You’ve recently graduated. What do you do now?
I recently took time off because of my disability. Otherwise, I work in International Affairs. Last year, I interned at the State Department for six months, and then at the United Nations Foundation for three months.
How was your internship with the State Department?
It was fantastic. My internship was about a year ago under the Obama Administration, and I was in the Office of Global Criminal Justice. We worked with the International Criminal Court, on tribunals, and on anything that had to do with international law, mass atrocities, crimes against humanity and genocide.
I had a lot of responsibly when I was working there. The people I worked with at GCJ treated me like a normal part of the office. I was given meaningful work, more than I feel I would get at non-governmental internships.
Anybody who is interested in interning now would need to go into it knowing that the morale is a bit different because I’m sure people are very stressed out.
Overall, the organisation is amazing, and I really enjoyed working there. I feel for the people who have been resilient to stay through all the chaos in the last year.
I assume that sometimes you encountered, in the course of your work, material which would be difficult to deal with. How did you deal with that?
I had wonderful colleagues who were much more experienced than I. We would talk through things and be as light-hearted about it as possible, while also working really hard to understand the severity of the situation.
You’ve interned for the Communications Department on the Nothing But Nets Campaign, which provides mosquito nets for populations affected by malaria. How did you apply for it?
I got it from networking. I was trying to find my next opportunity, and UNF was looking for another intern, so it worked out really well. They're in DC, in the same neighbourhood I was already working in, so it all worked out.
You've put your career on hold for now for a bit, because you've been diagnosed with a brain and spinal condition.
I have a brain condition called Chiari I Malformation. I was diagnosed in 2010 and I had brain surgery in 2011. In 2014, my freshman year of college, I started getting weird symptoms where I was getting these sharp pains in my chest and this burning sensation down my arms.
I asked doctors and they said, I was fine. But things got quite bad when I was working in DC. A neurologist did an MRI of my brain and cervical spine, and it turns out that I have this other condition called Syringomyelia, where I have these pretty large cysts in my spinal cord. They're caused by my brain condition, because the surgery that I got wasn't successful and was blocking the normal flow of the spinal cord fluid.
My neurologist told me that if I didn't get surgery immediately, because of the severity of my cysts, I could be paralysed or I could start losing feeling in my arms and legs. So, I decided to take time off and I moved in with my cousin who was in Los Angeles.
It was a shame because I had been building up my career throughout undergrad, writing papers, attending conferences. I was solid in what my next step was going to be but getting diagnosed with another condition and realising my disability, I put that on hold for a couple months. I had surgery again last fall.
How do you manage it with the American Health Care System?
I'm lucky in the fact that I'm still covered under my mom's health insurance thanks to Obamacare regulations.
I don't know how much debt I'm in, because I haven't been sent the bill for my surgery yet. I'm just sitting here with my student loans and also my impending healthcare doom. But I am lucky in the fact that my mom's health insurance is pretty good.
It's chronic. I'm going to have to get updates with my neurosurgeon, get regular MRIs and be on medication to regulate my symptoms. So far my symptoms have not gone away from my surgery. Worst case scenario is that I have to get another surgery later this year, depending on what my doctors say. I'm going to have to think about making accommodations around this for the rest of my life.
Are you covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act now?
A lot of people with my condition are denied disability because of the bureaucracy of the American government. I haven't personally applied for it because I've heard so many horror stories about people trying to manoeuvre that.
You've got good professional experience and a good degree. From the perspective of a company looking to hire you, what could they do to make joining them easy?
I'm not on any medication for my daily symptoms at the moment so companies need to understand that sometimes I might need to step out of a meeting to get my symptoms under control. I need to have that flexibility, which includes working remotely sometimes when absolutely necessary.
Would you recommend Roger Williams University?
I would! I was there on a full-tuition scholarship for the Intercultural Leadership Ambassador Programme. It a diversity outreach programme that brings people from different backgrounds onto campus. I was recruited in my senior year because of my disability and underrepresented socioeconomic status. I had written my college essay on it and my brain surgery.
For women with disabilities, Roger is a good school, although the campus can do a lot better with accessibility. It's hilly and they hadn't really thought through how to navigate it in a wheelchair or if you can't walk very well until recently. But to the school's credit, they are working on that right now, so give or take a couple of years it will be a lot more accessible.
What was the most useful thing you've learnt about yourself during your student years?
I'm lot more confident as a leader than I thought I would be. I started my undergrad thinking I was gonna be a high school teacher. But then I opened myself up to going into foreign policy, and got into Model UN. Thanks to that, I'm more confident than I give myself credit for and I realised I am good at managing people.
Why did you switch your career plans from teacher to foreign policy?
I went to a public school where history was taught from the perspective of US military history. Then I took a current events class, but we never really talked about foreign policy. I was always curious about things that were going on outside the United States. I wanted to broaden my perspectives a bit.
One of my friends, who was a senior at the time, was the president of Model UN, and she was looking for more people to come to conferences and debates. I went to my first one, and I absolutely fell in love with it. I switched my major after that, cause I felt like that's where I needed to be.
Any parting advice for women your age starting their foreign policy career?
Getting into it can be very intimidating. I feel very intimidated a lot of the times since I’m still getting into it. When emailing about an opportunity, I always think "I'm not sure if I'll get this. And I'm not sure if this is a thing but I might as well go for it.” Don't be afraid, especially if you think that your disability or any other disadvantage you may have is going to stop you from whatever you want.