22.33 is an audio podcast produced by the Collaboratory in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).

The podcast features first-person narratives in anecdote form from people who have been involved in an ECA exchange program. The first season launched January 2019.

Each week, 22.33 delivers stories of people finding their way in new surroundings. With a combination of travel tales, innovation, empathy, and even survival at times, the 22.33 podcast delivers unforgettable first-person stories from people whose lives were changed by international exchange.

New episodes are released every Friday, along with regular bonus episodes. You can listen to 22.33 right here on our website or you can subscribe using any one of these podcasting apps: iTunes, Spotify, Google, Anchor, Breaker, Castbox, Overcast, Pocket Casts, PodBean, RadioPublic, Soundcloud, TuneIn, Stitcher, & Himalaya

Latest Episode

Though she grew up in New York City, Amanda Trabulsi never actually felt like she fit in until she landed in Kyrgyzstan, a faraway place that she knew little about.  But then, as she looked like the locals, learned the local language, and taught local pop stars, she learned just how American she had been all along. Amanda visited the Kyrgyz Republic as part of the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant program. More information on Fulbright ETA can be found at https://us.fulbrightonline.org/about/types-of-awards/english-teaching-assistant-awards.

Season 01, Episode 11 - Pop Stars and Marriage Proposals with Amanda Trabulsi


Chris: Imagine that growing up you always felt a little out of place in your own country, and then as a young adult you move to an obscure country half way across the world, let's say the Kyrgyz Republic and instead of feeling like a foreigner, you actually fit in like you've been there all your life. How can this be? You're listening 22.33, a podcast of exchange stories.

Amanda: I memorized a lot of saying in Kyrgyz and that always got brownie points, especially from the older generation. One that's like my favorite that most Kyrgyz people don't actually know is [Kyrgyz language 00:00:39] which you say after you have a meal, especially if someone prepared it for you. That has gotten me like marriage proposals. You have no idea how many marriage proposals I've received and either they're serious or not serious, it's just from that expression.

Chris: This week, marriage proposals galore, hanging out with Kyrgyz pop stars, and learning to keep one's voice down. Join us on a journey from New York City to Bishkek and Osh, and learning you are an American after all. 

It's 22.33.

Intro Clip 1: We report what happens in the United States, warts and all.
Intro Clip 2: These exchanges shaped who I am.
Intro Clip 3: When you get to know these people, they're not quite like you. You read about them. They are people very much like ourselves and ...
Intro Clip 4: (music)

Amanda: My name is Amanda Trabulsi I'm from New York City. I participated in the Fulbright Student Program from 2016 to 2017 in the Kyrgyz Republic. I was based in Bishkek, but also spent some time in Osh. Now, I am a project assistant at the National Democratic Institute in Washington D.C., working for the Asia Regional Team.

The first story that I wanted to share is basically about the diversity of Central Asia and how the region has been influenced by so many different cultures since they've been under the rule of Mongols, the Persians, the Soviets, and how that all kind of ties into the culture today. As a mixed person myself, my mom is Korean and my father is Arab, it was very comfortable for me to adjust right away in Central Asia. This was actually the first time in my life where people actually kind of assumed that I was local. I thought that was a really cool feeling, 'cause every time I would visit my parents' families in South Korea or in Saudi Arabia, it was always like, "You look kind of different. You're not one of us." They would never say that, but it always kind of felt like I wasn't really fully part of the culture. Whereas in Kyrgyzstan, I always felt like I was part of it and that was really special.

I really tried my best to make friends with local people, just to integrate myself into the culture and I felt like I was a chameleon the whole time. I was able to blend in. I would buy local clothing, I would try to just not stand out too much. I could feel myself kind of almost losing an identity almost. It was nice to be able to adapt to different cultures and not have this barrier up all the time.

When I was living in Osh, which the majority of people living in Osh are Kyrgyz, but there's also a very big Uzbek population that lives there. I would go to the bazaars and bargain in Kyrgyz, because my Russian is good, but in Osh people speak Kyrgyz much more or Uzbek. One of the vendors was Uzbek and he was confused why I was bargaining in Kyrgyz, because I look Uzbek. I don't look Kyrgyz. It was this whole ... there was just so much drama. All these people like coming all of a sudden being like, "What? You're not Uzbek?" I just thought that was really funny. No matter where I went people kind of just assumed I was like them. I don't know. I thought that was very special.

People would always be surprised to find out I was American and it was usually always positive reaction whenever they found out I was American. Rarely did I ever encounter negative instances.

Maybe this experience did kind of solidify and I guess confirm what I had questioned before about my own identity. I knew that I was always kind of unsure as to how to identify and I felt more comfortable saying I was American in Kyrgyzstan. I guess in the U.S., growing up, especially where I did, I grew up in New York City, but I grew up in the Upper East Side specifically, and I had gone to a school that was pretty homogenous. It was a private school and I was one of the few people of color in my class. I felt like people didn't really see me as an American. I thought I saw myself as a different kind of American, but whereas when I went to Kyrgyzstan it kind of confirmed my doubts in myself and of course I'm an American. I'm here through an American program and everything about the way I think is American.

One big that I was kind of surprised about in my experience there was how popular I got just by being American, but not a white American. I guess because based on Hollywood films people are just used to seeing only people with blonde hair and blue eyes. When I would open my mouth and speak as a native English speaker, it would always just surprised them. "Wow, she kind of looks like us, but she's American. That's so cool. Maybe we can be American one day." It was nice to be able to kind of represent other people from the States. I think because of that, I became very popular.

I gained a lot of followers on Instagram while I was there, because I would run these talking clubs every week, it was open to the public. It didn't matter how old you were or if you were a student. It was at the local library called [Kyrgyz language 00:07:33] in Bishkek. Every single session we got new listeners. Each time they would come up to us, me and David, David Dry was the other Fulbright scholar. They would ask us all these questions about our personal lives and it was just interesting to get so much attention, because no one was really interested in my life before.

Then suddenly in Kyrgyzstan I was featured on different news outlets. I was written about by [Kyrgyz language 00:08:01], and 24.kg, all these big news sites. They're kind of the equivalent of Buzzfeed for Kyrgyzstan, so each time a new article was published, I'd just like get another 200 followers. Right now, I think I have close to 2,000 followers on Instagram and the majority of them are from Kyrgyzstan.

I had one talking club, this one guy Mider, at the end of the talking club, he came up to me and David and asked if he could get more practice besides just through the talking club, because sometimes you'd have talking clubs with 120 people. Obviously we couldn't give everyone our attention, so I talked to him one-on-one afterwards a little bit, and I was asking him like, what does he do, and he said he's a singer. I was like, "Okay, I mean, I like to sing too. What do you sing?" It turns out he's actually a famous Kyrgyz pop star. I didn't believe him until he showed me his Instagram page and he had like 250 thousand followers, all my students were already following him. I had never heard of him before, but as soon as I became friends with him he started introducing me to all his friends and they're all famous. Suddenly, I'm friends with all these famous people in Kyrgyzstan, like most Kyrgyz pop stars.

Amanda: (singing)

Amanda: I definitely was forced out of my comfort zone many times. The biggest one that I can remember that has stuck with me is when I went to a wedding in Jalal-Abad, which is in the south. It was the wedding of a student of a fellow Fulbrighter who was based in Jalal-Abad and he invited all the Fulbright teachers of that year to attend the wedding. It was the best wedding I've ever attended. It was a full day and a half. It started at 6:00 a.m., I got ready with the bride's family and the men got ready with the groom's family. Everything was so chaotic, but also really entertaining for someone who's never been to a Kyrgyz wedding before. They really wanted me to make a speech, so I had the whole day to kind of prepare for it, but they wanted me to do it in Kyrgyz. While my Russian is good, my Kyrgyz was still kind of, I'm still at like the beginner's low-intermediate level, but I knew that this would be the most fulfilling and rewarding challenge if I actually got to do it.

Amanda: (singing)

Amanda: I kept messing up throughout the day. I couldn't even focus on what was happening, because I just wanted to perfect this speech in perfect Kyrgyz. It was such a challenge, but it was so worth it because the words in the speech could be used for almost all toasts. After I did it, and it was on camera and everything in front of like a thousand guests or something crazy like that. I could still use the same words in that speech for anything else, parties after that, and during New Year's I used the same one and everyone was just so shocked. They're like, "How does she knows such words? I don't even know that," because a lot of Kyrgyz people don't speak Kyrgyz, a lot of them, especially the ones from Bishkek only know Russian. I felt like that was a really great challenge for me and I overcame it and I still remember it.

Chris: Do you remember some of it? Do you want to say some of it?

Amanda: Yeah. [Kyrgyz language 00:12:33] It's like one of the things you can say at the end. That is the one I remember. I also memorized a lot of sayings.

Chris: How does it translate?

Amanda: It's like, "I wish you success, good health, and happiness in your wedded life," or whatever.

Amanda: (singing)

Amanda: I remember thinking that a lot when I was roaming around bazaars and just pretending like I've been doing it my whole life, and I felt like really cool just being able to bargain in the native language of Kyrgyz people, in Kyrgyz. It was definitely one of the most important goals I wanted to achieve in the beginning, just because I felt like that could really connect me to the culture more. I remember my parents visited me and I felt so proud being able to take them around and buy whatever they needed without any problems in communication. I feel like I sound like I'm showing off, but it was all genuine, I swear. Amanda:  Just like being able to point different directions to people who didn't know the city well from the country, people from Osh coming to Bishkek not knowing where to go, and I felt like a real local, just being able to point out the direction. Yeah, there were times where I was like, "I wish my friends at home could see me right now. They probably would have never imagined me here.

Definitely, no shoes in the house, even living on my own here in D.C., I still try to do that. That's something that really has stuck with me. Also, my tea consumption has increased. I don't rely on coffee and I don't think I ever did, but I'm definitely more dependent on tea and it makes me feel good and warm inside. I also always give up my seat for elderly people, which especially New York City, I never really thought about that even though it's only human, I'm definitely more conscious and aware of that and ... whenever I'm in the metro I always ... or someone who looks like they really need a seat, I just give it up.

I feel like I'm much more aware of my surroundings and the volume of my voice as well. I never was a loud speaker at restaurants or anything, but once I was in Kyrgyzstan I realized, "Oh my gosh. Americans really are loud." Especially the other Americans I met, I would find myself adapting the local mentality and being like, "Why are they so loud?" I definitely found myself kind of adapting local ... I don't know if mentality's the right word, but habits in thought and in practice.

It was just a really great experience. I would definitely say that my year in Kyrgyzstan was probably one of the best years of my life, but it was long enough for me to realize I want to come back. Kyrgyzstan is a very ... and I guess Central Asia in general is very special to me. I kept wanting to go back and I've been back three times since my Fulbright has ended, but much of that was due to the fact that my studies, I just finished my master's and I was studying Central Asian Civil Society, so I returned for those reasons as well. I definitely see myself returning and finding work there. I would like to work in the field.

I didn't necessarily see something, but I feel it. I feel relaxed and I feel calm, because I think there's something really unique about the mentality of, I guess not just Kyrgyz people, but of Central Asian in general and how people really know how to live in the moment. The pace of life is so different over there. Here, especially in metropolitan areas, I feel like I always have to think about the next step. What am I going to do tomorrow? What am I going to do next week? What I'm going to do next year or five years from now, I have to have a plan laid out. Whereas over there I knew I didn't need to worry about what was going to happen in two minutes. I just was able to really enjoy the moment and I don't know what it is; if it's the air, if it's the food. I don't know.

The people are just ... I just felt very comfortable and that's just how I feel when I think of Kyrgyzstan and I really miss it. I always have this longing to return and share Kyrgyzstani citizens ore about my perspectives and gain more from their experiences and bring that back to the U.S. I would like more people to know about Central Asian and more about the culture, because I think they have so much to offer the world. I wish that there was way to do that.

Chris: 22.33 is produced by the Collaboratory, an initiative within the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, better known as ECA. My name's Christoper Wurst, I'm the director of the Collaboratory. 22.33 is named for Title 22, Chapter 33 of the U.S. code, the statute that created ECA. Our stories come from participants of U.S. government funded international exchange programs.

In this episode, Amanda Trulbasi told us about her time as a Fulbright scholar in the Kyrgyz Republic. For more about Fulbright and other ECA exchange programs, check out eca.state.gov. We also encourage you to subscribe to 22.33 and you can do that wherever you get your podcasts. We'd love to hear from you. You can write to us at ecacollaboratory@state.gov.

Special thanks this week to Amanda for sharing her experiences. I did the interview and edited this episode.

Featured music was "Blue in E Flat" by Red Norvo and his Swing Octet; "Knowing the Truth" by Lee Rosevere; "Blunted Sesh 7" by the Silent Partner; "Cold Feet" by Steve Klink and "Jeraie" by none other than Amanda's pop star pal, Bageesh. Music at the top of each episode is "Sebastian" by How the Night Came and credit music always, is "Two Pianos" by Tagirljus.

Until next time.

Previous Episodes
Season 01, Episode 10 - [Bonus] Learning to Say Love in Bengali

A special Valentine's Day story: When Collin Walsh went to Bangladesh to learn the Bengali language, he had several goals in mind, including securing his future career. But of much greater concern was learning the language and culture enough to secure the woman he loved. Collin traveled abroad as part of the Critical Language Scholarship program; more information on CLS can be found at https://www.clscholarship.org/.

Chris: You're listening to 22.33 a podcast ... Wait, wait. This is a bonus episode. No, not that kind of bonus episode. This is a Valentine's Day ... This is a love episode. There we go. Nice.

You went halfway across the world, let's say to Bangladesh, to learn a difficult language. Let's say Bengali. You have several goals in mind, including securing a future career, but of greater concern is learning the language and culture enough to win over the woman you love.

On this bonus mini episode of 22.33, a nod to Valentine's Day. You're listening to 22.33, a podcast of exchange stories.

Colin: There was this infamous elephant that would walk around the street and this is Dhaka. I think at one point, Dhaka may have been the most densely populated city in the world. Trust me, it is absolutely packed with people everywhere. People, people, people. On a road, you might have bicycles, motorcycles, huge trucks, cars, rickshaws, auto rickshaws. And then there might just be an elephant.

Chris: This week, immersion in Bangla, a surprise visit by your future father in law in how to learn the word love in a new language. Join us on a journey from the United States to Bangladesh for Valentine's Day affirmation that love knows no borders. 

It's 22.33.

Intro Clip 1: We report what happens in the United States warts and all.
Intro Clip 2: These exchanges shape to who I am.
Intro Clip 3: And when you get to know these people, they're not quite like you. You read about them. They are people very much like ourselves.
Intro Clip 4: (Singing) That's what we call cultural exchange. Oh yes.

Colin: My Name is Collin Walsh. I participated in the Critical Language Scholarship program in 2013 that was, at the time, in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

At the time that I studied abroad in India, I was also a law student during my, what they call the two summer year. That's when September 11th and 12th of 2012 happened in Benghazi, Libya. At that time, it was clear to me that I wanted to make a career out of protecting American interests abroad while serving in the foreign service. So I did everything I could to become a diplomatic security special agent, and that's exactly the path that I followed.

Because I already had this overseas experience in India studying law, I wanted to somehow parlay that into a foreign service stepping stone and to me CLS was the ideal option. It was speaking to a foreign language, which I was already interested in from colleagues I had met overseas and it was in a part of the world that I was naturally fascinated with and for me it was something that I knew would bring me to the next level. Sure enough, mind you, that's exactly what happened.

Part of the reason why I gained a love with the Bengali language and culture is because I found the love in a Bengali woman. We met in India. I knew that I wanted to learn the language and make it not only a part of my professional development but also a part of my personal life. To love another is also to love their culture and when you're talking about a Bengali woman, it absolutely means to love her language too.

I would say that I was always a bit conscious due to the fact that every time I opened my mouth people would smile and it's because Bengalis have a love affair with their language. You know, it's said that their war of independence was fought based upon the fact that their language was trying to get stripped away and replaced. Bangla, the language is inescapable. It's everywhere. It's in the culture, it's in the people. The script is written everywhere. It is about as dense as the fog in Delhi is. As a result of that, you're completely absorbed all the time.

However, because people love the language so much, the moment someone who doesn't speak it naturally opens their mouth, it's as if you're just paying people compliments. People would smile and laugh and just walk me through it. And it was a perfect learning environment.

We had met before in India. I was a law student and that's where I met his daughter and that's when we started speaking a little Bengali and learning and I went to visit him in Calcutta. Of course as a friend. I was introduced as a friend, as an American tourist who wants to see the city because it would be way too bold to just come out with that as an Indian woman, as an Indian girl you don't really have those abrupt conversations with your father right away. In our case, it did take a couple of years. Learning Bengali certainly did help and him observing the impromptu with no warning upon my initial arrival to the country certainly helped too.

When I did go to Dhaka with CLS, the answer from the family at that point was not yet yes. May have even been no. However, everybody knew who I was and that I was there and that we were in love with one another.

The first night that we arrived, my now father in law knew that I would be arriving and he showed up at our living quarters and it was midnight and I think that was like literally our first or second night and there was no warning and I think he drove quite a ways to get there because I was being evaluated. I was on his turf now, I was in his country. We of course had met before. However, this was really his chance to catch me off guard to see if is this man a good eligible candidate for my daughter, of course, who he loves very much.

By catching me off guard, I was of course surprised. I of course, invited him in and he wanted you to just see how do Americans do things? Where are the men and the women on different floors? Are they in separate rooms? Does everything look okay? Without being pre scripted, am I going to see any surprises?

He was of course pleasantly surprised by what he observed and speaking to me and seeing where I had come through with the language. So that was probably my greatest surprise. Seeing my now father in law show up at my doorstep at midnight, wanting to not only greet me but also we evaluate me in person. I think I remember it so well because I know that I must have passed the test 'cause now we are happily married.

By the way that kind of meetup happened many times after that. Of course, it was always planned and we spent a lot of time together and practiced Bengali together. So that the two things, the personal meets professional, actually complemented each other quite well because I think I was a better speaker as a result of it.

Chris: 22.33 is produced by the Collaboratory, an initiative within the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, better known as ECA. My name's Christopher Wurst, I'm the Director of the Collaboratory. 22.33 is named for Title 22 Chapter 33 of the U.S. Code, the statute that created ECA. And our stories come from participants of the U.S. Government funded international exchange programs.

This week, Collin Walsh talked about his time as a Critical Languages Scholar or CLS in Bangladesh. For more about CLS and other ECA exchange programs, check out eca.state.gov. We also encourage you to subscribe to 22 33. You can do that wherever you find your podcasts and we'd love to hear from you. You can write to us at ecacollaboratory@state.gov. And also photos of each week's interviewee and complete episode transcripts can be found at our webpage at eca.state.gov/2233.

Special thanks this week to Colin for sharing his personal stories with us. Ana-Maria Sinitean did the interview and I edited this segment.

And let's see if you can pick up on a theme among this episode's featured songs. "Easy to Love" by Lionel Hampton and his Sextet; "The Gentle Art of Love" by Oscar Pettiford and His Orchestra; "Let's Fall in Love" by the Dave Brubeck Trio. "Lovers Serenade" by Ralph Marterie and His Orchestra. And "Our Love Is Here to Stay" by Teddy Wilson. Music at the top of each episode is "Sebastian" by How the Night Came and the end credit music is "Two Pianos" by Tagirljus.

Until next time.

Season 01, Episode 09 - It Starts When It Ends with Seth Glier


Musician Seth Glier traveled to three countries, connecting with foreign artists and audiences, learning to appreciate new cultural traditions, and learning more about his own country in the process. He performs a couple of songs in the Collaboratory's Little Nook studio.This episode also feature the world premiere of a song Seth put together using sounds sampled during his trip.  The Seth Glier Trio visited Mongolia, China, and Ukraine as part of the American Music Abroad program.

More information on AMA can be found at https://amvoices.org/ama. You can also follow ECA's cultural programs division on Twitter at https://twitter.com/CultureAtState.


Chris: We sent you to three countries half-way around the world with different cultures and languages, but you had your guitar, and your music, and an open heart. What the trip reconfirmed to you the most, was your very own lyric, "Love is a language we hold onto."

You're listening to 22.33, a podcast of exchange stories.

Seth: On a long bus trip, I had about three months before going on this trip, I had gotten engaged. I was just kind of getting used to incorporating the word fiancee into my vocabulary. As I'm referring to my fiancee, this Chinese member our delegation turns to me and he goes, "What is this word?" We don't totally have a great grasp on each other's languages. He goes, "What's this word you keep using?" I say, "Well, it's the name of the person I'm getting married to." Then this other Chinese woman from the front seat of the bus turns around, she goes, "Oh my god, you're getting married to Beyonce?" It was just one of these moments where there was laughter on both sides. It took a little while to explain what we were all laughing at collectively.

Let me tune that up.

Chris: This week it starts when it ends. Love knows how to find you and a very special preview of a brand new song recorded over three continents by Seth Glier. Join us in a journey from Massachusetts to Mongolia, and beyond to prove that you don't need words to make connections. It's 22.33.

Intro Clip 1: We report what happens in the United States, warts and all.
Intro Clip 2: These exchanges shaped who I am.
Intro Clip 3: When you get to know these people, they're not quite like you. You read about them, they are people very much like ourselves and ...
Intro Clip 4: (singing)

Seth: My name is Seth Glier. I'm from western Massachusets. I'm a musician and I make my living as a songwriter, traveling across the country. Last year I was lucky enough to participate in an ECA program, American Music Abroad, that sent me to Mongolia, to China, and to the Ukraine.

It was an interesting time for me personally, to be called into foreign service work. I think as a songwriter, I've always been really aware that how you tell a story has the power to change a story. I also knew this was a time that I was heading over there, right after the 2016 election, where there were different perceptions of America that was not the America that I have come to experience and know. I really was focused on going over there with an open heart, and listening, and celebrating. I think that people always connect over two things. They either connect over celebration or over pain, and I wanted to be really conscious that we were connecting over celebration. Music is a great vessel for that.

There's a Chinese proverb, "Music is what happens when people can't speak." It's singing that just kind of happens. I also think that there's something quite biological around what happens when people are in a room sharing a common value and experience it. There's an energy field to that, I personally believe in. You know, for instance, in Mongolia, which was the first place that I went to ... it's amazing. The program I found, the expression I kept saying is that, "It starts when it ends." Right after the workshop that we would do and we'd ask them some questions, they'd ask us some questions. There'd be a shared kind of performance, but once the ritual of that as over, there was real exchange.

It was ... it's hard to codify that from place to place, but it would look something like this kid coming up who's playing a horse head fiddle, which is essentially like a two-string ... you'd play it like a cello. It has two strings, but it sounds almost like a fiddle that you would tune down. It has the ... of a fiddle. He's playing a few notes and he's showing me the tuning of it. Then all of a sudden I'm holding this instrument and he's showing me and he's got my guitar. There was no language. There's no, "Hey, can I play that?" or "Hey can you try this?" Once he said, "It's a D and it's an A." "Okay, well I'm in A minor. All right." There was a language there and I kept stumbling on it. That was the other thing that was interesting for me. I don't think the universality of music as a form of language was a deep ingrained in me until this trip. I now realize this is a really really powerful language as opposed to just a tool.

In China, again it was a pretty large show, about 15 hundred people. It was a pretty bad, as I mentioned, it was a pretty bad time for the economic relations. There was this band that came to the workshop, they were street buskers. They came out and they knew all these incredible traditional songs, some of them were actually Mongolian songs, some of them were Chinese songs. They kind of mixed a handful of different Chinese cultures into very traditional Chinese folk music. We all performed together and that was the encore, just this jam for about 20 minutes. There was language, there was communication. No one could speak a single word to each other, but there was hugs and tears after the show. I mean, it was really wonderful.

Seth: I didn't and maybe this was, for me more personal, but I didn't feel particularly foreign. I think a lot of that had to do with my own upbringing. I was raised in a household with someone with special needs and he was also non-verbal, so there was this whole new culture that I was exposed to on a pretty daily basis of learning how to communicate to him without words. I found that in a kind of beautiful way, the trip I was firing on cylinders in a different way than sometimes life lets you fire. In my case, I think I was more curious and inquisitive than I was intimidated or even feeling indifferent, or different. I don't know. I feel like people are people. There's always ways of getting in.

It was one of the last days of the trips and we were playing this jazz festival. The day before we played this school, again there was a lot of sort of formality. I did a short workshop and then there was this very kind of instructed performance oriented thing where the local students performed. There as this kid who was 14-years old who came up and played classical guitar with his other friend who was a little older than him and it was beautiful. It was a Bach prelude that they were playing. I was so taken, I asked them to basically have 10 minutes of my jazz set during the middle of the show to just be showcased. One of the things that I take away with is at the end of their performance, they're standing with their classical guitars in their hand, there's about three thousand people and the look on their face is just the ultimate joy. It is just the ultimate joy and that was just a ... it's sort of etched in my mind as the stars just kind of aligning in a great way.

I always found that it was the times when the expectation was not there that was the real magic. I think that artists have a unique ability to take the essence of a lot of things and meld them in and put them out as new. When that happens there's a boundary-less-ness. I don't know if that is a word, but there is an expression in that that is without walls. I think more acts of that are courageous and I think the world is good for those kinds of acts of art.

Well, this is a song that I ended up playing a lot overseas, just 'cause it kind of got people up immediately. It's a song that has always kind of anchored me, kind of like a mantra or something. I wrote it about my older brother, growing up with him, but it's one of those songs that kind of kept changing meanings and opening up to something much more universal. This is called, "Love is a Language."

Seth: (singing)

Chris: Awesome.

Seth: Cool.

I think I was connecting with people in really deep way in Ukraine. When I was there I felt like in everything was this metaphor. I mean everything. As a songwriter it was quite rich. This is a civilization that has war, and poverty, and corruption, and in all the cracks of that there is art. There is the most just brilliant forms activists' expression. As a people they have been looking west while their leaders have looked east. I think as an American musician, they were most curious about the value of my expression as a songwriter, in a different way than in China, they might be really interested in learning about the blues, or really interested in a particular guitar riff. There was something, not deeper, but different about Ukraine, where they were really interested in the story that we were telling as people outside of just musicians.

When I found out we were going to Ukraine, I really dove into the history that's there. Walking through Independence Square, years after Independence Square was a war zone, and walking through this Independence Square and people are buying flowers, and people are selling trinkets and Russian dolls. There is such a strength and resilience there that I think was important to remember as I've been ... I was joking earlier this weekend about my wife is someone who, she has a cardboard sign for every oppressed minority in the trunk of her car. That's where we've been putting a lot of our energy in solidarity of others as a white person. To go there and realize that this strength, there are ties that bind us as people. There's strength in democracy. There's strength in community.

In Mongolia, a member of my band is sightless, so one of the focuses that we had a lot on the trip in addition to youth empowerment and female empowerment, is also disability rights and advocating for ... at a lot of these places there's not ramp. It's incredibly inaccessible if you have mobility issues, so using these performances to kind of spotlight some of that. In Mongolia we went to play the Federation for the Blind and at the end of the performance, I had asked, I had done a little bit throat singing, but it wasn't very good. All the people I would throat sing for who are Mongolian, would just kind of laugh and walk the other direction.

Seth: I finally just kind of leaned into it. I asked this individual that was sightless and leading a folk group if he could teach it to me. Through a translator we talked and he agreed. As soon as he agree, he just put both of his hands hard around my neck, pushing deep into my Adam's apple and then telling me what sound to make. There's this ... back and forth and his hands are on my neck so it's like, ... Finally I got what he was trying to say, which was putting my air underneath my diaphragm and I was able to produce the sound. It was like a light bulb going off. Yeah, those kind of exchanges, they're priceless.

Another experience in China, again I think that this kind of comes out of a very formal culture, that it starts when it ends. This one particular night we were in Dongwang and they just have the most incredible noodles in the world. It's a religious experience. We went out and we're having noodles and one of the folks at the State Department, XT, who I became very very close with. He was a Chinese man, works at the Embassy in Beijing and there's just so much thoughtfulness, there's so much heart, and he's so incredibly proud of his country. He shines so much magic that is China. When we were over there, we were right in the start of a crazy trade war, so diplomatically times were very tense and we felt that in the program.

But it was almost like living in this different world, because outside of the news, XT and I are walking around the Yellow River, and telling stories with each other about our belief systems, our dreams, our joys, neither one of us were fathers yet. We were sharing some of what those fears are going to look like and we have completely different cultures, so there were very different answers. It just was amazing to me that even on the other side of the world, there's a thread that ties, so coming back here to realize how easy it is to write someone off because they disagree with you, I've really found that to be unacceptable now as a person interacting with the world. That's hard. It's not easy, but I really believe that there's always love is there.

I want to give you an example how I will use samples from the AMA trip to inspire new song writing ideas. I'm going to start with this sample from Mongolia, which is of a horse head fiddle. I have this on a tape machine, so I'm going to slow down the tape machine as we de-tune it. I'm going to cut this first end of the sample, which I like. I'm going to add a kick drum. That flute sound is something that I sampled from a whistle in Ukraine that will now become the pad. Then I'm going to add these marimba parts, which I sampled at a university in China. They come in here. I had my friend, Kelly play violin. I added some bass and a few other instruments and we got a song.

Seth: (singing)

Though at least the lyric behind it is very much about this walk with XT in China and this just very quiet exchange, trying to write about that feeling.

I had this experience pretty quickly in Mongolia, where take all the, let's say, throat singing. You tell me the difference between what they're doing in Mongolia and what Ralph Stanley is doing with his glottal stops or yodeling in this Swiss Alps. Mountain music is the same every where. Sometimes the geography is more in charge than the human being. In the same way that bluegrass music as we know has the train beat, because that was the sound of it. In Mongolia, the only difference between bluegrass music and the mountain music of Mongolia is it's this more gallop, because it's on horses. It's just a slight change in the rhythm, because of the landscape, but it's literally just bluegrass music tuned down about a fifth.

I felt like, yes, it was always well received, but it was also sort of surprising, because sometimes I would contextualize a song by saying a short story in front, but because that has to be translated the traditional momentum of a show is lost when everything is being defined in those foreign performances. Yeah, there's something much more elusive to what is happening with the audience. Music is doing a lot of the speaking. This song is one that on a number of occasions it kept sort of coming into my life on that trip. I wrote it from a very sort of personal side of losing my brother and wondering what these signs were that I was being greeted by. They were almost like souvenirs of him. I wouldn't say this, but I would just play the song and I remember these two little girls who were just crying in the front row of the audience. There was something, I don't know what that's all about, but boy it's cool. [crosstalk 00:29:31] It was in Lanzhou. Yeah, yeah.

Seth: (singing)

One of the things I understand in China that is something that I've continued to understand is that freedom isn't entirely important thing to the human condition. Growing up in America, there's a huge value, I put a lot of value on my freedom of expression and all of that kind of stuff, but when you're in a society where there isn't a ton of freedom, realizing that the main things ... they just want to be okay. The middle class economy does allow them to be okay, so terminal events aren't that important and just how fragile this whole thing is. That was one of the things I walked away with and I'm still thinking a lot about.

I think I've become a little bit more active in using my music and my platform to speak to issues that are not just about entertainment. I always did that a little bit before, but again realizing the fragility of it, things like loving your neighbor. Things like school shootings in schools. There are a couple of things that when I look at the world, they are uniquely American issues. That's part of what I'm more focused than ever on, trying to tackle and bring light to. Speak truth to power.

There's just a feeling to this and that. There's something ... nothing's quite resolved ... and still ... we're home. There's a journey that's just woven into the fabric of harmony.

Chris: 22.33 is produced by The Collaboratory, an initiative within the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, better known as ECA. My name's Christopher Wurst, I'm the Director of the Collaboratory. 22.33 is named for Title 22, Chapter 33 of the U.S. Code, the statute the created ECA. Our stories come from participants of U.S. government funded international exchange programs.

This week, Seth Glier talked about his experiences as an ECA arts envoy, a cultural program implemented by American Music Abroad. For more about ECA cultural programs and other exchanges, check out eca.state.gov.

We encourage you to subscribe to 22.33. You can do so wherever you find your podcasts and while you're at it, "Hey, leave us a nice review, huh?" Write to us at ECAcollaboratory@state.gov. I should tell you that photos of each weeks' interviewee and complete episode transcripts can be found at our webpage at: eca.state.gov/2233.

Huge very special thanks to Seth Glier for taking the time to come in and talk to us and even play us a few songs live. All of the songs that you heard on this week's episode were by Seth, including instrumental tracks, "I'm Still Looking," "Birds, "Water on Fire," and "Sunshine," which all come from his most recent, and I might add amazing, album "Birds." Seth also performed two songs right here in our little nook. "Love is a Language" and "I'm Still Looking." Finally, we are indebted to him for sharing "Love Knows How to Find You," a song he partially recorded during his exchange. All songs are courtesy of Impress Records and we thank them. For more check out sethglier.com. That's S-E-T-H-G-L-I-E-R dot com.

Music at the top of each episode is "Sebastian" by How The Night Came. The end credit music is "Two Pianos" by Tagirljus.

Until next time.


Season 01, Episode 08 - Call Me Teacher with Will Langford


Will Langford knew that Kenya would be very different than Detroit, but as an African American he never expected to be called a “white man” simply because of his American accent.  His memorable enlightenment about race, wealth, and language led others not only to rethink their idea of America, but to help Will find himself as well. Will visited the Kenya as part of the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant program. More information on Fulbright ETA can be found at https://us.fulbrightonline.org/about/types-of-awards/english-teaching-assistant-awards.


Chris:  As an African American who grew up in Detroit, you understand that it's impossible to fully prepare for your first trip to Africa, but you could not have expected just how different the locals' perceptions of you would be. When you began to see through their eyes, you began to find yourself. You're listening to 22.33, a podcast of exchange stories.

Will:  In my pursuit of learning Swahili, I have never come across people who were more supportive, helpful, and complimentary during that process of learning the language. People would introduce me. They'd say, "This is William." [Swahili 00:00:43] "He knows all of key Swahili." And I'm like, oh my god. Oh my god, don't say that. They were so just proud of me for the effort that I've put in and impressed by the work.

Like everybody was willing to teach me. I can't remember of just thousands and thousands of interactions I've had where anybody ever made me feel bad for the way I was pronouncing something or a mistake that I made. I left meetings where later a buddy was like, "You were talking about cows, and I think you were supposed to be talking about classroom materials. So people were confused, but they appreciated you." And not a look, not a side glance, nothing. Not a whisper in someone's ear. People never did anything that would've made me feel bad about the effort I was making to learn the language.

Chris:  This week, don't call me Mzungu. Call me teacher. Learning from someone because they're not you, and bonding in darkness during a deafening thunderstorm. Join us on a journey from Detroit, Michigan to Nairobi, Kenya to answer the $1 million question.

It's 22.33.

Intro Clip 1:  We report what happens in the United States, warts and all.
Intro Clip 2: These exchanges shaped to who I am.
Intro Clip 3: When you get to know these people, they're not quite like you. You read about them. They are people, very much like ourselves, and...
Intro Clip 4:  [Singing] Oh, that's what we call cultural exchange. Oh, yeaaaah.

Will:  My name is Will Langford. I am a native Detroiter. I'm a poet and a teaching artist. I'm a doctoral student at Michigan State University in the College of Education as well. I served as a Fulbright ETA, English teaching assistant in Kenya.

One of the larger projects that I worked on at my school, Salvation Army Kolanya Girls School, which is in the Western province of Kenya. Very, very close to Uganda. It was a postal exchange, and this postal exchange was set to take place between my high school, here in Detroit, Cass Tech, and my school in Kenya. So the objective here was to give both our Kenyan and American students an opportunity to interact with a person from a divergent, different culture.

Salvation Army Kolanya Girls School, as the name might imply, is an all girls institution, so some of the girls, of course were excited to have international correspondence with maybe a boy. But one of the interesting things once we got the postcards from the US, was in the way that it was difficult to figure out whether these American names were boys or girls. So I had a lot of fun sort of introducing the postcard to the whole class. So I'd hold it up, and maybe there'd be a picture of the spirit of Detroit, or an old English deed that a Detroit kid had decorated the postcard with. I'd say, "Well this is the symbol of the city of Detroit. This postcard is from Jawan Clark," and the girls would be silent. One of the girls would say, "Mister, is this a boy or a girl?" And I'd say, "Jawan is a boy." And the girls would go, "Oh!" Just like American kids.

My students in Kenya were fascinated by the idea of prom, of the fancy dresses and the rented cars and the amount of money that people spent during prom. The students from Cass Technical High School actually sent us some prom photos, and everyone marveled over the suits, the dresses, the heels. Also, the many colors of the students. That amazed them. So Cass Tech is relatively diverse in terms of Detroit high schools, so there are students who are of Middle Eastern descent, African Americans, Hispanic students, so on and so forth. It was incredibly difficult to sort of explain that all of these kids, despite the fact that they don't look very much alike, were Americans. So they would point to a picture of a kid, and they'd say, "This one. Is he black?" I'd say, "Well, yeah, yeah. This guy's black." They said, "Well, what about this guy?" I'd say, "Yeah, he's black too." "But they look nothing alike." I'd say, "Yeah, that's kind of the American thing. Different and similar."

There were a lot of interesting misconceptions that we spoke about in class and that came up in the postcards. One of those was the idea that Americans eat snakes. Yeah, there was some belief that I encountered multiple times, and not just in the postal exchange, that Americans ate snakes and rather enjoyed them. And I don't want to place any blame on anyone for that, but I think that a handful of reality television shows have made their way into the market there. So you've got things like Fear Factor and Incomparable shows that do show Americans eating lots of unusual things.

Another popular myth that I heard that they really surprised me that I heard from teachers, students, people more widely was that every American, when they are born, has a bank account. The moment where this first came to my attention was when a fellow teacher asked me. He said, "William, you must have many houses back home." I was like, "No. No, I don't even have one house, actually." He said, "Well, what did you do with the money?" I was like, "Oh, what money do you mean?" And he said, "Tell me if this is true. When you are born, every American, they have a bank account, and in that bank account, there's $1 million." I was like, "Oh ... no. I don't think that's true of most Americans." And it really blew people's mind. Because this idea was so pervasive, I could then see how a lot of the previous interactions I had might've been colored by the belief that I came from extreme wealth as an American.

But one of the projects that I sort of engaged in in my teaching them was sort of explaining poverty in the United States. Classes, working class, middle class, upper class, so on and so forth to kind of give people a sense that life in America is not uniform. People don't enjoy the same quality of life. There are some features, of course, that we all get to partake in to some degree, right? If you have transportation, you get to travel on a road that's fairly smooth. There's illumination on many highways, and there are large buildings and cities that you can ogle, but it doesn't necessarily mean that you have business there, or that you are treated as though you belong in those spaces. So I mean, this was a large undertaking, but it felt really essential to sort of explaining how multifaceted Americanness is.

Will:  People were really dismayed, oftentimes. Adults were often really dismayed at my choice ... I don't see it as a choice. Were often dismayed that I see myself as black, and oftentimes among adults, my identifying as a person of color seemed laughable. Some people could not quite imagine why I would want to be seen as black when being white affords you so many privileges. If I could pass for white, why wouldn't I? Now, of course, this is mediated by my experience as an American, right? I'm an African American in here, in the United States, and in most places I go. I am definitively black. There's no gray area there, but for them, because of my complexion and also because I speak with an American accent, it was difficult for them to see and agree to this idea that there could be gradations of blackness. That unsettled me. It was difficult to be definitively black in America and probably white in Africa.

Here, my complexion affords me no different treatment, whereas in Africa, it could. My accent might gain me something. My Americanness was something I could feel in Kenya in a way that I never feel it in the United States. It really, really surprised people, so much that they would laugh or ask to see pictures of my parents to prove that I was black, or my family to prove that I was black.

I rode a motorcycle to and from many of the places that I traveled to. It was simpler than navigating a car because of some rocky terrain. So people could see certain parts of my body. They could see a bit of my face, depending upon what I wore. Maybe they could see my hands or parts of my arms, and it was pretty commonplace for people to call from the side of the road. They'd say, "[Swahili 00:12:49]." "God, look at that white man." Or just, "[Swahili 00:12:53]." I know that for the most part, people really were pretty surprised to see what was presumably a white man riding over or past Mount [Cacapell 00:13:08]. Really, really deep into the country. What is this white man doing here, and why do we see him every day at the same time?

Sometimes I would actually stop and pull over. People would come to greet me. People by and large were always very, very, very friendly, and though from my perspective, I feel like I'm being heckled emotionally, like being called a white man, doesn't really sit well with me. But I also knew that these people weren't heckling me. They were genuinely surprised to see a white man. So I would stop, I would pull over, and they would say, "[Swahili 00:13:58]." "How are you, white man? How are you, white guy?" Very friendly, and I'd say, "Ah, [Swahili 00:14:05]." "Don't call me a white man." "[Swahili 00:14:09]." "I have a name." "[Swahili 00:14:12]." "My name is William." "[Swahili 00:14:15]," or "My name is teacher." And sometimes, that would be enough to say, "Ah, [Swahili 00:14:22]." And they would just call me teacher. If I would happen to see them at the same place at the same time, they'd say, "[Swahili 00:14:27]."

I tell people that I was a black American, and like really try to get into some of the details of who I am and why I'm there, but of course, as one man among so many people explaining my identity became sometimes something that I was to exhausted to do. With little children, sometimes I engaged in a bit of subterfuge, honestly. If they were really small, they'd say "[Swahili 00:15:10]." Whatever the case may be, and I'd say, "[Swahili 00:15:15]." "You know," "[Swahili 00:15:18]." "You know, I know Swahili, so I must be a Kenyan, right?" And they'd say, "Hmm." Faces would scrunch up a bit, and they'd say, "Yeah. Yeah." Because I knew that for a really little kid, it would be difficult to work out the logic of why I knew Swahili if I were a white man.

So sometimes that was enough, and it was like the quick version, so I imagine that there are probably some now slightly older children in Kenya who are like, "You know, one day I met this white man on a motorcycle, and he told me he was a Kenyan. And he must've been crazy." They may or may not have believed a word I was saying.

I couldn't rightly assume or would never assume that people would be unfriendly, but I had no idea how giving that people would be. I was often a guest, or always a guest, right? Because I'm so far from home, and people with one chicken that they planned to kill for Christmas would kill that chicken in June because I arrived. Oftentimes, if I complimented someone on something, like their nice watch or a cool vest, they would move to give me that thing, whether it was a shirt, a jersey, some object that they had that I was genuinely appreciating. It just blew my mind that people were so willing to give without really knowing me, and a lot of the places I traveled, of course, I went there once and maybe I didn't get the chance to return.

Unlike in the United States where my credentials must precede me in order to be treated in a certain way in certain spaces. That was not necessary in Kenya at all. In the United States on an airplane, someone asks me what I do and I say, "Oh, I'm a doctoral student and a writer. I teach at Michigan State University." "Really? How did you get into that? Who helped you? Who made a way for you?" In Kenya, that did not exist. There was no sense of surprise given the color of my skin that I've achieved what I've achieved. My god, that is the best feeling ever. I get to be me, and not just the me that's black. Not just the me that's a scholar or a poet or, I get to enjoy what I enjoy and be who I am and I don't have to worry so much about whether people will think I'm a good person or a bad person. No one ever crossed the street to avoid me in Kenya. That's happened multiple times this week in my hometown.

Say, "Hi, I'm Will. I'm a teacher." Or "Hi, I'm Will. I'm visiting this place with my friend, Leonard." And that was enough for the warmest reception. I never could've expected that. I never could've imagined living in a society where it doesn't matter so much what I look like. People will sit down and listen to your story because you're human, because you've got a story to tell, because I am not you, and because of that simple piece of logic you've got something to tell me that I don't know, that I can learn from, that I can change and grow with.

Will:  There's a lot that I learned about myself through my experience with Kiswahili. One of the popular sayings in Kenya, "[Swahili 00:19:58]." "Going slow took the turtle very far." In America, an average working person is doing so much in a day. The number of tasks, if you counted them that you complete in a day in America is massive. In Kenya though, there is an appreciation for doing one thing or two things, doing them well and still feeling accomplished.

There's a meme circulating among graduate students and people at universities and teachers. There's a cat resting on a rug, and it says, "You are not measured by your productivity." The cat looks especially calm. I think in hearing people say that, "[Swahili 00:20:57]," "Slowly," "[Swahili 00:20:59]." "Go slowly." It reminded me that if I can't do all the things, at least I can put my heart and my energy and my effort and my focus into one thing that I am doing, and that's something to feel good about.

Similarly, Leonard, my good friend, he'd say, "[Swahili 00:21:33]." Which means, "If you go slowly, you won't knock things over."

I raced back home from school every day, because there were often torrential rainstorms. If I didn't make it home in time on the motorcycle, oftentimes with Leonard, we would take shelter wherever we could find it. In a small shop, in an abandoned church. At one point, we actually did shelter in an abandoned church and lots of other kids got caught in the rainstorm from three or four different schools. Everybody kind of sat there in silence and waited for the storm to pass, but when the sun went down, hours before we were set to go to sleep at home, the rain would fall on our corrugated steel roof so loudly that you couldn't hear a thing inside of the house.

A lot of the times, these rainstorms would black out all the lights. So now you've got no electricity, it's 8 PM, it's dark outside, and you can't hear a thing. But you're not sleepy. So Leonard and I on nights like these which were relatively frequent in the rainy season, we would sit together, this long table that we had. But we'd open a drink, we'd light a candle right in the middle of the table so that we could see each other. We couldn't talk. It was so loud even inside the house that even if you were yelling, you would not be able to hear the sound of your voice or anyone else's. So the only entertainment we could really muster was to light a candle at that table, maybe eat a bite of food, and kind of just sit there together. No conversation. No particular activity because there's not enough light from that candle to do anything.

I don't know, those moments really gave me peace. I felt safer somehow with that one candle and that little bit of company. I felt less alone, and I'm grateful for that, because when was the last time you sat in stillness, by yourself or with somebody else? Especially with somebody else. When was the last time you just sat there?

Chris:  22.33 is produced by The Collaboratory, an initiative within the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, better known as ECA. My name is Christopher Wurst. I'm the Director of The Collaboratory. 22.33 is named for Title 22, Chapter 33 of the US Code, the statute that created ECA, and our stories come from participants of U.S. government funded international exchange programs.

In this episode, Will Langford told us about his experiences as part of the Fulbright English language teaching assistant program, or ETA. We sent ETAs out around the world to help assist with English classes. For more about ECA exchange programs, including the ETA program, check out ECA.state.gov.

We encourage you to subscribe to 22.33. You can do that wherever you find your podcasts, and we'd love to hear from you. You can write to us at ECACollaboratory@state.gov.

Special thanks this week to Will for sharing his experiences. I did the interview with Will in an empty classroom at Wayne State University in Detroit and edited this episode.

Featured music during this segment was "Cradle Rock" by Blue Dot Sessions, [Swahili 00:26:09] in Western Africa both by John Bertman, "Promise you" by Lobo Loco, "Lope and Shimmer" by Podington Bear, and "Springtime in Africa" by Duke Ellington. Music at the top of each episode is "Sebastian" by How The Night Came, and the end credit music is "Two Pianos" by Tagirljus.

Until next time.

Season 01, Episode 07 - [Bonus] The Food We Eat


22.33’s first monthly mash-up of unique, scary, strange, and sometimes delicious food stories from around the world.


Chris: Welcome to the first bonus episode of 22.33. For a bonus episode, this music is pretty serious. That's much better. Thank you. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Dear 22.33 team. We love what you're doing. We love your podcast. We especially love the fact that every single Friday for the entire year of 2019 you will release a brand new episode, but isn't it a little bit early for a bonus episode?" The answer, dear listener, is no. There is no time like the present to tickle your taste buds with our first all food 22.33. It's called The Food We Eat. So with no further ado, this week silkworm larva as an appetizer, the taste of clouds, and getting stuck to a piece of fruit. Join us for a journey to the far side of your taste buds.

It's 22.33.

Intro Clip 1:  We report what happens in the United States warts and all.
Intro Clip 2:  These exchanges shaped who I am.
Intro Clip 3:  When you get to know these people, they're not quite like you. You read about 'em. They are people very much like ourselves, and-

Speaker 1: The weirdest food that I ate in Korea was ... I think a lot of people who are familiar with Korea are going to think that it was sannakji, which is live octopus, but living on that island, seafood was everywhere, and seafood is seafood. What was really weird was beondegi, which is silkworm larva, and these come in yellow cans, and Koreans will eat 'em as snacks, but I remember my host family came home with a bunch of them in a plastic bag. And I think they were trying to get a reaction out of me, and I was very determined not to give it to them. So I was just eating them, and that really impressed a lot of people 'cause I think they assume foreigners don't eat silkworm larva, but this one does.

Speaker 2: There's a fruit called guanabana, and it's massive, bright green, has these soft spikes all around it, and it looks like a big dinosaur egg, and when you cut it open, inside is this fluffy, juicy, white fruit with black, really bitter, sour seeds in it, and you can just pick the white fluff, the white fruit meat with your hands, and it kind of gels in your hand, and then you put it in your mouth, and it has the texture of clouds. And if you can imagine what clouds taste like, it tastes amazing. It's so sweet and so flavorful and juicy. And I have never tasted anything like that in the United States.

Speaker 3: One of the strangest foods I've eaten is probably the jackfruit. A jackfruit is oblong in shape, a bit spiky on the outside, about maybe a foot and a half sometimes long, and inside of them are these, we could call them, seeds. They're pale yellow in color, and they have the taste that is a combination of pineapples and bananas, so delicious, if unusual. The tricky part about jackfruits is that you can't open them without them gluing your hands together. The sap is so thick that you cannot remove it from your hands without oil. So if you make the mistake of cracking open a jack fruit ... You're just really, really excited to get to the meat of the thing ... There's a good chance you'll have jackfruit glued to your hands or worse, your hands glued to each other. And I learned that lesson the hard way. I guess I could say that that was one of my other embarrassing moments.

Speaker 4: I was eating a bowl of soup one day at a neighbor's house, had no idea what it was. My Indonesian wasn't that great, and I ended up eating cow hoof, something super random. Yeah, it wasn't super great.

Chris: Did you enjoy it though?

Speaker 4: Not really. Most Indonesian food I loved, but that was definitely one that I was like, "Eh."

Speaker 5: So Manchester is famous for having this street colloquially known as the curry mile, and the curry mile is called that because in the past in was the sort of main street for the South Asian community in Manchester, and now it's more North African and Arab, but the smells on that street were fantastic. There was all kinds of kebob houses. There were these great dessert shops. There are a lot of curry houses still. I loved living on the curry mile. So many sweets from all these different countries.

Speaker 6: I ate a lot of sugar, but the thing that I'll talk about is this thing called paan, which is a Pakistani and South Asian broadly sort of treat, and it's a leaf with some kind of tobacco that's kind of glowing red and some sprinkles and some mint and a few other spices, and they roll it up, and you just eat it. And you have an effect from it. I would always take American friends who were visiting me. I would just start taking them to this place to just see how they reacted to it, and most of the time, it was negative. They were not feeling it, but I kind of got used to it, and it was a sort of way to show, "Welcome to my turf."

Speaker 7: I have dietary restrictions. I have to go for halal food, so here I turn out to be a vegetarian. So it's always I have to for salads, and I used to laugh at times how I can eat this, this thing someone plucked from the garden and gave it to me on a plate, but now I'm pretty used to it. I started liking it, and this morning breakfast especially with this sugar syrup and ... What's the name of that? I forgot that one.

Chris: Waffle? Pancakes?

Speaker 7:  Pancakes. I really like pancakes. I'm planning to bring it back to Pakistan. Somehow I'll start this thing.

Speaker 8:  Indonesian has some seriously amazing food. They're consistently rated as one of the best cuisines in the world, which was so special and something I totally indulged in. My favorite food is probably a dish called rendang, and it's typically beef, and it's stewed for hours and hours and hours, and typically in the U.S., that's not really my thing, but they use coconut milk and all these really lovely spices, and it's had over rice, and it's just super delicious and lovely.

Speaker 9:  I had a very good friend in high school that was Indian, so I thought I had a good understanding on Indian food. And I had tikka masala in the United States, and it was very good. And our first night there, we landed very late, and my family took me through the drive thru at McDonald's to get food before I probably fell asleep for like thirteen hours. And I was looking at the menu, and of course, I did not know anything on the menu, and I saw the word masala. And I was like, "Oh, I've had tikka masala in the United States. It's going to be fine." I ordered it, and they asked if I was sure, and I was like, "Yes, I'll get it." And I bit into the sandwich, and it was the spiciest thing I'd ever eaten. It burned my mouth off.

And then two days later, in school we're going over basic vocabulary, and I find out that masala is the word for spice in Hindi. And I texted my friends in the U.S. who'd been asking for updates on my trip and recommending places that I should go, and I was like, "Did you make the tikka masala you made us not spicy?" And she's like, "Oh, yeah. Whenever I cook for non-Indian people, I always make it not spicy. Sorry."

Speaker 10:  I lived very close to the Nile River, about an hour from a place called Jinga where the mouth of Nile is. So for that reason, I was able to get the world's best tilapia. I haven't eaten a tilapia since I've come back to the United States because I've been spoiled for choice. In western Kenya and in Uganda, a tilapia is as wide as person's shoulders, and they're delicious, and the mamas fry them on the side of the road just in basic oil. It's not especially healthy, but they sure are delicious.

Speaker 11:  Oh, my gosh. All food is amazing in Turkey. Okay, the weirdest was probably ... Not a food. If you go into Turkey, everyone's obsessed with Turk kahvesi, which is Turkish coffee, and in Turkish coffee is in my mind dirt. It's just literally tastes like dirt, and they love it. It's a part of their history. It's almost mystical. Their coffee is in a little tiny, tiny play tea cup, so small and very dense, and the grinds sink to the bottom, so once you're done drinking the grit ... Hopefully, you don't get too much of the grinds in your teeth ... You take the cup with grinds in the bottom, and you flip it over on the teacup plate, I guess whatever it was sitting on, and you let the grinds kind of flip down and dry, and then someone reads your fortune out of the coffee. And there's actually special fortune tellers you can go to, to specifically read your coffee grinds, or there's someone in your family, like your mom, who's extra spiritual and is just good at reading your future through the grinds.

Chris:  22.33 is produced by The Collaboratory, an initiative within the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, better known as ECA. My name's Christopher Wurst. I'm the director of The Collaboratory. 22.33 is named for Title 22, Chapter 33 of the U.S. Code, the statute that created ECA, and our stories come from participants of U.S. government funded international exchange programs.

I hope you enjoyed our first bonus episode of 22.33, and that it made you hungry for more, shall we say. For more about ECA exchange programs, check out eca.state.gov. We also encourage you to subscribe to 22.33, and now that you know that we have bonus episodes, why would you not? We'd also love to hear from you. You can write to us at ecacollaboratory@state.gov. That's E-C-A-C-O-L-L-A-B-O-R-A-T-O-R-Y at state.gov.

Special thanks this week to all of the ECA participants willing to share their crazy and unique food stories, and that includes Alicia Nelson, Jerry Howell, Will Langford, Mary McEwan, Nathan Touger, Rabia Hanif, Gretchen Sanders, and Madeline Fritch.

Gabby Bugge, our ex-former intern who we miss did most of the interviews. I did a few as well. I edited the segment.

Featured music was "Travel On" by the Ramsey Lewis Trio. Music at the top of each episode is "Sebastian" by How The Night Came, and the end credit music is "Two Pianos" by Tagirljus.

Until next time.

Season 01, Episode 06 - Hope in You, Hope in Me with Eaint Thiri Thu


Eaint Thiri Thu never set out to be a human rights activist.  She did not like what was happening to minority populations in her country, but it was only when the government pushed to silence her that her anger and stubbornness not to be quieted emerged, along with courage and the sense that what she is meant to do is speak for those without a voice. Thiri visited the United States as part of the Fulbright Visiting Scholar program. More information on Fulbright Scholars can be found at https://www.cies.org/program/core-fulbright-visiting-scholar-program.


Chris:  IYou didn't set out to be an activist, but when your government confronted you with more and more restrictions, your natural stubbornness took over. Far from letting people push you around, you instead became a voice for the powerless in your country. It might have been an accident, but it is an accident with powerful repercussions. You're listening to 22.33, a podcast of exchange stories.

Thiri:  And it was kind of funny, I didn't want to be a political activist. We have a group talking, discuss about politics at the American Center and I am the only one. I was a young girl and I was the only one said, "I don't like the bean curry," because in the jail, we said that they give you bean curry, so I'm the one keep saying, "I don't want. I don't like it, I'm not going to do the politics at all." But in the end, after ten years, it was me who was on that political prep and other people are not there anymore. It's a lot of changes in my life.

Chris:  This week, dancing for the generals, fighting for the underdogs, and becoming a voice for the oppressed. Join us on a journey from Yangon, Burma to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to become an accidental human rights activist. It's 22.33.

Intro Clip 1:  We report what happens in the United States, warts and all.
Intro Clip 2:  These exchanges shaped who I am.
Intro Clip 3:  When you get to know these people, they're not quite like you. You read about 'em, they are people, they're much like ourselves. And it's-
Intro Clip 4:  (music)

Thiri:  My name is Eaint Thiri Thu, but my friends call me Thiri, like scientific theory, and I'm from Burma / Myanmar. I'm the second years in the Master of Human Rights program at the University of Minnesota, coming with the Fulbright program.

I was a political activist before, when I was 17. And then I started working with the international media and the human rights organization over the past seven years, mostly since I was 20. And I've been working in the human rights and I've been traveling across the country and documenting about the human rights abuses and the political news and that kind of thing.

I spent most of my time at the American center when I was a teen. My late teenage were at the American center, which is a American school, arranged by the American Embassy. So I knew about Fulbright program since then, and I applied for that, and I got, and I am here.

I was born in 1990, which is two years after the biggest nationwide protest in the country. A few months before I was born, there was an election, but then the military refused to give the power to the political party who won the landslide victory there. But then since then, there was a military dictatorship. And so growing up in Burma in '90s, it's all about propaganda. You will see at the book or any newspaper. We only have two newspaper, which is run by the state, and we have TV program which is all controlled by the government, and we have a big, big poster by the road and on the ... It would say like, "Tatmadaw" which is a name for the military. Military is the father, military is the mother. So people make jokes that, "Oh, yeah, I want to be an orphan," because they don't like the military dictatorship.

In the textbooks and everything, we didn't really have an education, unfortunately, because everyday, we have to memorize, we have to digest. And the military government made that 30 years education plan, which is designed to systematically destroy the educated population off the country, because if students are very educated, they protest. So the government don't want another protest. So what they desire to do, reform the education system, which is more us to be a good follower rather than thinker or the leader. So this is how my generation looks like.

It's so much embedded into our life. When the leaders of the country pass by, us as school kids, we have to wake up 5:00 am in the morning and stand by on the roadside just to wave at those leaders pass by. By myself, I used to dance for the military generals since I was three years old. And it was funny. I've been dancing for them for ... Until I finished my high school. Until that one general, specifically, until he was fired from the office. But over 10 years, I've been dancing for the general.

The first time, I don't remember that much, but my parents said I was very interested in dancing since I was two. I was ... One traditional dance, when there's a dance show on the TV, I was dancing. When I was five, that was my first time I had a dinner with the general as part of the UN anniversary. I got third prize in the dance competition, so I was dancing there. My family was proud, too, because it was at the general's, and I appear in those dances and they know me, they hug me, and sometimes they kiss me, which is weird to think about it, now, but they were pretty proud of it because as ordinary citizens, because this is more like a specific class and some kind of privilege, meeting with the leaders. And so they feel like, and I also feel like I was really great. And a lot of my classmate wouldn't have this kind of chance, and for me, I was known by these people and I was kind of proud. And I didn't know anything about this military things.

I even won for this kind of essay competition. There was some slogan, and we have to prove that military is great, protecting our country, or everybody's living peacefully, and that kind of thing. I just ... I wasn't really aware that, until I finished my high school.

It was just after I finished my high school, there was another protest happen in 2007. This is when I started seeing that there were monks, and the people, and military started shooting them. And two years before I was born, even though I heard that there was a protest and a lot of people died, I never feel like I am connected to it, because I have never seen that. But this thing in 2007, even though it's not as big as the previous one, it is something that is happening in front of me, and my uncle got arrested as part of the protest, and so this is when people started talking about the military. My family, they would never say that before. Mainly my mom and dad, even though my uncle who got arrested talks about politics with me since I was little, but my mom and other people, it's always been a taboo talkings about the politics in the family. But this is a time everybody in the family starting talking about the bad things about the military, and I started aware that. And a year later, it was Cyclone Nagis hit the country and a lot of people died. This is where the turning point of the country, because international assistance came in and the international NGO came in and this is when the civil society started in Burma.

So that time, I just wanted to volunteer. In 2007, I saw people got killed by the military. And in 2008, I saw people die and military didn't take responsibility. And also, they keep talking about the numbers, they reduce a number of the people who have been killed by the natural disaster. And then when we started doing this, actively providing aid in something, the government keep an eye on us.

I would say my activism was accidental because I didn't mean to be a political activist. I just wanted to be a social worker. I just wanted to work for the Cyclone Nagis thing. But then military and the government at that time, keep an eye on anybody who is NGO or anything. So I became one of them that we watched, because we went to the American center and we actively involved in this kind of student clubs and everything there. So it was the military government, I would say, who turned me into the political activist. I wasn't really meaning to, I was just want to be a social worker.

Those days, we couldn't even openly study the political science, or even the social science. We cannot really take the book or the handouts out of our classroom at the American center. So what happened was, I feel like I just want to study. Why don't you just let me study? There was a point that me and the others, some other friends started the school, and then the military intelligence, the special branch, they started following us, and they keep pressuring our landlord to push us out of that apartment so that we cannot providing this kind of education. We have a training center, sort of, giving the social science training to the people. It's a really small thing. But then they keep pushing us and we have to move from one place to another.

And I feel like this is bullying, and they are like ... That's the turning point, I would say. I couldn't turn back, because even if I go back, things would be worse, because I will be under watch no matter what I do. I will never be the same as before. They will see me as a threat. And also, another thing that's my personal thing, I have this kind of stubborn that I like to do when people tell me that I can't ... Why not? So I just want to go for it. If they would ... I think if they had let me go that time, I wouldn't be a political activist these days, I would just go back to normal. But now, because they pushed me too hard and I'm just like, "Okay. You do it? Okay, I'm going to go for it just to ... I don't want to listen to you. I just want to go for it."

I feel like I'm very much on the ground and dreaming of the study abroad, going abroad, it's like the sky. So I'm on the ground, and I'm just looking at the sky, that's it. Because my understanding of studying abroad, going abroad is that studying abroad is only for the rich people or only for the children of the leaders, not for me, because I have never been part of it. And so even dream what you want to be when you grow old, we only have three choices. Either medical doctors or engineer or teacher. So when I was 15, when people asked me what did I want to be, I said I wanted to be a diplomat. And I said I wanted to be the Secretary General of the United Nations. And people laughed, my teachers and students, and they just made fun of me because this is something we shouldn't dream of, because that will never be true. It wasn't until my high school, I feel I wanted to study abroad. I just feel like I don't want to be here, but I don't know how to escape.

But then after I finished my high school, before I went to the American center, I have a private tutor, the English teacher, and he asked me what I wanted to be. And I said I wanted to be a diplomat. And I thought I was expecting some kind of laugh from him, because this is how I grew up, even my family, my parents, they would laugh at me. "Ha-ha. Yeah, funny, cute." So he was just like, "It's amazing." He said like, "That's great." He find me as a unique person, because nobody at my age would say that kind of thing in those day. That was in 2007, before the country opened, and we couldn't really dream about a lot of the things. And this is when he told my mom that, "Your daughter deserves more than this. She shouldn't be here, because this education's going to destroy her, and this society's going to destroy her way of thinking. So don't send her to the Myanmar University, because she will be ruined and she will be one of them."

I like the program because my program is a interdisciplinary, so ... I can never pronounce that. And so I think that in the policy war, we need more creativities and innovation. So in term of this school, because they offer me this kind of social sciences knowledge of the human right, I am hoping to bring those knowledge together, policy sector. I feel like policy think what we learn is more about the success story and trying to solve the issues, but at the same time, social science is more like, "Hold on. Hey, things are not that simple. Here's a loophole and here's a limitation of the law. Here's a limitation of this concept and the policy in something." So by combining those things, I find it really valuable for me, because I am just going back and forth and trying to balance this kind of knowledge and experience. So I hope when I go home, and if I talks about the human rights policy, human rights movement, human rights advocacy, I wouldn't just say about the conventional way of the advocacy or the policy. I would like to put a lot of the multidimensional way of thinking in approaching the human rights situation of my country.

Here, a lot of international students, they have Humphrey fellows, and also the migrants community here and also the American community here, they are very supportive, at least to my program. I'm really grateful to be part of it. I really like family. They are always there, behind me, and supporting me for a lot of the things. So this kind of network is important, but that network is not just networking event. It is personal basis and personal trust. And I am hoping to bring it throughout my career life, out of the school.

We have three best friends. One of them is Somali and the other is Puerto Rican. So the Puerto Rican one love to cook, and he is a great chef. The other best friend, [Fatima 00:17:54] from Somali, she has a car, so she drive for us when we go for the grocery. And [Ivan 00:18:01] from Puerto Rico, and he cook for us. And I pay for the grocery. So this is how I solve. And we are always together, study together. And a lot of people at Humphrey School would be jealous of us because we are always together. Really, we're the coolest group at the Humphrey School.

 I cannot drive, but one day last year, during the blizzard, my friend's car got stuck, so me and the other ... We are three people, a group. Right? So one of them car got stuck, and we're trying to push the car out of the snow, but then I'm the smallest one, so they think that, "You shouldn't push it, because you won't put any effort. Why don't you get in the car and try to move the steering?" So I'm just like, "Okay, I'm going to do that even though I cannot drive," so that was pretty dangerous. And they think that it wouldn't move anyway, so I was doing it and I almost ran over my friends. So that was a crazy thing. I'm just like, "I'm not going to drive again." And my mom told me, "Don't kill anybody in the foreign land. That's not cool."

Yeah, I've never seen the fall of the snow in my life before. This is my first time. And it's really amazing. This color, the leaf, the yellow and the red, it's just so beautiful. And plus, I have yellow shoes. I have yellow shoes and red shoes so that I can take the photos with the leaves. I like it. I don't really feel ... I don't really miss home. I just feel like here is home, too.

To be honest, I am having some kind of threat. You might have heard, there's dangerous crisis happening in the country, and that is, the whole country, pretty much, they are denying or defending the government or the military, that this is not happening as it is, or this international media is lying, international human rights organization are lying, and the Rohingya are lying about their suffering. So there's a pushback from the whole country for the general human rights work. So I'm one of the very few people who was focal on this issue. 

Since I came here, I happened to talks in the U.S. policy sectors and University, in talkings about my knowledge on the Rohingya issues, a lot of people are not happy with what I've been saying. So I don't know what it will look like, the fact that my degree will be Master of Human Rights. It's the degree itself, is a threat to my society. And in term of the work, I don't know how it will be like there, but it's really challenging, because I didn't know these things would happen, even though I have seen the Rohingya crisis, but the crisis has been reaching to this level ,to reaching to that international level while I am here. I didn't know that, so I happen to choose human rights, and this crisis happened, and I happened to speak out against this injustice, so it's challenging for me.

I don't know how should I bring it not to be against the Burmese community, because in the end, this is my country, this is my people, and this is the place where I need to work. So I'm thinking, it's just like ... I've been thinking everyday, and human rights, it's not a subject or the character for me. It's just personal to me, and so I need to tell my friends before I ... I've been thinking, strategizing, how to go to this kind of challenges that I want my friends, my family, and my relative to know that what does it mean for me, why I chose to be human rights.

I've been thinking a lot how to get away with that and how to tell them the passion that I have, because there, there are a lot of class and other things, because in the country, as I said, the income gap is really high in this kind of third-world country. People like me, working in human rights organization or the international media, we got a lot more than other people, than my friends. So I think my friends and my relative, when they see is that how much money I could spend when I got out with them, how much money I could ... The scholarship, the talks, award, all those kind of things that they see, and they might see that I want to get those debtors, I want to be rich, and that's why I did that. So they ... I think this is my failure, I fail to show them my passion and why did I chose to be, because it's a really thing ... I can always step into it. Or, I don't know, you can be killed or something, never know.

But I never talked to them about this, because I want to let then, only the success story, and I only want to inspire them, a good story. So I think because of that, I'm getting the pushback from my friends and family. and even my best friend, on the other day, they called me. My best friend has been tell me that, of course, she's talking for Rohingyas, because she got ... She wants dollar. And it's crazy, but it's happening. So emotionally, it's really difficult position, not only about career wise, also emotionally. One, my best friends cannot see me as who I am, and cannot see my passion, it's challenging. Because when they see me as a money making person, or the career seeking person, or the award seeking, scholarship seeking person, it's hurt me a lot. This is not who I am, this is not why I have been doing ... These things are getting, as part of what I'm been doing. And I'm not here doing this kind of thing. It's just like ... I'm doing it ... Another reason is just not only about the passion, it's also about the interest.

As for those injustice and human rights violation are in place, I could be one of the victims one day, and my family, my friends, they could be one of the victims. So that's a reason I chose the human rights. It's not because I believe in them. I have higher moral, or other thing, or money, or scholarship or anything. It's more about, it's interest, because if you let it go, we, one after another, in the end, it will be my day. I will be the victim. I will be ... My rights will be violated. This is why I'm doing ... But I really want to tell them, but I just couldn't tell them so far, yeah.

Before going really far, I want to talk to my close friends. I just want to have a conversation, why they are having this kind of racism view, why do they hate Rohingyas? And I just want to talk to them. And then I'm hoping to ... Maybe I will go for the research in something, but my main goal is to write something, in Burmese, more in a narrative way, storytelling, sort of. I want people to tell the story of people here. So I'm bringing this personal story, and I want to make a conversation with my friends before I talks about the human rights policy or anything. I think our society at home needs to be fixed. But without this society, we can pressure the government in something, but it's a society that needs to understand about what human rights and other things.

I don't want to be treated by bad by the state, because I can never trust the government, and I can never trust the military. This is a threat. So as far that, as a human rights violation, and things are ... If we let it happen, let's say, today, Rohingya, yeah we have been silenced because this is not about us. And the next day, they will be Kachin another group. There will be Kachin, there would be another group, another group. Injustice, if we ... It's not about one group. We are silent, and we silence ourselves, and we didn't speak up against the injustice. So we are growing the injustice, and we let it grow. And I cannot let it happen, because in the end, I will be the one, I can be one of them, as far as those things that exist. And there will be nobody who will be speaking for me, because we let it happen, and we became normalizing this kind of injustice, part of our life, which I cannot really accept it. This is not really okay.

So many of my friends here, they told me, which I really appreciated, because they love me and they don't want me to burn out, and they told me, "Thiri, can you please stop thinking or talking about human rights a day? Take a break. Just continue your drawing, and don't do anything. Don't think about it, just break yourself." And I find that ... I feel like I'm really uncomfortable when people tell me this because I understand they love me and they don't want me to burnout, but at the same time, it's a life of me, and it's my interest. Just like a mom cooking in the kitchens every day. You cannot really ... It's just daily work, daily life. And I'm doing it. And at least I'm privileged. When I say that, take a break, I can take a break, because I'm privileged. But why don't you go and talk to the ... If we go and talk to the refugees in the camp like, "Can you take a break? Take a break being a refugees a day?" Which, is not possible. So it's ... Because I'm not doing for the passion, or the career, I'm doing for my own interest. If I don't do it, who would do it? Who would protect me? So I'm not just doing this thing, I'm just protecting myself.

So these kind of award and scholarship, when I got it, I got it and I really appreciate it. But at the same time, I feel like I don't need it, because, do you give award to a mom who cook everyday, the meal for their children? They don't do that. So giving award to the human rights, or giving award, scholarship to me, it should be based on my skill, it shouldn't be based on what I have done great, because I haven't done anything great yet. I'm just doing my daily life works.

A lot of the time, I'm losing hope and I even cry many times, it's crazy. And people would say that, "Why are you just taking this thing," and I'm just like ... I take a lot of things personal, and it's exhausting. I'm not very optimistic, but at the same time, I have to work. I cannot just sat aside just because I don't have an optimistic view about the future. But there is some hope left in the country, there are a few people who continue working on it, they still have their own value, they don't betray their own value, a lot of young people in Burma. When I mean a lot, which means 20 or so people, but it's a lot given the country's situation. But speaking with those people, knowing that these people are there, they give me hope. And I feel like, yes, we need time, but we still have a few people left. It's not zero.

And also I happen to connect with a Burmese American, they also give me hope. We tell each other that there's a mirror of hope. We see hope in each other. So I was telling them that they were my hope, but they were telling that I was their hope. So it's really fascinating that every time that I find the dark around me in my world, and I feel like my country, I have no hope in my country, and I feel like, no, this is the end, it's different from the old days, political activists, because they were friends who were stand with you, because they believe in the same value. But these day, when we talks about human rights after Rohingya, it's not like that. My friend, they were no friends who would back me up. They were defend for their government, which is really ... I still don't understand that. They define injustice in really complicated way.

So those day, at some point, I was really ... I find it really dark around my world, and I feel like I have no hope at all. But then, I happened to talks at Cornell, that video file was online, and the Burmese American and other Burmese students study abroad, they started contacting me, and they send me thank you. And it was just ... That was a moment, because I was almost giving up on everything, and they was just saying, "Thank you." It was not a big word. A lot of them just say, "Thank you for standing up, and we've been hoping ... " They need somebody to start, that they were just waiting, they were all scared, we all were scared. And then I started speaking, and so they contacted. So this is aa lesson learned, from me. Every time you feel dark or hopeless, you don't give up, you make a voice, then the echos, they're going to come back to you. And those are the hope. And I see the hope in them, and they see the hope in me.


  22.33 is produced by The Collaboratory, an initiative within the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, better known as ECA. My name's Christopher Wurst, I'm the Director of The Collaboratory. 22.33 is named for Title 22, Chapter 33 of the U.S Code, the statute that created ECA, and our stories come from participants of U.S. Government funded international exchange programs.

In this episode, Eaint Thiri Thu, or Thiri, shared her story and moments from her current Fulbright scholarship, working towards a Masters of Human Rights at the University of Minnesota. For more about the Fulbright and other ECA exchange programs, you can check out eca.state.gov.

We also encourage you to subscribe to 22.33, and you can do so wherever you find your podcasts. And we'd love to hear from you. Write to us at ecacollaboratory@state.gov. That's E-C-A-C-O-L-L-A-B-O-R-A-T-O-R-Y @state.gov.

Special thanks this week to Thiri for her story, and her commitment to human rights in Burma. I did the interview and edited this episode.

Featured music was "Gamas Olden" by Mike del Ferro, "Rose Baba" by Yan Terrien, "Kathy's Waltz" by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, and "Búsquedas Exploratorias #003, #007, #009" by Circus Marcus. And finally, "Up, Up, Up" by Podington Bear. Music at the top of each episode is "Sebastian" by how the night came. And the end credit music is "Two Pianos" by Tagirljus.

Until next time.


Season 01, Episode 05 - Practice, Practice, Practice with Grace Benton


Because she was required to do a project during her exchange program in Jordan, Grace Benton volunteered to teach English to Sudanese refugees.  What started as a lark (and with her literally falling on her face when she first met her students) led to the creation of a school program that still exists, and a passion for the plight of refugees that continues to color Grace’s life. Grace visited the Jordan as part of the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant program. More information on Fulbright ETA can be found at https://us.fulbrightonline.org/about/types-of-awards/english-teaching-assistant-awards.


Chris: What started as an extra-curricular activity, a volunteer effort to help refugees in your new country, grew exponentially. Your after-school language class became a viable education program, and your time helping refugees altered the trajectory of your life. You started something you cannot stop.

You're listening to 22.33, a podcast of exchange stories.

Grace: I remember, I was trying really hard to find a taxi to take me home after one evening of teaching the Sudanese men, and I was by myself that night. And so I was trying to find a taxi and I just could not find a taxi, and I finally found this one guy who refused to take me for less than four times what it was supposed to be. And I was like, "Absolutely not. That's ridiculous." And this was fairly late in the evening. It was probably, like, 11:00 pm, and there weren't a lot of other people around. And he kept insisting on gouging the price of this taxi. And I was just like, "On principle, no. I've been here long enough, I know how much this is supposed to cost. Don't exploit me because I'm an outsider." And he just insisted. And I used a word that I had learned in class for "Rude", which basically means "You are short on morals" or "You are short on manners." So I said to him, "You're rude. You are short on manners." "You are deficient in manners" I guess is the way you'd translate it. And oh my gosh, this guy lost his mind with me. He was so angry. He was like, "Deficient in manners? How could you ever say that? That is unbelievable."

And I did not ... because you know, in the U.S., when you're like, "You're being rude," that's what I had meant to convey, but the guy was so angry with me, and explained to me how I should never ... We kind of went into this language lesson. It was so bizarre. We're standing on the side of the road, 11:00 pm, at this impasse. I'm not paying him, he's not taking me, but yet he's explaining to me why what I said was wrong. And so it actually ended up being a really positive interaction. I agreed to ... I finally was like, "I feel so bad about saying what was really mean thing to you." And he lowered the price some. And so we ... which is ... The only moral to this story is that I probably shouldn't call people names in any language.

Chris: This week, a deficiency in manners, a school for Sudanese refugees, and finding one's calling on the far side of the world. Join us on a journey from Mobile, Alabama to Amman, Jordan to learn that practice might just make perfect.

It's 22.33.

Intro Clip 1: We report what happens in the United States, warts and all.
Intro Clip 2: These exchanges shaped who I am.
Intro Clip 3:  And when you get to know these people, they're not quite like you read about them. They are people very much like ourselves and...

Grace: My name is Grace Benton. I did a Fulbright english teaching assistantship in Amman, Jordan from 2011 to 2012. I am from Mobile, Alabama. I am currently a law student at Georgetown Law School.

As a Fulbright ETA, you are expected to teach about 20 hours a week. In the Jordan context, we taught primarily in colleges, but I got placed in a high school. So I was expected to teach or help other teachers in the classroom about 20 hours a week. Most of the students spoke pretty good English, but I wanted to give an introduction in Arabic, just to kind of show folks that, if you feel uncomfortable speaking only English, you will be able to be move back to Arabic. And just that it was a safe space, linguistically. And so I gave this intro in Arabic, and I was talking about the value of practicing English and I said, "The way to learn a language is practice. Practice, practice, practice. You need to practice at school. You need to practice at home." And my students are smirking, some of them are kind of laughing under their breath, and I'm like, "Okay, maybe it's just my accent. Maybe they're not used to hearing somebody speak ... You know, this American woman speaking Arabic."

And so I pressed on. I'm like, "Look. You know what? You're going to practice with me. You're going to practice with your family, practice with your mother, with your father. Practice while watching TV." By this point, everybody's just uproariously laughing. And one of the teachers, one of the Jordanian teachers is sitting in the back like, "Stop. Stop that. Stop talking." And I was like, "What am I saying?" And later I came to find out that the standard Arabic word that I was using for practice, in colloquial Jordanian means to have sex. So, I mean, it was my first day. I'm really killing it on the first day of teaching game. I was like, "I can't believe ... " I was so mortified. And everybody knew what I meant. They knew. And they knew that I was using this modern, standard word, that it is not my mother telling me. It was so mortifying.

And then, for the remainder of the work week, you are expected to develop some sort of extracurricular project. It can be at the school where you're based or it can be in the community at large. So the extracurricular project that I got involved with, I really got involved with it in this totally fluky way. The Sudanese refugee community, at the time, fewer families. It was mostly young men who had come to work or to access medical care or simply to seek asylum. Most of the people who were there were from Darfur. And so this group of people, for the most part, were day laborers. And so really worked from sun up to sun down and had no way to access any educational opportunities. And many of them were in their late teens, early 20s, sort of at prime age to be continuing their education. And they just simply have the resources or the time to do so, so they approached this NGO and asked if they would consider starting a night program. And the NGO said, "Well, you know, we really don't have the resources to do this, but we have these energetic, young, Fulbright ETAs, who are kind of raring for work. They really wanted something ... These ETAs really want to do something. They just don't know what. And they want to do something that's needed."

So the NGO connected a couple of us with this community and so we kind of just developed this relationship in this way that was not mediated through an organization or an institution or anything like that. And so we agreed to come teach English classes for the Sudanese community in their homes, because we didn't really have a place to go. And so we would traipse from our very ... our nicer parts of town, over to more run-down parts of town, which is where most of the Sudanese lived and just generally where the refugee communities ended up, just because rents were more affordable and generally things were cheaper and there was sometimes more work there too.

And I remember the first time I went. Amman is a super hilly city, and so the way that the city is set up is, there are these staircases just crisscrossing the city and crisscrossing these neighborhoods. And so most of the way, as a pedestrian, the way that you would access different buildings or things like that is not to walk on the street, but rather just to use these staircases and they're very steep. They're very old. They're broken stones, a lot of times on them. Safe to say they're pretty treacherous. And so ... and not lit at all. And so we were teaching night classes and so it was completely dark and so a Fulbright colleague and I were feeling our way down this very steep staircase, following these very convoluted directions that we'd been given for how to get to this place. And another thing about Amman is that, while there are officially street addresses, they're not really used by anybody. And at the time, this was in 2011, Google Maps was not very responsive to if you did put the street address in. And so, being a millennial, this was very challenging for me, but so we managed to find our way.

And so we're feeling our way down this dark, broken staircase and it's just ... I remember it being such a vivid, intense experience. The neighborhood that we were going to is very crowded and the walls in most of the houses are really thin, so you can hear people's conversations from inside as you're walking down the staircase past their houses. And falafel is ubiquitous. So there's the smell of falafel being cooked on the street. So we finally find where we were going. I was relieved. I'd been told that this part of town that we were in was really dangerous for foreigners, and particularly for women, and so I was a little tense and on edge. My Fulbright colleague who was with me was thankfully a very tall man and so that kind of put some of my fears at ease, but all the same, I remember just not knowing what to expect.

I think too, as Americans, we hear so much about the things that refugees go through. We hear a lot of narratives about refugees, both positive and negative. And so to meet a group of refugees for the first time, having all of these tropes and narratives running through my brain, this was a big deal for me at age 22. And being from Alabama, I'd never met a refugee before.

So we finally got to the place where the Sudanese community lived or where, rather, a large group of Sudanese men were living, where we'd agreed to teach these classes. And we opened the door and there's this really big step into the main ... like, the courtyard of their house. And just without missing a beat, I just promptly missed the step and fell on my face on the ... Just, in front of 25 men who would become my students, but I think they too were a little bit nervous. They didn't know what to expect of us. I don't think they'd met many Americans before either. And so my tumbling on my face as I met everybody for the first time, I think really broke the tension. Everybody just started laughing. I started laughing. They started laughing. I was fine. I didn't get hurt.

I'm in touch with some of my former students from this class and they still make reference to Teacher Grace's big first night.

I think, as all Americans, when we hear about refugees and think about refugees, one of the first things that we search for is "How can I help? How can I do something?" And being in this place where I ... In this position where I could do something, this was a posture I'd never really been in before. And at age 22, with sort of ... fresh out of college, I didn't have a whole lot of skills to offer, but one thing that I could do was speak English fluently. And so I think being able to share this, however small it was, was something that I was really ... a real pleasure to do while I was part of this. And so this arrangement that we had with the Sudanese community got more and more popular and people started hearing about it from other neighborhoods, and so would come from across town. Sometimes they'd even come from outside of the city to come and study with us. We were by no means super professional teachers, but you receive language training, as well as some pedagogical training before you start the ETA. And it was really neat to be able to feel like I was getting better as a teacher, as an instructor, and really doing something to assist this community that, really, otherwise didn't have access to a whole lot.

This arrangement that we had with the Sudanese community grew and grew and eventually it just was not tenable to hold it in these guys' living rooms anymore. We were jamming 40 people into sort of a matchbox-sized room. And so we managed to negotiate with the headmaster of a local school and said, "Look, we've got this night school program and you're not using your school at night. You're only using it during the day. Would you let us do this?" And so it took some cajoling and some negotiation, but eventually we were able to convince the school to let us use the space in the evenings. And it was fantastic. But then there became the problem of how to get people to school. And so we then had to convince a bus company to run buses for us, pro bono.

For me, this was such an incredible view into just what it takes to get a project like this off the ground and I am delighted to say that the program is still going to this day. And in NGO, the original NGO that didn't have the original resources to create the program in the first place, once we laid the groundwork for it, ended up picking it up and that was fantastic and it grew. By the time I left Jordan in 2012, there were over 350 people attending this and it was amazing. We had over five levels. And one thing that I think was really cool to come out of this is that once we got it in a place where it was in a proper school, the women started coming. And so when the women started coming, the kids started coming. And so I ended up being put in charge of the kids' class and it was such an incredible experience.

We had Sudanese, we had Somalese, we had Yemenese, we had Iraqis. I think, at this time, a few Syrians had started coming to Jordan. For somebody from Alabama, rural Alabama at that, getting this kind of exposure to different nationalities was just transformative for me. One thing that really came out of this, too, was that in the course of getting to know my students, I started hearing about what their lives were like. And this is really my first exposure to what the challenges are for refugees and particularly the challenges for refugees in a country where they don't look like the people of that country. It was really hard to be in a place where you were so ostensibly not part of the community. You were so ostensibly an outsider. And so it was interesting, too, to think about my experience of foreignness in Jordan as a white American woman, versus the experience of many of my students, most of whom were black refugee children.

When I first met the members of the Sudanese community, a lot of the guys in the class, before I started teaching the kids' class, a lot of the guys in the class were my age. And so to meet people, they were my age, but they had such radically life experiences. People talked about their experiences fleeing Darfur and a lot of people fled on foot. The stories that my students told me were tragic and heartbreaking, but also full of resilience and strength and just perseverance. And it was incredible to hear what people had gone through, and yet how they persevered on. A lot of my adult students, they'd work for 12 to 14 hours a day and then come to our class with this energy and intellectual curiosity that I don't think many of even have ... Many of us here in America even have when we're in prime condition, let alone after a really grueling work day. And this is just ... This was the daily reality for people. And so the exposure to people's resilience and strength and perseverance was really, again, transformative for me.

I think, in seeing how strong and committed my students were, made me want to be stronger and more committed to the things I was doing and the things I was working on. It was at this point in my life that I was like, "I want to pursue a career working with refugees, doing what I can to help alleviate the refugee problem that we have." And when I say refugee problem, I don't mean that refugees are the problem. The problem, I think ... it offered me this insight into this world that I'd just never been exposed to before, where conflict and persecution goes on unabated and there's a real human cost. And so watching this human cost, which plays out in the lives of real humans, I became really convinced that if people ... So, on the other side of the pond, so people in America could see what I was seeing and experience what I was experiencing, surely we would want to take action about this.

I learned more about what my role could be in alleviating this and in bringing these stories back to my community in Alabama. It was really amazing, my parents came to visit over the holidays and so I took them with me to one of our nightly classes, and they loved it. They made so many great connections there. And wildly enough, I didn't even know this, but Mobile, Alabama has a refugee resettlement program, as do ... There are many refugee resettlement sites in Alabama, unbeknownst to me. But fast forward five years, I think it was, one of my former students who my parents met when they came to visit for the holidays got resettled to Mobile, Alabama. And so we're ... It's like 30 minutes down the road from my parents or something like that, and it was just this total convergence of worlds for me, and for my parents as well, and also for the young man who was in my class who got resettled. It was so amazing for him to know somebody in Alabama. And the stereotypes about Alabama are pervasive throughout the world and so even refugees from Darfur are like, "Ooh, I don't know if I want to go there." "Oh, but you do. You know, you know the ... " It's human connection. Humans are the same everywhere. And so ... And they really are. I think being able to connect on that level is so powerful and cool.

And so it was great, my parents are farmers and so they supplied this young man and his family with things from their garden when they first moved. Our church brought furniture for them. It was just really ... It was really amazing how this connection from Amman, Jordan, five years prior persisted in this way.

Chris:  22.33 is produced by The Collaboratory, an initiative within the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, better known as ECA. My name's Christopher Wurst. I'm the director of The Collaboratory. 22.33 is named for Title 22, Chapter 33 of the U.S. code, the statute that created ECA and our stories come from participants of U.S. government-funded international exchange programs.

In this episode, Grace Benton traced her time as a Fulbright ETA in Jordan and what has become a life dedicated to refugee rights. For more about the Fulbright and there ECA exchange programs, check out ECA.state.gov. We also encourage you to subscribe to 22.33 and you can do that wherever you find your podcasts and we'd love to hear from you. You can write to us at ecacollaboratory@state.gov.

Special thanks this week to Grace for her stories and her work to make the world a better place. I did the interview and edited this episode.

Featured music was "Billy's Bounds" by Shelly Mann, "Cast your Fate to the Wind" by the Vince Guraldi Trio, "Eleve Pe la Luar" by Lostana David, and "La Chica de los Grande Oros Negros" by Adrian Berenger. Music at the top of each episode is "Sebastian" by How the Night Came. And the end credit music is "Two Pianos" by Tagirljus.

Until next time.


Season 01, Episode 04 - The ABC Song in St. Petersburg with Eric Swinn

Eric Swinn found himself in St. Petersburg, Russia, tasked with teaching English to marginalized students who sometimes didn’t even speak Russian. Describing his regular trips from the city center to the end of the metro line in a barely inhabited village—firmly in the present, but always conscious of Russia’s deep and heavy past. Eric visited the Russia as part of the Critical Language Scholarship program; more information on CLS can be found at https://www.clscholarship.org/



Chris:  Imagine you're in a foreign country learning a very difficult language. Let's say Russian. You have the opportunity to teach underprivileged children, but it turns out that they barely speak the language either. What do you do? Where do you start? And what might you learn about yourself? Thousands of people participate in exchange programs every year, creating experiences that change their lives and touch the people they encounter along the way. You're listening to 22.33, a podcast of exchange stories.

Eric:  I was with a friend, and I was walking with him and with the woman who is now my wife, who was on the exchange program with me, and we were outside of St. Petersburg walking through this swamp area that's what I thought was pockmarked by a variety of lots of little pools and ponds. But actually, they're pools and ponds made from the holes from shells when St Petersburg was under siege, and they're all over the place. As we're walking across fallen birch trees across these ponds, making our way through the woods ... And this environment that is such an embodiment of the living history of Russia.

Chris:  This week, the last stop on the metro line, hanging out with the Baron, and a hip hop history lesson in Moscow. On this episode, a journey from Roseburg, Oregon to St. Petersburg, Russia, to discover the ABCs of living history. It's 2233.

Intro Clip 1:  We operate under a presidential mandate, which says that we report what happens in the United States, warts and all.
Intro Clip 2:  These exchanges shaped who I am.
Intro Clip 3:  When you get to know these people, they're not quite like you. You read about them. They are people very much like ourselves, and it is responsible to create-

Eric:  My name is Eric Swinn. I'm originally from Roseburg, Oregon. I'm currently a foreign service officer working as a refugee officer in the Bureau of Population Refugees and Migration. I participated in the exchanges as a Fulbright ETA in South Korea, and then later I did a program focusing on Russian language acquisition in St. Petersburg, Russia.

One particular experience I had in Russia that I think is quite unique was when the woman who's now my wife and I were traveling to the small village of Peri, which is about 25, 30 minutes by elektrichka, or electric train, outside of St. Petersburg where we were volunteering with a Roma community. This Roma community is one that is settled there. They're no longer itinerant, and we would travel there to teach English and also Russian actually to the young children there who oftentimes weren't able to go to school, whether because the teachers would not want to teach to the Roma children or they didn't have the ability to access that school by transportation. And we were hosted in the baron's house. The baron of this village and his wife and all the children would come and gather. Usually, they would gather around the well, where they get their water and watch us as we walked up the lane and then come join us before we got to the village and we would teach with them.

We did this for about six or seven months, and I remember we started participating on this program or helping out in this village in the dead of winter. It was about -15, -20, and you get out to this train station in the middle of sort of northwest Russia, and there's nothing there apart from the train station. It stops, you're the only ones to get off, and you walk across the snow past, the one lone dog who sits outside the one small store where you would often buy cakes and tea snacks to give to the baron in his house. And before you get on the train, you get on the train on his sort of northernmost metro station in St. Petersburg and there there are a lot of Roma walking around. A lot of Russians as well, and the Russians often depart the train before you actually reach your final destination of Peri where the Roma village is.

After we'd gotten to know the children and worked with them, we were on the train at one point and one of ... Two of the children, actually, two young men, probably about six or eight years old were walking up and down the car. Often they ask for money, but this time they weren't. They were just eating sunflower seeds, walking up and down the car. And the Russian individual, an elderly gentleman who was sitting across from us, yelled at them to essentially get out of there, get off the train, had a few other choice words for them. And I watched the interaction. I didn't want to confront the man, and I didn't want to put myself in between this exchange, which is tense for a variety of reasons. But I did want to show the young children we were working with that, for me, they weren't different and I was also an outsider.

And for this gentleman across from me, I'm not sure if he recognized that I was not Russian, and so I asked the two young men if they wanted to come sit with me. I was listening to my iPod at the time and they sat one on each side of me and I offered them each an earbud from my iPod to listen to some American music or podcasts I was listening to at the time. And there were no words exchanged, but I watched the expression of the man across from me, clearly taken aback by what was happening, not sure how to engage probably at that moment wondering if I was indeed Russian.

For the children, I think it was clear that they were able to use that moment to show for themselves that they are also not necessarily different. They're also human, and they're able to engage with people who don't look like them, who are from other cultures, whether they be American or Slavic in origin. Those types of interactions that we had with these Roman children at the end of our time there, led to a particular poignant memory as we're walking out of the village, I think, for our last time. And we walked past this well, that was covered in ice when we first got there, and it's now surrounded by flowers.

We're walking along that path that used to be a snowy path, an icy path, and is now a dusty road and the children come from all these different houses and they join us at the well and they start singing the ABC song in English, which we taught them over the last six or seven months. And they walk with us, singing the song unexpectedly, as we make our way back to that train station where we'd first gotten off in the dead of winter and walked by ourselves to go meet them at the baron's house.

In Russia, I think, one of the things that has always drawn me to Russia is also the association the Russians have with their deep, living history and the surroundings and the country that are so important to those people in that the history is really visible. But all of these conversations that you have, take place in this environment that is such an embodiment of the living history of Russia. And in particular, I'm thinking of an instance where we have a friend who is an intellectual rap artist, and he had written a song about Anna Akhmatova and her impressions of the city, retold as Anna Akhmatova's ghost. And Anna Akhmatova, as a Russian poet, experienced a lot of the city, whether it's her son being in prison and standing outside the gates of that particular prison or living in her apartment building and watching her colleagues and friends be taken and interrogated. And he's telling this story from the perspective of someone in 2008 who's engaged in the hip hop scene in Russia.

[Russian hip-hop music]

And retelling her story as he walks out across these same bridges that she did, and we walk across these same bridges that she did. I've always felt that Russian's strong connection to their culture is something that any American would be interested in engaging with them on, and I think it shows us a lot about the possibilities of engaging with our own culture and our own history and our own literature more as we walk around the nature that surrounds us in our lives.

[Russian hip-hop music]


  I'm Christopher Wurst, worse director of the Collaboratory, an initiative within the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, better known as ECA. 22.33 is named for Title 22, Chapter 33 of the U.S. Code, the statute that created ECA. Our stories come from participants of the U.S. Government-funded international exchange programs.

In this episode, Eric Swinn told us about his experiences as part of ECA Critical Language Scholarship Program, an intensive overseas language and cultural immersion program for American post-secondary students. For more about ECA exchange programs, checkout eca.state.gov. We also encourage you to subscribe to 22.33 wherever you find your podcasts, and we'd love to hear from you. You can write to us at ecacollaboratory@state.gov. That's E-C-A C-O-L-L-A-B-O-R-A-T-O-R-Y @state.gov. Special thanks this week to Eric Swinn for sharing his stories and passion about his time in Russia.

I did the interview with Eric and edited this episode.

Featured music during Eric's segment "From Russia With Love" by the Jackie Gleason Orchestra, "Russian Lullaby" by the King Cole trio, and special thanks for the use of "Socks" by Yaist Yaist Yaist, from the band themselves, who apparently are still pals with Eric. Music at the top of each episode is "Sebastian" by How The Night Came and at the end, every week, "Two Pianos" by Tagear Lioos.

Until next time.

[Russian music]

Season 01, Episode 03 - Dignity for the Disabled with Xatyswa Maqashalala


Xatyswa Maqashalala tells her life story, how a tragic misdiagnosis in her youth, combined with poor health care, led to her permanent disability—and how difficult it was to be young and disabled in a place without any special accommodations. Yet, as the result of all she went through, Xatyswa is determined to help others avoid her fate, and to live with dignity. Xatyswa visited the United States as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship program; more information on MWF can be found at https://yali.state.gov/mwf/.


Chris:  You're born in a place where poverty is rampant, and where things that many of us take for granted, like basic healthcare, simply do not exist. You know you are different, that your body is not like others, but by the time you learn what's wrong, permanent damage has been done. But you never quit your campaign to make sure this won't happen to someone else. How do you keep going? You're listening to 22.33, a podcast of exchange stories.

Xatyswa:  My aunt walks up to this lady whose been sitting next to us in the queue, and says, "We have to come back in two days. Can we please stay over at your house?" And these are the kind of things my aunt had to do. My mother and my grandmother. I was raised in the rural part of South Africa. We didn't have ... Can you please cut that? I didn't introduce myself.

Chris:  This week, a tragic misdiagnosis. The perils of being poor and disabled, and advocating for the empowerment of children. Join us on a journey from South Africa to the United States, so that others may live with dignity. It's 22.33.

Intro Clip 1:  We report what happens in the United States, warts and all.
Intro Clip 2:  These exchanges shaped who I am.
Intro Clip 3:  And when you get to know these people they're not quite like you. You read about them. They are people very much like ourself and-
Intro Clip 4:  (singing) Whoa, that's what we call cultural exchange. Yeah.

Xatyswa:  My name is Xatyswa Maqashalala. I'm from The Eastern Cape in South Africa.

I was raised in the rural part of South Africa. There were no hospitals, there were a few clinics. The one closest hospital we had was far from our home. My family had realized that I was different from the other children and they went to the clinic to try and find out what's wrong, and the clinic didn't know what it was. They sent us over to the nearest hospital, which was far from home. And they didn't know what it was because they had a shortage of staff, shortage of doctors, so they sent me to another hospital.

Now we go back home. They have to find money to travel to another town for a hospital. And we get there and the diagnosis is polio, but it was a misdiagnosis. And I don't blame the doctors because they were short staffed. This was during the times of apartheid. So they sent us over to another hospital. Now when we get to the other hospital, which is a travel of five, six hours from home, the doctor is not available.

Then we have to sleep over at somebody's house, a stranger's house. We come back the following day. We are in the queue of a line the whole day and by the time it's our turn to see the doctor there's an emergency. The doctor, who is supposed to be in the family medicine is now rushed to surgery because shortage of staff.

And we are given an appointment for two days later. We have stay at somebody else's house. This went on for a while. Eventually when you see the doctor, the doctor says, "Well, we do not have CT scans here. This is not polio, but we do not have scans. So I'm going to transfer you to another hospital." Now this is in a different province. Have to go back home and my family has to find money and a relative for us to travel to another province in another city.

This goes on until about four years later. When I finally get diagnosed with Kyphoscoliosis. There's nothing they can do, so we go to another province. We go to another province. And yet another province. And yet another province until eventually we get to go to Johannesburg.

At this time my mother had just gotten a job in Johannesburg. Now the process of South African medicine is that you need to start at a clinic before you can go to a hospital because our hospital's overpopulated. And this is post apartheid. So we go to a clinic, we queue the whole day because there's a lot of sick people, very few hospitals, very few nurses, and very few doctors.

Then we finally get to see a nurse who's going to write us a letter. So we stood in a queue just to get a letter that says, "We cannot help her so we're transferring her to a hospital." We get to the local hospital a few days later, we're in the queue the whole day. Then we can't see the doctor so we're given an appointment card. We come back a few days later and the doctor says, "I'll have to transfer you to Johannesburg General Hospital," which is now the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital.

We go there for many days on end. My mother was new at her job, she couldn't afford to not go to work because she'd lose her job and she wouldn't be able to pay for the medical bills. So one of my aunts had to come up to Jo'burg to live with us and take me to those ongoing appointments to the hospital.

So we'd go on a Tuesday. Then we'd go on a Thursday. Because the hospital was so packed they allocate days for children who want to see an orthopedic must come on a certain day. So if you come on a Wednesday you'll be told, "We were dealing with that yesterday, can you come back next week?" And that was the story for a long time.

Eventually I got to see a doctor who could help. And at this time, this medical doctor, who was from Nigeria, tells us that because of how old I am and how many years I've had this they can't really reverse my condition. They can't reverse what I had become.

If I was born in the United States or in Russia or in Europe somewhere I would be able to walk today like other people. By the time of my diagnosis then the only things doctors could do was to try and prevent my body from deteriorating. And all the things they did say was that because of the time and because of my age, over the next few years I might deteriorate, both physically and mentally.

I had the operation. After that I had to be taken to ICU. I had a spinal cord operation. To my surprise, and to my family's surprise, when they came to see me I was in the men's ICU because the ped ICU was packed.

When I was in the ward I would lose my friends. I would have a friend today and tomorrow the mother is packing, and I'd ask my aunt, "Why is she leaving and where is my friend?" My aunt had become a pro at telling me that my friends have gone to heaven.

I had gotten so accustomed to my friends going to heaven that I even thought that when it's my turn to go to surgery I might also go to heaven. And my mom, knowing the medical system in South Africa, she knew that there was a possibility. Signing for a child to go to surgery in a public hospital is a risk. And before I went to surgery my mother explained the idea of heaven and she made it sound so beautiful that I was at peace with going to heaven. I was eight, but I was looking forward to heaven.

When I woke up and I wasn't in heaven there was a bit of a disappointment because heaven was so beautiful that I thought, "Hmm, I'd like to go there." After waking up from surgery I continued to lose friends. Over the next four years I had a series of surgeries all over my body, especially on my right leg. And sometimes the healing process would be three, four months. And now that I'm older and I'm doing research and I'm watching television I see that surgeries that would heal in three months, if I was in a different country or if I was in a private hospital, which my parents couldn't afford, I would have healed in a few weeks or days sometimes.

Then I went to school. The schools I went to ... because they were good schools. My mother wanted me to have a good education, but they didn't have elevators, they just had steps. So sometimes I would get extremely tired and miss classes because my back couldn't take it. Then our government schools ... I was in a government public school. They do not accommodate children with disabilities.

The nature of things in South Africa is that you'd find a 12 year old who doesn't have a wheelchair and every time that they need to go to the bathroom, they have to wait for their sibling. They have to wait for their parent. What does that do to their dignity? If at age 12 you want to just do what people do without having to think ... if you need to go to the bathroom right now you won't think twice. You'd just stand up and you'd go to the bathroom. But there's children in South Africa, and I believe in many parts of Africa, that do not have that liberty.

Parents lose their jobs because they have to take care of a child that could be in school, but can't be in school because the school cannot accommodate them. Our continent, Africa, it's taking disability so lightly, so lightly. I got here and when I was at Kansas State University even the rooms have Braille on the sides. We don't have that in South Africa.

There's ramps if you want to get off the sidewalk into the road, there's a ramp for a wheelchair. In South Africa we don't have that. So when you get to a side ... when you want to get off a sidewalk there has to be somebody to help you off your wheelchair.

It's tough, and there are things that I didn't even know we could do until I got here. Right now at the hotel that we're at they've given me a scooter because they understand that their hotel is so big, so they have a scooter for people who'd like it. We don't have that back at home.

A lot of children with disabilities fail at school. I was a very smart kid in school. I got As and all of that, but I know that it was by the grace of God because imagine you have to lose time off classes because your back can't take walking up to the next class. And that's the fate that most South African children living with disabilities face. Some of them don't even go to school because they don't have a wheelchair, so they have no means of going from home to school.

I've taken it upon myself to do what I can to advocate for people living with disabilities, especially children. Because if your dignity's stripped at the age of 12, really what can we expect from you as an adult? That's my story.

Chris:  22.33 is produced by the Collaboratory, an initiative within the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, better know as ECA. My name's Christopher Wurst, I'm the Director of the Collaboratory.

22.33 is named for Title 22, Chapter 23 of the U.S. Code, the statute that created ECA. And our stories come from participants of U.S. Government funded international exchange programs.

In this episode, Xatyswa told us her life experience and how she was motivated to become an activist for disabled youth, which eventually led to her being nominated for and visiting the United States through ECA's Mandela Washington Fellowship, part of the U.S. Government's Young African Leader's Initiative, or YALI.

For more information about ECA exchange programs like the Mandela Washington Fellowship, check out eca.state.gov. And we encourage you to subscribe to 22.33 wherever you find your podcasts. You can also write to us at ecacollaboratory@state.gov. That's ecacollaboratory@state.gov. We are indebted this week to Xatyswa Maqashalala for sharing her very personal story.

Manny Pereira did the interview, I edited it. 

Featured music during this segment was "Roof Over My Head" by Steve Klink and "Dark White" by Steven Siebert. Music at the top of each episode is "Sebastian" by How The Night Came. And the end credit music is "Two Pianos" by Tagear Lioos.

Until next time.

Season 01, Episode 02 - Captain Courageous  with Husham Al-Thahabi


Husham Al-Thahabi never set out to be a hero. As he saw more and more orphans and homeless people in his community in Iraq, he took it upon himself to create a center where needy community members would be cared for and trained for careers.  As time went on and the community flourished, an entire village with the name Al-Thahabi stands as a testament to his legacy. Husham visited the United States as part of the International Vistor Leadership Program; more information on IVLP can be found at  https://eca.state.gov/ivlp.


Chris Wurst:  This is a hero story, about a man who helps those in need. Young and old alike. About a man who saw a problem in his community and threw himself into its solution. It's a story about how, when you are selfless and dedicate your life to helping others, you can build something bigger than yourself. Where not only does everyone know your name, but where most of the community shares your name.

You're listening to 22.33, a podcast of exchange stories.

Husham:  [foreign language 00:00:33]

Adam (Interpreter):  I came out of a bus, which was the bus that was provided for IVLP. And I was aiming to a building, where we supposed to go. And from far away, I see that young lady standing there holding the door open and waiting for me. I didn't really put it together, and I kept going towards the door. And she still holding the door until I get in. And then she close the door after that

And back home, we don't have such a culture, that you hold the door for the next person. And from that moment on, until now, any time I go out of a door, I make sure I hold that door for the person behind me.

Chris Wurst:  This week, coming to the rescue of those in need. Learning another side of America. And being the courageous captain on a ship with precious cargo.

Join us on a journey from Iraq to the United States, to discover that sometimes international exchanges open doors. Literally open doors. It's 22.33.

Intro Clip 1:  We report what happens in the United States, warts and all.
Intro Clip 2:  These exchanges shaped who I am.
Intro Clip 3:  And when you get to know these people, they're not quite like you. You read about them. They are people, very much like ourselves. And ...

Husham:  [foreign language 00:02:25]

Adam:  My name is Husham Al-Thahabi, I am from Iraq. I am the presidents or the head of the organization called Iraqi Home of Creativity. I came to United State in 2014 in IVLP program. That was mainly focused in special education.

Husham:  [foreign language 00:02:44]

Adam:  I was a typical kid, that basically like any other kids in Iraq, they just only focus on themself. Focus into a very specific and a personal goal to themself, goal to about their family. About their immediate family member. Very simple goals. And I never, ever thought to really think beyond that, or even that I would be even doing anything outside of my immediate family member.

However, in 2003, things change. And thing change because I find out, there are segment of the society, that they are marginalized. And they are actually disadvantaged, which is mainly, is homeless children. And it was a huge number of homeless children in Iraq. And that's really opened my eyes a little bit.

But what really strikes me and change me totally is when I notice that some of the international organization in Iraq, they are taking care of those kids like they are exactly their kids as well. And I ask myself, I said, "I can do better. I can do more than what other international organization are doing in Iraq, and I can provide things that no one ever provided for those children."

At that time, I find myself, I am automatically involve in that. And I start from that point on, work with them. Love them. Provide service to them. Help them, like exactly I do love my kids, and provide service for my kids, and take care of them as exactly I take care of my kids. And that's where I started.

Husham:  [foreign language 00:04:45]

Adam:  Basically my work is taking care of orphaned children, homeless children, and children that they actually is a products or they came from broken homes. Our job is to take care of their issues, some of them, they have trauma. Some of them, they do have psychological problems. Some of them, they have medical problems. And social problems.

So this is where our job comes in, is to take to cover all the above area that I just mentioned. And we're trying to elevate the challenges, the problem that they are facing, and the trauma that they went through.

Adam:  And we also trying to equip them, in order for them to feel good about themself, is by solving their problem and taking over of their life in a state-of-the art industry to believe into our house.

Husham:  [foreign language 00:05:53]

Adam:  I am graduated, I have a bachelor degree in psychology. And I use my education into helping the children and instead of they look at themself in a very passive way or they are hopeless, we make sure that we empower them. We make sure that we help them mentally and keep them healthy and provide all the services that we can provide, in order for them to feel good about themself and be active member of the society.

Husham:  [foreign language 00:06:46]

Adam:  IVLP program, the one I was a part of it in 2014, give me an ample opportunity to get to know the American people in closer. And also to provide opportunities to visit American family at their homes and some of the organization that they work, specifically into the special education field.

I was very happy to visit to many organization, and what I notice over there, that those organization that they are, the workers, they have a great patient to deal with the kids with the special needs. And for specific example, that I visited one of the organization when I was here, and there was a kid, that he can't move anything of his body parts except his head. And I find out that the organization, they trying to come up with a specific program to know how they can help him to communicate, and be able to be a regular student among the other student in the class.

And that strikes me. And that give me the spirit so that when I will go back to Iraq, I will work very closely, and actually that's exactly what happened. I work very closely with two of my kids, that they have special needs. And I work it so hard to make sure to help them and enable them to be in a regular school.

Husham:  [foreign language 00:08:18]

Adam:  During my visit here, in 2014, with IVLP program, the trip mainly it was a conversation. Both ways conversation, between the American part and for my side. And we used to exchange ideas, and we used to exchange issues that we find difficulties to solve. And we talk about solutions, what the best solution, best practice in both side. I learned a great deal from them. And I shared all my ideas and my solution, and how I see the problem that they are facing.

For me, I learn a great deal. I took a lot of ideas when I went home.

Husham:  [foreign language 00:09:09]

Adam:  When I close my eyes, I think of United States as different, completely different than the perception prior coming here. Before coming here to United State, the only thing that we know about America is American army. And that's it, and that's ... We, in the East. Not only in Iraq, but everybody in the Middle East think of America as American army.

But for me, when I came here, I interacted with American society. I interacted with American people. I communicated with them. And I find them, that they have ultimate respect to each other. They have ultimate respect to people, regardless of their beliefs, regardless where they come from. They have the humanitarian attitude, and I find it the ultimate human behaviors in United State, and that is something great that I always think of.

Husham:  [foreign language 00:10:25]

Adam:  As I mention earlier, that we in the Iraqi Home for Creativity, we provide three criteria of services for three different segment of the society. Number one is the homeless children. Number two is orphans or the children that they came from abusive relationship within their own family, or from broken homes. What we provide for them, we provide for them medical services, social services, and education.

And we making sure that they will be able to overcome the challenges and the trauma that they went through. That's basically in general. We also trying to help them with other services that we provide, either we obtain an ID for them. Which is national ID. Some of them, they don't have national ID. And we also provide another services in our center, which we provide trade, to teach them how to do ... To cut hair, like became a barber. Or to be able to sew clothes. And that's in order to produce a revenue or to bring the revenue or consistent revenue to the organization. So we can help them.

Some of the kids, we trying to reallocate them to a different family, or we're trying to do an outreach to their own family member. And sometime when we find out that they came from abusive relationship within their home, then we'll try to find the family that they can actually take care of them. And we keep in touch with them.

Husham:  [foreign language 00:12:08]

Adam:  Now we also provide services for homeless seniors, and the services and those they provide the services for, homeless senior, those they leave in the street and they can't take care of themself. They have terminally ill disease, or critical diseases. Those that take care of them is the same kids within our facility. They are taking care of them, and now we are having a new logo on the top of our house. It's called The Safe House for Senior.

Husham:  [foreign language 00:12:57]

Adam:  We always record activities in our facility. And one day, while we are recording some of the activity, a kid just passed by the camera, and we took picture of him. And we didn't put anything together in our mind at the time.

Seven years later, this child, this kid end up coming to our facility looking for help. And we find out that his parents, both his mother and father, they were killed in one of the IED explosive. And he was for seven years in the street. He has no home. He was basically homeless.

And when he came to our facility, he was in a very dire situation. He was very introvert. He was completely isolated. He doesn't want to communicate with anybody, doesn't want to participate in any activity.

So we help him how to overcome that. And we start to ask him to just express his anger, the trauma, all the problem in drawing anything. And then he start to draw in piece of paper, and then we realize that he is very talented to do that type of work. And later on, we provide all the material for him to enable him to be an artist. And we realize, he became very, very successful artist. And he start to send all his work around the world.

And we find out that, sadly, that he can't join his work because he doesn't have an ID. He doesn't have a national ID. So, what we did, we provide a national ID. His work, it came all the way in one of the exhibits here in Washington, D.C. And he was awarded one of the best award for the youngest artist under 15 in the world, here in Washington, D.C. And he's one of our kids.

Husham:  [foreign language 00:14:44]

Adam:  Most of those kids, when they came to our facility, they was very young. But they stayed there until they were 18 years old. And after 18 years old, we help them to find a job. And after like two years, approximately, we help them also to find a wife for themself, and they get married.

We also have another project that we build a small homes for them, after they leave the facility, which is we call it, The Golden Nest. And they stay at this Golden Nest until they are very independent. Some of them, they actually have children now. And some, they, now we can say we have grandchildren. And most of the grandchildren, their name is Husham, like my name.

Husham:  [foreign language 00:16:06]

Adam:  The successful, positive, tangible results that I see on a daily basis, in my institution, not only in general but also the positive, and the successful result from the kids that, within the institution. That what's really gives me the motivation and drives me to continue doing the good work. Because I see in front of my eyes. I will not stop doing what I am doing, because we are working now into pressuring the government to pass a law, to protect all the kids in Iraq. So that also keeps me going, to achieve. That's my dream, to achieve such a dream.

Husham:  [foreign language 00:17:07]

Adam:  I have to be optimistic, because I look at myself. I am a captain of a big ship. And this ship, that's full of those kids, it must go all the way to the end to the shore. If I am negative, I will not be able ... If I am not optimistic and negative, and not positive, I will not be able to take the ship to the shore. And people, the kids, they look at me as a role model. So I have to be positive all the time. They look at me, I am the Superman. I can do everything. So I must maintain this positive attitude all the time, in order for me to be a role model, successful role model for them.

Husham:  [foreign language 00:18:01]

Adam:  One of the biggest lesson that I learn throughout my life is that basically, I always tell people and I advise them, is that you make sure do what you really makes you feel comfortable. Do what really makes you feel happy. Don't listen to what people are saying, when you do something because if you will keep listening to their critique, their criticism, and all what they are saying, you will never be able to achieve anything.

Adam:  So keep going. Keep doing the good thing.

Husham:  [foreign language 00:18:37]

Chris Wurst:  22.33 is produced by The Collaboratory, an initiative within the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, better known as ECA. My name's Christopher Wurst. I'm the director of The Collaboratory.

22.33 is named for Title 22, Chapter 33 of the U.S. Code, the statute that created ECA. And our stories come from participants of U.S. government-funded international exchange programs.

In this episode, Husham Al-Thahabi talked about his experiences as an IVLP participant, on a program about special education. For more about the International Visitor Leadership Program, that's what IVLP stands for, and other ECA exchange programs, check out eca.state.gov.

We encourage you to subscribe to 22.33. You can do so wherever you find your podcasts. And we'd love to hear from you. You can write to us at ecacollaboratory@state.gov.

Special thanks this week to Husham for his time, and his absolute commitment to the needy in Iraq. You heard Adam Salama's voice as Husham's interpreter. I did the interview and edited this episode. 

Featured music was "Archipelago" by AA Alto, "Invitation" by Lucky Thompson, "Glimpse of Eternity" by Maiden, and "Chance Encounter" by David Helowitz. Music at the top of each episode is "Sebastian" by How the Night Came. And the end credit is "Two Pianos" by Tagear Lioos

Until next time.

Season 01, Episode 01 - Don't Stop, Keep Moving with Joanna Lohman


American professional soccer player Joanne Lohman recounts a trip to Gaborone, Botswana as a sports envoy only to learn that her team didn’t own shoes, despite the fact that turf was burning hot.  With stories about girl-power, toughness, and teamwork, Lohman returned feeling she gained at least as much as she gave. More information about the U.S. Sports Envoy Program can be found at https://eca.state.gov/programs-initiatives/initiatives/sports-diplomacy/sports-envoys-and-sports-visitors.


Chris Wurst:  You are a professional athlete. You play on soft green grass with the best equipment. But half way across the world, as a tireless sports envoy, you coach girls who have never seen a grass field, who don't even own shoes to play in. But you inspire them. Showing them what girl power means. You change how they see the world. But then, at the end of the day, they do the very same for you. Who leaves the biggest impact on the other? Likely it's a tie. You're listening to 22.33, a podcast of exchange stories.

Sports Clip 1:  In the box, Lohman comes out. Off the post and across the line. And it's a goal for Washington. And the hand sign substitution of Joanna Lohman a smart one. And it's 2-1, Seattle in front.
Sports Clip 2:  And she's just been working so hard this half. She's getting forward. She's making her presence known. And what a great turn, and an excellent finish.

Chris Wurst:  This week: no shoes? No problem. Playing with the ambassador, and dance diplomacy. Join us on our journey from Washington D.C. to Gaborone, Botswana to help girls dream big. It's 22.33.

Intro Clip 1:  We report what happens in the United States, warts and all.
Intro Clip 2:  These exchanges shaped who I am.
Intro Clip 3:  And when you get to know these people they're not quite like you. You read about 'em. They are people, very much like ourselves and...
Intro Clip 4:  (singing) That's what we call cultural exchange, ooohhh yeah

Joanna Lohman:  My name is Joanna Lohman. I'm a midfielder for the Washington Spirit, and I am a sports envoy for the U.S. Department of State. I've traveled to Asia, South America, Europe and also Africa. This'll be my third year in a row going to Africa.

2016 I went to Botswana, 2017 I went to Côte d'Ivoire, and 2018 I'll be going to Niger.

You know, I remember the story like it was yesterday. I was going to run a program in the capital of Botswana for a group of about 15 young women called Girl Power. And it was my job to lead this program, and to be a role model for these young women, who clearly have way fewer opportunities than I do as a female in America.

We were working with a group of about 15 young women from the local villages. We were given the turf field in their national training ground for this program. So most of these young women I'm sure have never left their village, let alone played soccer on a turf field in the national training center. So this was a very prestigious honor for these young women to be chosen for this program.

I got to the field, and it was you know, it's Africa in November in Botswana. It was at least 100 degrees. The sun was beating down on us, and for anyone who's played on turf, it's hotter on turf. You have black rubber beads that make up the field, and those beads pretty much catch on fire. And it adds at least five degrees to the field. So I would say it was 105 degrees.

When I showed up you know, I was in my fancy U.S. Soccer gear, all the latest Nike attire. My shoes, I was ready for this program. I understood that it was my job to really lead these young women. And when I arrived to the field and the girls got out of their bus, none of them had shoes on. And you know, I thought to myself you know, maybe their shoes are in their bag.

I was just so taken aback. And I thought you know, wow, I'm incredibly naïve to think, to just assume that these girls would have shoes to play soccer in.

Again, it's 105 degrees on this turf. Their feet are going to burn. And you know, I put a little bit more thought into it, and I am sure when they play soccer in the local villages they don't wear shoes. For one reason, they probably don't have them. Two, they probably, if they do have shoes, they don't fit, and three they're just used to playing in their bare feet. This is why soccer is so popular around the world, is you don't need a lot of money to play. All you need really is a ball and your feet. You don't even need shoes.

I, you know, immediately was concerned for their wellbeing because I knew that it was going to be painful. And looking back, I used that day almost as a metaphor of life. I thought to myself, we've two options at this point. We could sit in the shade. And that would take away really the power of what we were doing. And the option two, which was the only option in my mind was, we have to play. We play and we keep our feet moving. And if you stand still, your feet will burn.

So I thought what a great metaphor of life of like let's we have to keep moving, mo matter what happens. No matter what happens in life, it's going to be uncomfortable. It's going to get hot. There's going to be fires, but you have to just keep, you have to keep moving.

So you know, as their leader in this program of Girl Power I made sure that the girls were constantly moving, that they never stood still. Because if you stand still, your feet are going to burn.

And you know, we spent the entire day basically on this turf. And the girls, I mean I think it was a little bit uncomfortable, but they worked through the pain. They had an incredible time, and the ambassador, the US ambassador showed up at the end of our program.

Every one of the programs that I do, I try to get the ambassador to come and all the local delegates, the media, and we all play. I make sure everyone gets out on the field and plays together. Because I think that's a major way of breaking down barriers, is everyone getting out on the same field and playing together.

So the ambassador showed up. He was wearing a pair of Jordans, he was in jeans. And I said to all the girls and the delegates and the ambassador, "We're going to play a scrimmage." So the U.S. Ambassador was my right defender. And credit to him, he came out you know, obviously not in the proper attire, but he worked hard, he was sweating. And the girls just had an absolute blast. Because here they were, playing with the highest ranked people within their local city, and also too, the US ambassador.

And after the program, I think the U.S. Ambassador also was taken aback that the girls did not have shoes. Because of this, the ambassador promised to get every girl on that program a pair of shoes.

You know, that was a very powerful moment for me, because I felt like we changed lives. But it's hard to see. It's almost intangible. It's a feeling you may give someone. It's a bit more hope that someone holds onto because you've come. It's opening people's eyes to what a woman can be, what she can say, what she can do. And I hope that I'm able to expand the definition of what gender can be.

The program was in November. In January the ambassador told me that they were going to have a ceremony to give the shoes to the girls. So I made a video for the young women over in Botswana, and I just you know, I thanked them for the opportunity to run this program. And I also gave them a lot of credit for working through what was a very uncomfortable day, where it was so hot. And their feet were on fire, and they never stopped moving.

And they inspired me, really as the envoy. And typically you expect the opposite, right? You expect the envoy to come and to inspire the young women that they're working with. But I always find that it's a very mutual feeling, and that the young women that I work with truly inspire me.

And they had sent me photos and videos from the day of when the girls were given their cleats. And I remember thinking to myself, this is one of the proudest moments of my entire life. Because the smiles on their faces were just ... I couldn't even put into words how it made me feel. And to see the joy, and to see them in uniforms, and to see these cleats you know, shiny and brand-new. And to see the entire town out celebrating these young women, who are so often you know, feeling empty and ignored and pushed aside. To see them really celebrated and highlighted, was such a beautiful moment for me. And it's a moment that I will never forget.

I think that I understand that none of them are going to grow up and be professional soccer player. That's completely unrealistic, and not why I'm there. I think it's such an honor for me to use the sport of soccer, a game that I love, and that I've played for decades now, to use that sport as vehicle for social change.

And on top of that, for these young women just to see someone like me, someone who has spent their entire life playing sports, who really expands the definition of what a woman can look like, what a woman can say, what a woman can do. I think that resonates a lot.

Yes it does really take steps towards equality. I know that it sounds somewhat silly but, and those countries are very far behind in that aspect, but to you know, give these young women a platform to have these opportunities is so important. To give them a different view on life, to give them a chance to play. And I seldom think that they get the opportunity to just play.

And you know, that's what sports does. It allows you to just have joy. Joy in the motion, joy and working with your team-mates, building relationships with your team-mates. Falling down and picking yourself back up again instills an incredible amount of confidence and self-worth, passion, and I think it teaches a lot of lessons that I know I've learned throughout life.

And as a young woman in a lot of these countries, you're very isolated. Soccer allows you to be part of the team. And when you're a part of the team, people look out for you. And I think that's important for them because they're always, they're typically always alone. And to have a team of people who where you're accountable, and they're accountable for you, gives you a sense of purpose and a sense of value.

I learned that you know, Africans love to dance. And there's always music playing. And I love to dance. So it was the perfect combination for me, where we were having soccer festivals. There was a DJ, there was dancing; it was essentially one big party.

Clearly I look very different from the people in the local villages. So I would amass like you know, crowds that would just follow me everywhere. And I'm never one to not dance to a song, so I think the townspeople really enjoyed me, because I was very uninhibited. I would dance, I would sing, and I made up a handshake that I would do with anyone that was willing to do it with me. And I found that dance and trying to communicate in ways that don't require words, really create bonds quite quickly.

So I think people were very amused with my just my presence in these villages. A lot of time on these trips I feel like a legitimate celebrity. I feel like a rock star.

One of the massive things for me is not only just kick a soccer ball with them, but it's to build those connections, and you know, build bridges between cultures that where people think we're so different. You know, we speak different languages, and we've grown up in different cultures, different classes, different religions. And to see that we're just, we're all human. And we're human and we all deserve the opportunity to feel loved and accepted, and worthwhile.

And if I can go to these countries, and just even for a few days, make them feel like they're more than what they typically think every day of their lives. That's something that's really important to me. And that's why I love these programs, is not because I get to coach soccer, it's because I get to deeply impact the life of another human being.

Sports Clip 1:  And Lohman with the bicycle kick. Joanna Lohman has scored a spectacular goal.

Spots Clip 2:  Strength of Dunn. What a ball by Dunn. Look at that. Get that ball in.

Chris Wurst:  22.33 is produced by The Collaboratory, an initiative within the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, better known as ECA. My name's Christopher Wurst, I'm the director of The Collaboratory.

22.33 is named for Title 22, Chapter 33 of the U.S. Code, the statute that created ECA. And our stories come from participants of U.S. Government funded international exchange programs.

In this episode, Joanna Lohman told us about her experience as part of ECA's sports envoy program, sending U.S. Athletes around the world to inspire kids about sports, and life.

For more about ECA sports envoy programs, check out eca.state.gov. We encourage you to subscribe to 22.33 wherever you find your podcasts. And we'd love to hear from you. You can write to us at ecacollaboratory@state.gov.

Special thanks this week to the Washington Spirit's own Joanna Lohman for sharing her stories and inspiration.

Josh Shen and I did the interview with her, and I edited it. 

Featured music during this segment was "Ese Triste" by David Lostana, and "Moving Day" by Tiny Parham's Four Aces. Music at the top of each episode is "Sebastian" by How The Night Came. And the end credit music is "Two Pianos" by Tagear Lioos.

Until next time.