: Cathleen Crain, Niel Tashima, Joshua Liggett
Adela Rahmati 9:26
[Outtakes] So I remember when you asked me for this, to do the interview. I was like, Oh, I guess I am a practicing anthropologist. Literally did not occur to me before that, though. Thank you for thank you for reminding me where I am and what I’m doing
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Transcribed by https://otter.ai