GlenOak graduate follows dream of becoming an anthropologist

By Olivia Holland, Editor-In-Chief —
Q&A with Anthropologist and 2005 GlenOak Graduate Katie Paul

1. How were you involved in at GlenOak?
– I was a cheerleader for all 4 years at GlenOak. I participated in a number of clubs but by far the most influential was the Model United Nations Program. The Model UN program shaped much of who I am today and was probably more relevant to the “real world” than anything else I have done. Globalization and enhanced technology have connected the world so much since I was in high school and had I not done the UN program it would be difficult to parse out the world around me today. I owe much of my understanding of what is happening to the world today and how we fit in it to that program and I hope it is still alive and well at GlenOak.

2. What was your major in college, and why did you decide to study it?
– In college I double majored in Anthropology and Ancient Greek Language and Literature. I had wanted to be an archaeologist since I was about 7 years old and always wanted to work in the Middle East, I couldn’t get past the allure of ancient Egypt. Archaeology is actually one of the 4 sub-disciplines of Anthropology (the 4 sub-disciplines are archaeology, cultural anthropology, primatology/evolution, and linguistics). The great thing about majoring in anthro was that I was able to apply so much of what I had learned in Model UN, making sure I didn’t see the world from an ethnocentric perspective. To maintain my regional focus on the Middle East I continued my love of the Model UN concept by participating in the Model Arab League program in College through my Arabic Department. I also studied Modern Arabic Language in Addition to majoring in Ancient Greek.

3. What were you looking for in choosing a major?
I was fortunate in that I always knew EXACTLY what I wanted to do – even if becoming Indiana Jane was unconventional – it was my passion and I did everything I could to learn as much as possible and become the best archaeologist and anthropologist I could be. I knew I wanted to really become a “global citizen” and work with people around the world. The great thing about archaeology was that it is as much about the people and communities around where you work as it is about the ancient cultures. My majors and languages choices both suited the fact that I wanted to work in the Middle East and Mediterranean region – and my choice to continue on with participating in Model Arab league helped me understand what was happening in the cultures around me in those regions rather than just understanding the ancient world.

4. What would be your advice for outgoing seniors, or students who are just beginning the college process?
My advice would be to try not to stress and don’t compare yourself to what anyone else is majoring in, where they’re applying to or where they get in. If you have a calling- go for it. Truly enjoying what you do is worth so much more than aiming for a major where you will make a ton of money. Don’t just major in something because you think it will get you paid; major in it because you are truly interested in the subject. The classes you will excel at most are the ones you will enjoy being in. Also, if you are like me and already know what you want to study, choose your school based on the professors and programs in the area you want to work, not just based on the school’s name, or football team, or where your friends go.

6. Has there been a trip that you have found to be most interesting or rewarding?
– This is a difficult question because working in the Middle East I have found so many experiences rewarding country to country and for so many different reasons. I would have to say my last trip to Jordan was the most rewarding because of how much I got to interact with the people. The people of Jordan are truly the most kind and generous people you will ever meet – and they will give you the shirt off of your back even if that is all that they have. But not just that, their compassion for all of the people suffering in the turmoil of countries around them is something that couldn’t be overlooked. I went to Jordan in the summer of 2012 – one year after the Arab Spring and the Syrian Civil war began. Whereas in the US we are fighting to build fences and patrol borders to keep out the children and refugees escaping pain and suffering in Latin America; in Jordan, the country takes in refugees from all over – there are refugee camps of Syrians to the north, camps of Iraqi’s to the East, and many Egyptian immigrants looking for work. And Jordan doesn’t turn any of them away – and the people of Jordan empathize with the refugees and open their borders rather than try to close them. A people like that really make a mark on you, and I hope to be back in Jordan soon.

7. How many countries have you visited, and what is the most recent one? Do you have another currently planned?
– Canada
– San Salvador, Bahamas – 2007 (Excavating a Lucayan Indian site)
– Egypt – 2008 (independent study trip)
– Israel – 2010 (Excavating at Tel Megiddo)
2011 (Excavating at Tel Kabri)
2012 (Excavating at Tel Megiddo)
– Jordan – 2010 and 2012
– Egypt – 2011 (examining status of antiquities and archaeological sites after the January 2011 Revolution)
– Greece – 2011
– Turkey – 2011
– England – 2011

My next plan is to go to Egypt again in the spring for a conference focusing on the looting and smuggling of antiquities in nations facing conflict and the impacts this has on security and economy of the nations affected. We will be working with regional governments and experts to develop workable solutions to this issue.

8. How many digs have you done? How have you found it rewarding in dealing with people all around the world?
– I have done 4 digs – and I find every experience rewarding. Often times when we sit in our living rooms and only see the world the way it is portrayed on the news we tend to think that other people are so different from ourselves – when in fact they are so similar, they may pray differently, speak a different language or wear different clothes – but ultimately they want the same things we do: to live safe, happy and prosperous and to create a better future for their children than what they had. It always really bothers me when people say that it’s so dangerous of me to go to Egypt, or Jordan – or I get the question “aren’t they all terrorists there?” No. In fact, every country and city I have visited is safer and faces less crime than where I live in the Nation’s Capital. The news is not indicative of every day life for most people in the Middle east – all of whom want peace and stability as badly as we do.

9. What has been your biggest accomplishment that you have achieved? How were you able to do this?
– I’m not really sure that I have achieved it yet! Grad school was a huge personal accomplishment because I was the first person in my family to go to grad school and it really solidified who I am as a person, an anthropologist, and an activist. In terms of professional goals, I think the biggest achievement was helping to facilitate a public private partnership between the organization I work for – the Antiquities Coalition – and the government of Egypt. This type of agreement is called a Memorandum of Understanding, and we created one to help protect the antiquities being illegally smuggled out of Egypt – the agreement may not seem like much but we began negotiations in 2011, two months after the revolution and the Egyptian Minister of Antiquities came to DC to sign the Agreement in March 2014 – that may seem like a long time. But we did this after through 4 Egyptian governmental changes, two revolutions, 6 different Ministers of Antiquities and 4 different Egyptian Presidents – so 3 years was actually a huge win. Congress can rarely get things done that fast!

10. What are you currently doing, and do you have future plans/goals?
– Right now I wear several hats (as I quickly learned many people in DC tend to do).
– Hat 1: I currently serve as the Director of Research for the non-profit organization the Antiquities Coalition – most of my work right now is focused on finding ways to stop the illegal looting and smuggling of antiquities in Egypt and in countries affected by the terrorist group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (aka ISIS).
– Hat 2: I am one of the managers at the Heritas Group Consulting firm – a for-profit entity.
– Hat 3: And perhaps my favorite – My best friend from grad school and I just launched a web series last month called the ArchaeoVenturers Project. I am the “digger” – an archaeologist and anthropologist who focuses in the Middle East, and my friend Justine Benanty is the “diver” an underwater archaeologist who works in Africa and the Caribbean on slave trade shipwrecks. Our goal with this project is to not just show you some of the awesome things happening out there in science, but also raise awareness to the awesome women (and men) making it happen! You can find out more info on our website at or check out our videos on our ArchaeoVenturers YouTube channel!

11. How have you focused on the global community as a whole in your work? Why is this important to you?
Whether I am digging, or researching from home. I always keep in mind the people in those regions. Yes, I want to save our history from ISIS, but I also want the world to see the incredible people risking their lives to make sure that this terrorist group is stopped. It is important to me that people in America in particular stop seeing the global community as “the other” and begin seeing them as equals. Seeing the world through the eyes of another culture and not through your own really helps put the world in perspective – and suddenly you begin to understand the motivations behind what people in different parts of the world say or do. It is hard to see children in Syria with weapons in their hands, but when you put yourself in their place and see what they have had to do to survive you understand why it is important that every individual protect himself or herself from the regime. The world makes a lot more sense when you see yourself as just one small part of it rather than the center of it as we often tend to do in America.