Episode 6: Mermaid Advocacy

Description: On this week’s episode, we dive in with Anna Oposa, co-founder, director, and Chief Mermaid of Save Philippine Seas, to learn how she is working to mobilize “sea-tizens” to take action to protect marine and coastal lands on a local and global scale.

Transcript
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TRANSCRIPT

Anna Oposa:

I am the co-founder and executive director and chief mermaid of an organization called Save Philippine Seas, that was created as a response to a major illegal wildlife trade case that happened.

At that time, I had just submitted my thesis for my undergraduate degree and I was looking for a job and I had a lot of free time to, you know, comb social media.

I always say that my advocacy was built on the foundation of my, my English language education and my English studies education, because I think when you are an English major, you're trained to read a lot, you're trained to listen to the way people use language. Um, and I was taught by my teachers to ask, like, the right questions and the good questions, which I feel are things, you know, they're life lessons that help me everyday.

I grew up wanting to be a Broadway star, that's what I thought I was going to be. And ever since I was maybe 11 years old or 12, I was in voice lessons and I spent summers, uh, being immersed in musical theater workshops and dance workshops and teaching musical theater. So, that's another part of my background that was really formative for developing discipline.

So, sometimes people ask me, you know, "What do you do when you're not motivated to, like, work on saving the seas?" And I always say, “It's not about motivation, sometimes it's about discipline,” right? So, it's, like, getting up and putting in the work, whether you feel inspired or not, which I think being both an English major and a theater, um, actor taught [me].

So, my dad was an environmental lawyer. He actually started environmental law in the Philippines. So, even since I was young, I was really exposed to a lot of environmental issues, not just fishing, you know, not just, like, illegal fishing issues or marine conservation issues, but even, like, reforestation projects and illegal logging and different kinds of environmental injustices. So, I always joke that my environmental law degree came from the dinner table because our everyday conversations with my family would be about politics and environmental laws and issues like current events.

So, it's always been there, and I actually deliberately did not want to pursue environmental law. Because.

I, didn't want people to think that I was just where I was because of my last name or because of my connections.

So, I really resisted it and I think even when Save Philippine Seas already started, I was still very hesitant to think that it would be my, my path, my chosen career.

In 2016, I participated in an exchange program, um, in the U.S. and it was on oceans. And I was selected as a mentor or a facilitator for a youth program, and I enjoyed it so much. Um, so it was a, some Southeast Asian and East Asian students and I would be their mentor, not just to teach them about the oceans and answer all their questions about the sea, but also help them adjust to culture shock in, in the US. So, a lot of the students that were there had never been outside of their hometowns, so obviously there's some culture shock.

And I remember one of my Filipino students, when we ate spaghetti for the first time -- so, for context, in the Philippines, spaghetti is very sweet, like, there's a lot of sugar and there's a lot of hotdogs, it's very strange, I know it sounds strange, but it's really good --and she was so confused why the spaghetti didn't have hotdogs, and why it was a little bit sour and salty (laughs). So, those are other things that I wasn't really expecting to have to explain, but on a personal level, uh, we got exposed to so many different programs in the US. We got to travel to, like, aquariums and speaks with environmental educators, and that really left a big impression on me and.

I still actually continue applying the lessons that I learned during that exchange program to this day.

I actually lived in the U.S. when I was younger. Uh, my dad did his masters in Harvard, so my family lived there for, we lived in, in Cambridge for a year when I was about eight years old. And then I went back in 2004, um, for a creative writing program in, in Pratt Institute in New York. And then I did a fellowship in Duke University, um, after my Masters. So, I had been to the U.S. several times.

Being in the U.S., and specific to the program that I was part, um, under the State Department, one of the, I don't re- I don't remember exactly where we were, but I remember what the topic was about, the speaker was talking about this concept called science cafes, and she said that the point of the science café is to make science more engaging and more approachable.

So, that's left a big impression on me and I, I was asking myself, how do we bring science to, to, closer to, you know, people who are not, you know, studying marine biology or, and, and we decided that (laughs) with another YSEALI alum actually, to create what we call conservation workshops, so communicating for cons- conservation in a brewery, and I think that, that experience was something that planted a seed in my mind to do something like that in the future.

You know, before, pre-pandemic (laughs), we used to travel all the Philippines, holding workshops, um, you know, working with communities closely in a physical, face-to-face setting.

And now we're developing what we call Earthducation kits. So, it's, you know, education for the earth and we're working with teachers, we're working with students, we're working the Department of Education in the Philippines to create these learning kits. So, that's also a, you know, a little seed that was planted in my mind back in 2016.

What I'm thinking about now is. If we can't bring people to the sea, then how do we bring the sea to them?

You know, when you're eight, you don't really have a grasp of how things affect you so much, you know?

You know, coming from a tropical country and suddenly having four seasons, I mean, that is, like, I still, it's still so clear to me the first time I ever saw snow. It's like one of my core memories. Um, but it's also, like, little things like eating TV dinners and, like, doing my own chores, um, and then watching Nickelodeon all day, 'cause we didn't have Nickelodeon in the Philippines back then (laughs). And of course, as an eight year old, these are things that you get super excited about.

It was also hard to learn to speak English the whole time, because in the Philippines, we mix English and Filipino a lot when, in, when we converse, we code switch a lot.

So, I had to train myself to speak in straight English, which, you know, can actually get really tiring.

I feel like I had to grow up quickly.

And I remember there was even a time I started crying because I just felt like, "Oh my god, how can people know, how ca- how, how can people have figured this out?" And, like, you know, I do well in school, but in, like, real life, it - it's hard (laughs).

Um, and then the pace of the education was also different and what I valued in that, in that, um, creative writing space was how much, um, the class put value on, like, poetry and fiction and non-fiction and the creative space, which I felt like, you know, in the Philippines, we are always conditioned that you have to be a lawyer or you have to be a doctor, and because I got good grades, you know, people always assumed that I would go down those paths, and I think that course really influenced me to major in English, much to the, um, disappointment of my parents (laughs). But, you know, it was just another reality that, oh, there are other choices, there are other care- career paths that I can take.

Sometimes you get scared to ask questions because you feel like people will think you're stupid.

So, I remember being in the, like, the laundry room in the school, and I'd never used the washing machine before, so, I remember being there and just standing with my laundry and someone went up to me and was like, "Are you okay?" And I said, "I don't know how to use a washing machine." And she was like, "How can you not know?"

So, so that, I felt like, oh my god, I shouldn't be asking people these things, I'm supposed to know these things.

So, when I had my opportunity to mentor these young students who are going to the U.S. for the first time, I just always reminded them that, "You can ask me anything, um, there are no stupid questions, uh, whatever it is that you're thinking, just let me know. Um, you know, if you're shy to ask it in the group, then you can ask me during the break," you know, things like that.

I don't think I can run out of challenges (laughs). But there are of course, like, the organizational ones, which, you know, if you're running a non-profit, then you're always going to be financially, um, un- unstable I guess because as a non-profit, you kind of have to keep raising funds, and I've been very fortunate to have the US government support our work in the last maybe six, seven years already. Um, so that's been a huge part of being able to sustain our organization and the work that we're doing.

But on another, um, aspect of it, whatever you do to one sea, you do to another. And I think that's why I like the, the US calls it Our Ocean, right, that's the branding that they created because they want to emphasize that it's ours, and whatever you do in one country, you do to another.

And still, it's hard to advocate for the seas when there are bigger or, I guess, more urgent issues like health and, you know, economic, or economic situations. So, it's kind of been pushed a little bit lower compared to other development issues.

When we protect our environment, we also end up protecting our- ourselves. Um, so whether that's clean air or clean water or a clean environment, those are all related to, to the state of our health and the state of our wellbeing and our, and our physical health as well.

In 2021, I think it's particularly, um, challenging because of the pandemic and how it's so hard to advocate for, let's say, you know, reducing plastic pollution when so many of the things now are dependent on it being single use.

I've seen a lot of face shields, you know, being blown into the streets in, in the coastal areas. So, the medical waste is part of it.

But also being on lockdown means there's inception of e-commerce packaging because, like, the plastic is wrapped in another plastic, which is wrapped in a bubble wrap, which is wrapped in a paper bag and which is wrapped in another plastic, so that's another, um, another challenge that we're facing.

A lot of people who are working to protect the oceans also were related to the tourism industry. So, you know, dive operators and diving, um, patrol boats would be around marine protected areas and these, th- they can't run without the income coming from the tourism sector.

I've always been a very, like, internally motivated person, I guess, um, and there are days that I really don't want to work or I don't feel like, like what I'm doing is actually going to result in something. But what motivates me is knowing that, well s- there, there are different ways that I, like, give myself a pep talk. So, on some days, it's like, you have a deadline," (laughs), "you can't miss this deadline. So, for practical reasons you have to get up and work, even if it's just for two hours, just start.

I always have to remind myself, okay, I'm doing this so that I can, you know, work with young people or work with fisher folks or work on shark conservation. So, it's just finding what inspires me or what can motivate me on that day. And sometimes it's not always the same.

If you don't know something, you can't love it. And that kind of approach has made me a big advocate for what we call experiential learning.

So, for example, in our programs, we learn that 90, 80 to 90% of the students that we, that we work with have never been in the water. And for me, that's very strange knowing that we're the second largest archipelago in the world. Why are we so scared of being in the water?

So, in every program that we did pre-pandemic, we would always make time and allocate resources to bring people into the water because it's one thing to watch, you know, documentaries and see photos, but it's completely different when you're there and feel this sense of connection and this kinship with, with the environment.

Growing up, we've always been snorkeling and we've always been, you know, going to beach trips as a family, but going underwater, I was just so blown away by it (laughs). It sounds silly now that I'm talking about it, but I was like, "Oh my god, there's so many fish," (laughs), "there's so many colors underwater."

Um, and I was thinking, oh my god, if I were an artist, I wish I could draw, I could paint and, like, make people see what I'm seeing and make people feel this excitement and this sense of wonder that I'm feeling.

I've done maybe, I would say, let's say over 400 dives, um, in different parts of the Philippines and in some parts of, other parts of the world, and it still brings me so much li- life.

No two dives are ever alike. You know, even if you go to the same spot and you dive on the same day, uh, same time, it's just always gonna be different, and I think that's part of the thrill of it.

So, my story of the chief mermaid, um, we had a volunteer who said, you know, "Why don't we come up with business cards so that people take us seriously?"

This was like, you know, a few months into Save Philippine Seas. And I said, "Oh my god, that's a great idea." And then she said, "Okay, I'll design it, what title do you want?" And I said, "Chief Mermaid," and she said, "You're joking, right?" And I was like, "No, I mean, others have chief executive officers and chief finance officers. Why can't I be the Chief Mermaid?" Anyway, it's just for fun.

So, I printed it on my business card and so I would give it to people and one time I was giving a talk in a- in a university, and someone got my card and it turns out that person was from the government, and then a few days later I got a letter with a letterhead of the, of, you know, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the letter said, you know, Anna Oposa, co-founder and chief mermaid, and I was like, “oh my god, people are taking it seriously.”

And then I tried to, like, rebrand myself and drop the Chief Mermaid.

But then people love it and people still call me Chief Mermaid.


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.

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For past episodes of 22.33, visit ECA’s website at Life. Changing. Stories. | Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.


SEASON 1: PREVIOUS EPISODES

Voices of Exchange Podcast
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Episode 5: Walk with Confidence

DESCRIPTION

This week, we travel to Mumbai, India, where we meet ElsaMarie D’Silva, the founder of Red Dot Foundation, Safecity, a platform that documents sexual harassment and abuse in public spaces. Hear about her journey from the corporate world to award-winning social entrepreneur, the circle of sisterhood, and how she is helping women walk with confidence.

TRANSCRIPT

My name is Elsa, and I am an Exchange Alumni. 

I was really lucky to have been, uh, selected for both these programs, the Fortune, uh, State Department Mentoring Program, as well as the Global Entrepreneurship Summit.

Oh I've, I really consider myself lucky. Uh, both of them were, I would say life changing, especially the Fortune Mentoring Program, because you are mentored by some of the most successful women in the world.

And to be in that circle of sisterhood, and I would say leadership, is really, really real forming, not only for yourself as a leader and, and a social entrepreneur, but also as, uh, someone who comes from, um, maybe India to the U.S., you know

I understand the value of the relationship and therefore I pay it forward by also mentoring others and facilitating mentoring relationships with established leaders in India with vulnerable girls.

It's a gift that you cannot measure in the present moment, but in the future, when you look back, you will know how valuable that gift was.

And that's really now, you know, when I look back on my Fortune experience, I really really know the importance and the value of it.

I believe I've always had that passion to positively impact other people and have them explore their potential. But the current work that I do with Red Dot Foundation actually began in December, 2012. At the time I was in the aviation sector, I was heading a department called Network Planning where I was optimizing over 500 daily flights. And then in the middle of December 2012, we had a horrific incident where a young girl was gang raped on a bus in Delhi and subsequently died of her injuries. And that incident was so brutal and horrific, it opened up a lot of conversations around the topic of sexual and gender-based violence.

Now I was in my bubble in aviation, but this also, you know, got me really upset. And I felt I was at a moment in my life looking for my purpose, but I wanted to contribute in a very concrete manner.

And this incident was a catalyst for me launching SafeCity. What is SafeCity? It's a crowd map or crowd sourcing tool where we encourage people to report their experiences of sexual and gender-based violence anonymously. And this is then collated as location-based trends visualized on a map as hotspots. And the aim is to make the issue more visible because until that incident that happened with Jyoti Singh, I don't recall reporting my own experiences of sexual violence.

In fact, all my women friends had experienced it, but none of us had made any official complaint, which meant that this issue was invisible due to the lack of data. The official statistics do not reflect the true nature and size of the problem. And what we were trying to do with SafeCity is make it more visible by bridging the data gap, putting it in a format that people could understand what was happening, where, and also make the data available in the open source format so that you can use it in whatever way you wanted to use it at the individual level to improve your situation awareness. Or engage with your community to find solutions with you. Or even to demand accountability from service providers like the police, the municipal corporation, or your administration on college campuses.

And it's not very different from the various apps we use in our day-to-day life. You know, we are now in a space and technology where we are, every decision we make is made, uh, using peer reviews.

We depend on what other people are sharing about their experiences regarding a hotel or restaurant, so why can't we learn from each other's experiences on sexual and gender-based violence?

We can definitely learn from it. We can make ourselves situationally aware so that we respond quicker, faster, better, uh, more effectively.

You see what happens is when a woman is confronted in these circumstances, you tend to freeze because there are three responses. You can freeze, you can flee, you can fight back, but we freeze. And then we beat ourselves up emotionally saying that was not an adequate response.

So if you had advanced intelligence to say, "Okay, on this street corner, this is what I can expect. Or if I'm taking the train, this route has this, uh, kind of a problem." You can have many strategies to respond, and you're aware. Also the perpetrators looking to catch you when you're not aware, or, you know, they'll prey on the vulnerable, so to speak. But if you knew you will walk with confidence, at least that's my hope. And you will respond even co- even more confidently, which will, uh, intimidate the perpetrator.

And then take the community, for example. If you went and told your story, again, the onus comes back to you saying you were in the wrong place, you were wearing the wrong clothing, who told you to go out? Et cetera. But if you can prove that it was happening over and over again, in that same location, the pattern is appearing through the data.

You can then ask questions of your community as to why they're okay with this kind of behavior and, uh, and demand for them to have your back. And that's very powerful. And the solutions that we have seen range from not only policing, but also where do you place the CCTV cameras? Because in my city, everybody loves putting CCTV cameras. So you can have a say how you know, where those CCTV cameras are placed, but you can also use art on walls to challenge, uh, these cultural norms that, uh, promote harmful gender stereotypes, and so on and so forth. And then institutional accountability. We have seen that you don't need big data. You need relevant disaggregated data to convince the authorities to implement better policies and procedures. So whether it is increased, beep patrolling, or change of beep patrol timings, fixing broken lights, fixing broken toilets, all these contribute towards the feeling of being unsafe.

So 2012 was a landmark year for me. So the company that I was working with underwent a financial downturn and eventually shut. Of course, as head of network planning, I was working on recovery plans and we were in talks with, uh, another airline to, uh, you know, buy us off, et cetera. But I thought to myself that if I wanted to make that change, or if I wanted to pay it forward, this was my moment. It, it was never gonna come again. And if it didn't work out, I could always go back to a corporate job. But if I didn't make that decision now, you know, at that time, I didn't think I would have had the courage to make it in the future.

Now I come from aviation and at one point in my career, I was a safety instructor. So aviation is a very safe industry in the sense there's a lot of investment in situational awareness and emergency preparedness

And you go through all these drills annually all the time thinking about all the various situations that could go wrong, right? And we study accidents and we study in a way th- I'm just applying what I learned in aviation to this particular topic.

So when now my team explains this to the partner organizations in the communities that we work in, it makes a lot of sense to them because they know intuitively that this is happening on a daily basis, but without the data, you cannot give it, you know, that touch and feel to it. And you have to convince the men and boys around you to say that this is a problem. That they may never have been challenged before. They may never have been spoken to about it before, because a lot of the men interestingly say that, "Oh, we never thought it was a problem."

Every city has its own dynamic and knowing what will happen where, it's very important because the kind of crime that we are seeing surface on our data, uh, on our mapping Delhi is very different from Bombay, is very different from Kerala, for example, or Goa. And just knowing what is ahead of you is, is really important in your own, uh, plan of action for your own safety.

But basically there's very poor understanding of the spectrum of abuse. What constitutes sexual violence. What is the legislation? Many men don't even realize, and many women too, that it is a crime in India for every category of nonverbal, verbal, physical forms of abuse, it is a crime.

So knowing your rights is absolutely critical and we shouldn't be waiting for something to happen to us to then find out what is the law and what are our rights.

And that data is absolutely, uh, critical as well, because it allows you to think of innovative options, non-confrontational options, or it helps you build dialogue  within your community and between your community and institutional service providers.

Once we get a sizable amount in any community -- 100 reports, 500 reports, we help analyze those reports and present the findings back to the community and then ask them, what do they wanna do to solve the issue.

One of my favorite examples is in Delhi, in, uh, in an urban village, low-income community, one of the hotspots was near a tea stall. And if you've been to India, you know, the tea stall is a kiosk on the side of the road, which is a male-only space. You'll never find women hanging around over there drinking tea. Now, the way it was located, women and girls had to pass by on the way to school, college, work, and men would loiter over there, stare at them and intimidate them with their constant mail gigs. And when asked, what would they like to change? They said, "We want the staring and the loitering to stop."

Now, how do you challenge this kind of behavior? So we organized an art-based workshop and on the wall near the tea stall, a huge wall, we painted a mural with staring eyes and subtle messaging that says, "Look with your heart, not with your eyes. We won't be intimidated by your gaze. We will speak up. We will not stay silent." All of this is through the wall. Okay. We call it talking walls now. And this was so effective that the staring actually stopped and the loitering also stopped, because the tea stall owner was now put on notice and he would, you know, send the men away. Now, this wall mural idea was so powerful that we used it in other places...

...outside of girls college in Bombay, we, um, got them to paint their feelings on the wall. And I remember during that time, men would stop to see what we were doing, a bunch of women painting the wall. And these girls decided that in between these panels, they would put the sections of the law that make all of this crime, whether it's staring, taking pictures without permission. The men said, "Thank you, because we ourselves didn't know it was a crime."

And they became advocates to, uh, educate their own communities, their peer groups on, uh, you know, why they shouldn't indulge in this behavior. So you see the ripple effect where one innovation then goes to another and to another, and you're constantly learning what has worked in some community or not, or the other.

We have to talk about female, female leadership, because there's just not enough of it. Take for example, Kamala Harris, when she was elected as vice president, the whole world was celebrating. Why? Why is that? Because we felt we had broken that glass ceiling along with her. If you take India, we have 14% of women in parliament. 14%. That's a miserable amount. If you take business leadership, also it's pathetic. It's nothing like 33%.

We need to make the effort to make women more visible. Men need to make space for them. And I'm tired of this tokenism where people want to tick boxes. There has to be an effort made.

They'll never have the experience unless you give them that space. So when I look at my own leadership journey, I've been very fortunate that my male bosses gave me that opportunity to excel.

And at very, at a very early age, I got all my promotions and that's because there were men who believed in me, who trusted me. Even if then I didn't believe in myself. So there are people out there, we just need more of them and we need them to feel comfortable, you know, getting more women into that top job.

So yes, women's leadership is absolutely critical.

It's not that all women will be great leaders or that they will always do the right thing for gender equality. But at the moment, we do not have as many reference points to say what female leadership does look like.

You know, we don't have that problem with men, right? So when one man as a leader fails, we say, "Okay, he was a bad person," but when one woman leader fails, because we are so few in number, they put the whole onus on the gender saying, "Oh, you know, the entire, a lot of them are bad." If you look at how countries have fared during COVID, by and large, the countries that have done well have mainly had women leaders, or the cities that have done well. So there is a point to be made for female leadership and we just have to put in more of an effort and it has to be top down driven.

Ever since I started with SafeCity, I do have to say that the U.S. Consulate Mumbai has been one of my biggest supporters. And then I have personally benefited from the two State Department exchange programs. I do not feel like that relationship has ever ended. It's a continuous one. It's one for life. And I have used it for the benefit of my organization, but more importantly for the benefit of my cause, which is advancing gender equality and prevention of sexual and gender based violence.

So I'm deeply grateful and humbled as well for having been, uh, selected for these programs. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I re- highly recommend it to everyone out there, and I'm deeply, deeply grateful for

The U.S. Consulate, uh, Mumbai who have always supported my work, always, uh, helped me think through solutions, uh, and, you know, seeing the potential in what we were doing even before we realized that.

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Episode 4: From Bullets to Books

DESCRIPTION

In the latest episode of Voices of Exchange, we sit down with Jok Abraham Thon, founder and director of Promised Land Secondary School in South Sudan, to hear how he is advancing peace and resiliency in the region. Jok's story is connected to our last episode, featuring U.S. Arts Envoy Gail Prensky, who documented Jok's fight to save the soul of his country, one book at a time.

TRANSCRIPT

Today we meet with Jok Abraham Thon, founder and director of Promised Land Secondary School In South Sudan. That name might sound familiar, as Jok works closely with our previous guest, documentary filmmaker Gail Prensky. If you missed that episode be sure to go check it out. On this episode, Jok takes us on a journey of how he is fighting to save the soul of his country, and with it, the world.

Jok Abraham Thon

My name is Jok Abraham Thon. I'm the founder of Promised Land Secondary School. I'm passionate about education and changing minds from Bullets to Books. Trying to invest my time and my talent to really fight for it. One of the world's challenging, um, situation that is gun violence. So my life has really changed when I joined, uh, Mandela Washington Fellowship family. I learned a lot, uh, through the fellowship program and I also got connections. I built a very great network that is really helping me and helping, uh, the young people in South Sudan.

South Sudan, uh, is actually one of the countries that went through a long struggle. You know it all began 1955 before even Sudan independence. Uh, because the- the southerners were not, uh, part of the- of the independence of the Sudan, uh, during the British time. there were no schools in the whole, in the- in the- in the southern part of the country. They were no hospitals, they were no roads, you know. So they- they were really marginalized. They were second class citizens in their own country.

So we fled to Uganda and we began as refugees. Life was really hard and we were in a camp. I even lost my younger brother to malaria. The- they were no schools. You know, life was really hard, you know. So, as we were growing up, the war also continued in South Sudan. They killed 2.5 million people, you know. And that was the longest war in Africa. So when I came back to South Sudan in... When I came back to South Sudan after completing my high school, I joined [the] University of Juba where I studied economics.

When I came back to South Sudan, after completing my high school, I understood there was issues to do with illiteracy in my country, because the longest war affected our people, 75% of the population cannot read or write .But the biggest call was when the conflict broke out in 2013, between the vice-president and the president. And the, the, the war just erupted abruptly, because there were illiterate young people who were ready to fight and die for their uncles or for their tribemates.

So 2015, I went to the authorities, local authorities. And I told them, I have an idea of opening a school because the conflict of 2013, uh, really affected so many people. And a lot of people are displaced. Some kids were brought back from neighboring countries because their parents were not able to afford to pay their school fees in Uganda. So there were a lot of young people around me and in the place I stayed, many young people joined criminal groups. So they became, they became criminals. They became addicted to drugs. And I was really scared. And with the energy I had from Uganda, and so being somebody who grew up in such a very hard environment, so I decided to have courage to open a school.

So I went to authorities, the local authorities, and I told them, "Hey, I need to open a school. Can you help get a land for me?" And they said, "Okay, sure." Because we did not get young people are really interested in such bigger dreams. So, and they showed me the place. So I went and put down a temporary structure because I was not financially up, I wasn't financially okay. So I put on a temporary structure and I talked to my colleagues, teachers who were with me [inaudible 00:30:17] of Juba, and we started the school. In 2016, I made an announcement in the church that if your child is interested to come to school, then you can come and register. And that's how we started.

And in 2018, our school became the best in the country national examination with two best, uh, students, one overall, and one best female in the country.

So Bullets to Books is a, is really a big campaign to let the young people come back to their senses that the progress of Africa and, and the progress of each and everything that we need to see in Africa or across the world is in their hands. So Bullets to Books is also one of the biggest campaigns I'm dreaming to really inspire our leaders across the world so that they can put policies that can guide gun violence, to put policies that can end, uh, issues to do with guns. So I believe this campaign with the help of, uh, the U.S. Department of State will be able to reach far and reach more people across the world so that we bring down the issues of those guns, issues of killing children in the schools is really very sad. We need to put this to an end.

People see me like a threat because, uh- because the young people are able to come together through the Bullets to Books project. It is a- it is a uniting, uh, platform for the young people. It is a campaign that is aiming at young people to drop their guns and invest their energy and time in agriculture, in entrepreneurship, in demanding their right, in demanding their... Uh, the democracy in the country, so and connecting them to the young people across the world so that we have a joint force.


So what keeps me going, uh, is the school and, uh, you know, Promised Land Secondary School has been, uh, providing, uh, education, quality education to the conflict affected children. And, uh, we have graduated a lot of, uh, students. So far now, this year, we are going to have a total of 400 graduates, and 300, uh, candidates already in the university. We have one student now who is in the US and this year we, we brought 86, uh, IDP, uh, IDPs, uh, children who are victims of floods to come and have free education in our school. So our school is the center of our message of Bullets to Books. So one is you need to understand, Bullets to Books, you come to our school and you see the diversity of the students from across the country who are learning the same ground. We are trying to change their minds so that they become, uh, uh, global ambassadors of peace, as well as their countries and communities. So what keeps us going is the courage we, the passion we have in edu- in education and our smaller school that is in operation.

The Bullets to Books and the presence of Gail Prensky through the support of the U.S. Department- Department of the State was able to bring this organization together... To work together. And now young people of South Sudan, they are really working together and they have a united, uh... They have a powerful voice together.

Uh, Bullets to Books is also not targeting only in South Sudan. We're also targeting, um, the global leaders and how they can join the effort to denounce guns and revise the gun policies in the- in- in their countries. Because if you look at the gun, uh, if you look at the military expenses in all the countries across the world, it is one of the- it is one of the main- it one of the highest funded ministries. Like the Ministry of Defense is one of the highest funded ministries because of the guns, you see than health. Government is supposed to invest their money in health, education and infrastructure but not guns. So the Bullets to Books is aiming at- aiming at- aiming at getting the young... Getting the world leaders invest in education, health, infrastructure but not guns.

And, uh, with the networks that I have from the Mandela Washington Fellowship, I get a lot of inspiration each day, uh, that gave me a lot of energy, a lot of courage and knowledge to face all the challenges I'm having. And the biggest challenge I have, uh, Bullets to Books is an initiative that needs to be had. And, uh, if we have support, we'll be able to reach more people, uh, across the South Sudan and across the world, we'll be able to talk to people who are really, um, not taking human life as valuable, but consider that we, human beings are equal, including children's. And, uh, if this campaign is taken serious of, and then I think more people will be safe and our world will be safer than before.

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Episode 3: Jumping Out of the Water

DESCRIPTION

What happens when you’re an artist living in a tyrannical state: do you risk your life to fight tyranny, or do you escape your country because your gifts are valuable to the entire world?

Join us as we meet Gail Prensky, a U.S. arts envoy exchange alumna and documentary filmmaker, who is working to shed light on the plight of artists living under continued oppression. Hoping to advance peace and unity across the world, Gail and her team are currently working with a Mandela Washington Fellow alumnus to shift the focus from bullets to books in South Sudan. This is the story of “Bullets to Books,” and Gail’s journey as a storyteller and envoy.

TRANSCRIPT

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 episode

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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.

TRANSCRIPT

This week, Exchange Alumna Maria Krasinski tells us how she took the leap from working in Chicago in international education to volunteering with the Peace Corps in Georgia. We explore how her international exchange experiences were the key to carving her own path as a professional artist.

Maria Krasinski

My name is Maria Krasinski. I'm an artist and an illustrator. I'm also a freelance consultant on different nonprofit projects, mostly related to civic engagement, youth and different social sector issues. Currently I am in Buffalo, New York, my hometown, but I also spend a lot of time in New York City where a lot of my creative work is based.

When I went to the Peace Corps, it, I was mid-career. I was the vice-president of a, a nonprofit called world Chicago, which was actually a partner of the state department in ECA implementing exchange programs. And I loved it. It was probably my dream job that brought together my academic background in international relations and policy with my personal passions and interests for travel and cultural exchange and language learning. And I had been there for about five years and had kind of moved through all of our different programs, met hundreds of just super interesting, smart, driven people from all around the world. World Chicago is one of the largest local organizations that works with the state department on these programs. So we would have upwards of a thousand visitors every year from a hundred or more different countries. And so just being in Chicago, being able to meet all these folks from all around the world, just right in, in my town, which was pretty amazing.

But I think like, like everything, you, when you reach a goal, then you, you start to push your goals a little bit more and think what's next, what's next. And, you know, I sort of reached a point where I was thinking about what was next and actually got pretty inspired by a lot of the delegates who, who came to Chicago on these programs. And I was working a lot with different entrepreneurs at the time, and just seeing how they were just kind of leaving that safety net, that security and just striking out on their own. I was thinking about like, what might I do in that space?

And in a chance occurrence, I was speaking on an international careers panel with the diplomat and residents for the Midwest. I'm from the state department, some folks from the Peace Corps and then me and the Peace Corps representative talked about the two-year program, but also the Peace Corps response program, which I was not familiar with. And it is a shorter stint. It's not the full two years that you might think of. And it is geared more towards mid-career professionals who have some significant experience or volunteers who have already gone through the two-year experience. And it definitely piqued my interest. And so I went home and I looked it up and I shot off an application. And then a few months later got the call and it just seemed like the perfect alignment of still continuing to work in an international development exchange space, getting some on the ground experience abroad and kind of getting to live the life that I had been working with in Chicago with all the delegates coming there, but on the flip side.

An unexpected thing happened while I was in the Peace Corps and it completely changed my trajectory for what would happen after the Peace Corps.

So a friend of mine, Laurie came to visit me in Tbilisi a few months into my service. And she and I have been friends since we were nine years old. We, we lost contact for a little while. We went to different high schools and colleges, but then through the magic of social media, we reconnected as young adults and realized we were still really similar and had had a similar trajectory. I ended up in Chicago, she was in New York and Philly. And, you know, since then we have traveled a lot together. She's an art curator, I'm an arts writer has worked with different artists. So I was in creative fields in museums and exchanges. And so we had these really complimentary experiences and probably at least once a year, we would take a trip together somewhere in the world and go traveling and exploring because we had a similar interest, but also a similar way of moving through the world.

Again, like I'm, I'm sort of this observer and I just like to wander around and don't have an agenda, don't have a map, just kind of see what you might discover wandering through a city or a small town. And so when she came to visit me into Tbilisi, we were just chatting one night and I was sort of telling her about life in Georgia and its slower pace of life. And with that new-found free time, I, I had started drawing and painting more, again, something I had neglected for some time just being always busy at work.

And she says, What! I have no idea you drew!

And I was like, we have literally been friends for like 30 years, how did you not know that?

And I started showing her some of my sketches of Tbilisi just around my neighborhood, just again, from taking these meandering walks and just discovering the little nooks, not the big things you see on postcards and National Geographic, but here is this really cool raw iron gate design, or here's like this funny street that is winding and twisty, just the little things that kind of jumped out at me.

And she had this, this moment of being like, Oh, I've been looking for an illustrator for this book idea that I have, and this is exactly the style that I want for the book.

I actually started drawing the book in Tbilisi. I would be at my Peace Corps site. We do our projects and at night I would come home and start sketches and their process continued for a few more months after Peace Corps. I was, I was still traveling different parts of the world, drawing New York City streets while I was in Paris or Guatemala or some other location that was not New York. And in a way it was sort of, Lori's writing is very, it's fun, it's accessible and the best way, and it's, it's not dense art history sort of texts. It's really engaging and really paints a picture. And for me not being physically in New York for the production of most of this book, it, it helped me channel that that excitement to, of, of sitting in front of, you know, this, this building where, you know, Marc Chagall used to live.

And that was the same idea I would have in Tbilisi. You know, the more I learned about the history and the incredible writers and artists who are all around that city, and I got to wander through the Writers’ House of Georgia, you know, where all these storied authors and, and, you know, luminaries of the past lived, and this is beautiful Art Nouveau building. And just physically being in the spaces where, or these people were just gets you excited. And so that definitely got channeled into the production of the book before even being in New York.

this book would not have happened were I not living abroad for a multitude of reasons. One, I just, at that point in my life was not making space for, for art in any real way. I did creative projects here and there, or would help friends with things, but I just didn't make time for it. And it was kind of this neglected passion that I always, Oh, when I have more time, I'll, I'll paint again. When I have more time, I'll do this again. And, and being in a completely foreign environment that, you know, from the language to the food, to the people, everything was new. And that really opened my eyes again.

When I think back and reflect on where I started, even as a kid, I was this really shy, introverted kid who was scared to talk to anybody, even my own classmates to, to now, you know, having lived in, traveled to, you know, dozens of and, and had these very expansive experiences. It's sometimes I, I think about what, what advice, or what would I tell younger me, you know, kind of like, hang in there, it's going to be, be better. But, the thing that I come back to is, is opportunity.

There are several inflection points I can identify growing up that kind of led to where I am now. And they all centered around me saying yes to something that terrified me. And even as a kid going on this exchange program, when I was 15 with a school that was not my own, it wasn't even my own school. I was going with a bunch of strangers from the US to go be with a bunch of strangers in France. And I was terrified, but there was something in me that was like, you have to do this even at that age. And, and I think it was very much tied to my artistic interests because of course, France: Paris, Monet, Van Gogh, like this was the place to be. And so that, that love that passion, those interests that I had really, it was sort of overridden my shyness and extroversion and by saying yes to that, and then having a fantastic experience there, when I, you know, I came back to the States, then it was like, Oh, well, college is coming.

I think I'm going to leave my hometown. Okay. That's terrifying. That's scary. Just say yes.

And then I ended up in Chicago and then from there just the, that ability to look at a seemingly scary situation or an unknown situation and, and be able to, to find the benefit in it or the, the less scary parts. It's a huge takeaway for me from, from these types of exchanges, whether from a, a high school cultural exchange to an ECA, very structured program. And so I would absolutely recommend and advise anyone considering that, to really think about all the ways you don't even know what will benefit you going into it.

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Episode 1: More Alike Than Different

DESCRIPTION

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.

TRANSCRIPT

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.

Anna Landre:
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.

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