Voices of Exchange is a new podcast featuring the voices of alumni of U.S. government exchange programs, cultural and sports envoys, exchange visitors, and U.S. Speakers. On this podcast, you will hear how one student’s exchange program led him to pull the plug a career as a doctor to become a disinformation warrior/health activist... how a mid-career exchange helped a woman rediscover her love of illustration, leading her to co-create a 280-page love letter to New York City’s public art… the discovery by an exchange participant that the things holding her back weren't her disability... and how Anne Frank’s diary has been a source of strength, inspiration, and career-changing for an exchange alumna, from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, and back.
Voices of Exchange launches March 31, 2021. New episodes will be released every two weeks on iTunes and wherever else you get your podcasts. You can also listen to Voices of Exchange right here on this page, starting in April.
Voices of Exchange is brought to you by the Office of Alumni Affairs in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). Voices of Exchange is a successor to 22.33, ECA’s first podcast that wrapped up in early 2021.
Join us on Instagram at @voicesofexchange to get the latest on our podcast guests and upcoming episodes.
For past episodes of 22.33, visit ECA’s website at Life. Changing. Stories. | Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
Episode 2: From Introvert to International Illustrator
Description: In the latest episode of Voices of Exchange, we learn how international exchange helped a “shy, nerdy kid” reconnect with a childhood friend and her passion for art. Travel with us from Buffalo to Chicago, Paris, Tbilisi, and New York City with Returned Peace Corps Specialist and illustrator Maria Krasinski.
SEASON 1: PREVIOUS EPISODES
Episode 1: More Alike Than Different
For our first ever episode of Voices of Exchange, we travel to Florianópolis, Brazil, with Critical Language Scholar and disability rights advocate Anna Landre. Anna takes us on a journey of overcoming cultural, lingual, and physical barriers in a new city, while describing the lessons she learned to advocate for herself and for others with disabilities. Through Anna’s story, we learn that we are more alike than different.
For our first ever episode, we traveled to Florianopolis, Brazil with critical language scholar and disability rights advocate, Anna Landre. As we dive into Anna's story of overcoming cultural, language, as well as physical barriers in a new city, we come to understand that we're more alike than not. With Anna's efforts to fight for disability rights stretching beyond campus, we learn that such issues transcend borders and boundaries, and can contribute to bridging the cultural gap. You're listening to Voices of Exchange, a podcast of people, places and international exchange.
I did the CLS program, the Critical Language Scholarship in Brazil. Uh, it was the first year in Brazil and it was just a fantastic experience. I first heard about it through Georgetown University's Fellowship office. I'm a student there and they send out these great emails about different opportunities. And I was just really excited about, especially the fully funded nature of the program, because I am someone who doesn't have access to a lot of these paid programs. I wouldn't be able to afford them. Financial aid is a lot of times really shoddy. So suddenly I was looking at something that was fully accessible to me financially. And I was just so excited as someone who had just started learning Portuguese and was seeing them doing their first Portuguese program. Um, I think I was also really drawn to their emphasis on inclusion, like in the application they had questions about, do you have a disability?
How does your disability manifest? Does it mean how could you travel a certain distance on foot or in a wheelchair or something else, uh, like that. And it was really encouraging to me to see that they were thinking about this. One of my favorite parts of the program was that I was able to get in touch with a local, uh, disability rights organization. Um, so right up my alley and it was one of the program coordinators who helped me find it 'cause he kind of saw that I was struggling with the inaccessibility of the environment. You know, this was one of the least wheelchair accessible places I had ever been to. And that was taking a toll on me, you know, both physically and mentally. And so they were able to connect me with this organization and I just felt at home immediately, you know, I was around other disabled people or other people working for disability rights.
And I got to meet everyone in the office and talk about, you know, the- the state of- of disability issues in Brazil versus how things are in the U.S. and it's a connection that I still use. I still talk to them all the time. So that's definitely the highlight. I think for me. I wasn't too surprised to find them because I researched Latin America and I know that, um, a lot of places in the region have a strong presence of disability activists, but the fact that, you know, I happen to be staying in a city with a really great organization, was, you know, a little bit serendipitous, you know, not every city has an organization like that. Certainly not every city in the U.S. does. Um, so it was surprising, but also just kind of confirmed some amazing hopes and connections that I hoped to find there.
So I faced those barriers that every, I think student abroad faces things like culture, shock, language, fatigue, just being in an environment that because you aren't comfortable in, it sometimes feels a little exhausting. And like you're constantly having to be totally aware of everything you're doing. You're nervous to make a mistake and maybe offend somebody else. Um, and then on top of that, I was facing an environment that was really inaccessible to me with my wheelchair. Um, you know, I, in DC, I can count on there being a ramp on basically every sidewalk pointer. I don't have to think twice about where I'm going or how I'm getting there. But in Florianopolis where I was living, it was different. A lot of times the sidewalks themselves would be filled with holes and I couldn't traverse them, or if I could, I would get to the end of the block and I couldn't cross to the next street because there was no ramp.
So it was physically exhausting because I was trying to like, not fall over in my wheelchair in this really, this really difficult terrain. And just mentally of not always being able to go to the places that the other people in my program were going to, you know, they could say, oh, we're gonna go to this restaurant for dinner and- and just not think twice and get an Uber and go, and I couldn't, the Ubers weren't accessible. I would have to make sure the bus I was taking had a lift because not all of them did. I would have to call the restaurant and check that they had a ramp and check that the path from the bus to the restaurant was accessible. So that was really difficult.
Um, but I also think in handling that and in pushing through it to the greatest extent that I was able, I now have like this really great confidence in myself to handle difficult situations that I can be independent, um, in even those really tough environments. And I think that's a similar thing to what non-disabled students would feel after handling language fatigue after handling culture shock. Like suddenly you have more confidence in your ability to – to get through almost anything. And for me, that was also really useful because I- I would love to have a career that involves traveling and involves going to different places and- and learning about them and connecting with people. And now I feel like I could handle that almost anywhere.
At a certain point, I asked one of my program coordinators who was there to just make sure that we were all safe and- and doing well on a daily basis. I asked him, how do you say ableism in Portuguese? And he said, and I was trying to explain it in Portuguese. Like, how do you say that word that means discrimination against a person with a disability or something and he was like, I don't think we have a word for that. And then finally I said it in English, in English, it's ableism. And he was like, “I don't know what that means in English.” And I was like, oh, okay. So it was like a lot of homework, not only on the language translating side, but also just on the, you know, disability culture and explaining these things to people, whether it's in English or Portuguese. So many means of translation that – that we had to go through.
I was so pleasantly surprised to see the emphasis on civil rights in relation to disability in Brazil. I think that's something we don't necessarily have in the United States. Here when we talk about disability, I think it's more often tied to like healthcare or charity or something like that. It's more of a- a charitable model. Whereas there, when you talk about disability, it's more recognized that this is a marginalized group of people that, you know, their exclusion is, uh, a product of lack of access to rights and- and services and inclusion. And that was definitely a product of a lot of internalized ableism, just growing up and being socialized with the idea that the way I existed in the world was somehow bad and was somehow less compatible with success. And I saw disability as, like, a very individualized problem, a me problem that I just had to, like, push off and overcome.
And then as I grew up, particularly in high school and then rapidly in college when trying to reach like everyday milestones, that my peers could reach without a second thought, you know, going to college or driving for the first time or getting their first job, I started to see that every time the things holding me back weren't my disability. It was things like social stigma, lack of access to a building or lack of access to a certain piece of healthcare or like a discriminatory law. I wasn't having to overcome anything related to my body. I was overcoming these other things, these outside things.
And this was really transformational for me to kind of reframe my identity as all of these things that I might be missing out on, all of this exclusion isn't inherent to my body. It's things in society that can be changed. And I think that really hit me most when after my freshman year of college, I was able to get a paid internship in DC. And I was so excited. It was like my first big full-time paid job. And I was gonna be able to pay my own rent, afford my own groceries. But then when I mentioned this to my disability services coordinator, they were like, “Oh, well, if you're making money, you won't get any services anymore. You'll be ineligible.”
So essentially the system creates this poverty trap that was threatening my life. I was, by accepting this job, which I had already done 'cause I didn't know, you know, these regulations, I was looking at getting all of my services revoked and not being able to go to school or live dependently, or do any of these things. Um, and this, in my opinion is one of, I think, the biggest disability rights issues in the U.S. right now, um, this sort of poverty trap and through a lot of advocacy, I was able to get the state to let me keep my services. They basically made an exception because there was, I was reaching out to reporters, to my local officials. There was like a – a bit of outrage. And – and I had a lot of allies working for me, but they still haven't fixed it systemically, you know, they gave me an exception and sent me on my way, and haven't budged for everyone else who's being affected by this problem.
So I think that was my first kind of light bulb, where this is an awful issue of exclusion, of oppression. It's systemic. And I feel like I have a responsibility to other people in my community to kind of work on these. And to us, they're simple fixes, you know? If you ask almost any disabled person, they can tell you ways to change the law or change their environment to make things easier. And I think those of us who can have a responsibility to – to do that, so that the next generation of people with disabilities don't have to face these things and we can have better equality and inclusion. On a personal level, first, I'm hoping to graduate, finish my undergrad, uh, this spring. Um, and in the midst of the pandemic, I've been working a lot on disability rights policies in connection with COVID-19. Um, I've been interning with the partnership for inclusive disaster strategies, which is the only organization in the U.S. that works on disaster relief from a disability center perspective.
And too often in these disaster situations or in any conflict situation, on a broader scale disabled people are just thought of as expected losses and we're trying to change that. Um, and I've been lucky enough because of my background in – in Latin American studies and because of the fact that I speak Spanish and Portuguese, I've been able to work with the partnership to start expanding our scope outside of the U.S. to other places in the Americas, um, to the Caribbean. And this is something that I'm working on and then in September, I'll be headed to London to study on a Marshall Scholarship. So I'm very excited about that too.
I was really interested in applying for the Marshall partially because of the UK's, um, strong history of – of disability rights. You know, they have a really active disability community. Um, nonviolent direct action in particular is really big and that's something I've been involved in, in the U.S. but would love to learn more about. And so I was thinking about that and the fact that the UK and it's academic community is a big leader in international development studies and has a lot of connections to the global South and thinking, wow, this would be a really amazing place to be. And so in applying, I was looking for places I could be where I could not only have a- a great academic program that fit my academic interests, but also outside of that, be in a location where I would be constantly in contact with the disability community and London was an amazing fit for that [inaudible 00:15:04] emergencies.
So again, I'll get to do work on ensuring that disabled people aren't just viewed as expected losses when something goes wrong, that we're implementing, um, means of- of access and support and disaster situations or conflict zones to support this really large portion of the population. Um, and yeah, I'm really excited to- to go. I've never been to the United Kingdom. So it'll be another exchange experience for me. I'm really lucky to be at Georgetown, where we have a disability studies minor and a disability studies program, which is absolutely fantastic. You know, the faculty is doing really exciting work in the classroom and activism wise on – on policy and that having access to a program like that really informed the way I do activism. I, a big neutral friend in the disability community is the disability justice movement, which not only works to change laws and change legal structures, but also to center the voices of the most marginalized people with disabilities and to work from the ground up in getting rid of social stigma.
Because I think what we've seen is that you can change laws anywhere in the world. And if the social stigma hasn't evaporated too, if you haven't changed people's preconceptions about disability, those laws aren't gonna be implemented. So having access to this academic atmosphere where we're talking about theory, and we're talking about the best ways to approach a problem an – and attain justice for the people who need it has been amazing inside the U.S. So it's really lucky that, um, I think it was either my freshman year or the year before I started at Georgetown was when this program began and I didn't even know about it until I got there.
So it was really serendipitous. Um, and of course, Georgetown has a really, really strong foreign service atmosphere. Um, I'm in the School of Foreign Service, we, a lot of our faculty have experienced whether working at the State Department and are working in international development policy making, and they bring in a lot of real world experience and issues to the classroom and are just so inspiring about telling us the urgency of – of being global citizens and – and ensuring that we're constantly working to make the world a better place, um, and being great at telling us how to start.
So I'm definitely very grateful to the – the Georgetown community, especially. First of all, to absolutely try and do it, even if you're a little bit unsure. I, when I went to Brazil, wasn't really imagining having such an academic or career focus on Brazil, um, and being there and – and getting the sort of experience and cultural competency that I got changed, my academic tra – trajectory and my career trajectory. So absolutely try and go on an exchange experience. It'll really open up your world and – and the things that you think are possible, you'll meet amazing people, um, who hopefully will – will stay with you and we'll stay in touch throughout the course of your life. And I think while you're there, just try and get the most out of it. It's really hard when you're on an exchange to kind of remember to – to keep going and keep planning things, because you're exhausted all the time.
You're in a new place, you're speaking a new language. Um, but I was really lucky during my experience that the people in my cohort were constantly planning things to do and, um, doing different excursions, going to different places. And then finally, I think it's important to just go into it without a lot of preconceptions, or just knowing that a lot of the things you think might be disproven and might be wrong, because as people from the global North, from the U.S. in particular, we probably have a lot of stereotypes about the places that we're going to. And it's important to ensure that you're not speaking for anyone that you're being conscious of your place in the world. Even I have to be really conscious as a disabled person from the global North and speaking about disability as if it's a universal experience, which it's not, it's really different depending on where you come from, depending on what disability you have.
So just going into it with a really open mind and being willing to be humble about the knowledge that you may or may not have. I'm, I don't have a – a particular career in mind yet. I would really love to, you know, work in the UN, uh, Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights and working on the, um, CRPD, the convention on the rights of people with disabilities. That's, there's so much to be done on monitoring and implementing it. Um, the State Department also has an awesome international disability rights team, which I think would be a super cool place to work. Um, basically I just, it's really important to me that I get to work on disability rights in a global context 'cause I think that's, there's so much potential for learning from one another and – and getting best practices and pulling resources across borders.
Um, and I think my time in Brazil on CLS is definitely gonna be a part of that. You know, I have such a love for – for Brazil and – and for Latin America because of the experiences I've had there. And I'm never going to forget that, you know, it's always gonna be one of my favorite places to work. And – and I have now a bunch of friends and colleagues, who so I'm constantly in touch with about what's going on. So there's no getting out of that nor would I want to. Um, and I really hope that when I go to the UK, I'll get to meet people from a lot of other places who are there for the same reason to study, to learn, to connect. So I'm really hopeful about what – what that'll hold.
Thank you, Anna Landre for joining us in our inaugural podcast episode. With your story, we've truly come to understand that we are more alike than not, join us in two weeks for our next episode of voices of exchange until next time.