Growing up in various rural communities around the Southwest meant having a very limited idea of cultural exchange. Cultural exchange is defined as “sharing ideas, beliefs, traditions, and knowledge with someone who may be coming from a completely different background.” For me, cultural exchange has meant something entirely different. It wasn’t until I became a Global Santa Fe Fellow that I was able to have exposure to an array of perspectives. Over the course of eight months, the Fellowship group has met with about ten speakers with careers ranging from the Foreign Service to asylum and immigration lawyers. Each and every one of these speakers has taught me something different about the phrase “cultural exchange.” As I have lived in places that are diverse, but culturally separate, I have been able to learn about cultural exchange through these speakers. 

The first-ever speaker that I heard during my fellowship was Allegra Love. Allegra is an immigration attorney from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Currently, she works in El Paso, Texas, to represent detained asylum seekers. While Allegra comes from Santa Fe, she has experienced and worked with some of the most culturally diverse people. When Allegra spoke about her work, she told us stories about Haitian, Mexican, Guatemalan, and Salvadoran immigrants, among many others, attempting to cross the border. These stories were filled with desperation, pain, horror, and the atrocities that come with making the long journey across the border. Allegra has seen family members ripped apart from each other, immigrants turned away and forced to go back to their home countries, and the abuse that immigrants endure from border patrol officials. Unlike me, these immigrants don’t have the security of a home or the comfort of a stable government. From Allegra’s talk, I learned of the realities of immigration, while gaining a new perspective. I never understood the true suffering that immigrants endure until reading Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera and listening to Allegra Love speak on her own personal experiences. 

Another speaker stood out to me – Amaraa Damdinsuren. He is a traditional Mongolian doctor who graduated from Darkhan Medical College and trained in XohXot, China, as a Mongolian physician. He spoke to us at the 2022 Global Citizen Summit about his experiences in Mongolia as a student and the difficulties that came with that. Amaraa spoke about the colonial influences in his country and how they affected his overall learning experiences. He mentioned that everything was shaped by the influence of the Soviet Union, whether it be his education or his everyday life. Amaraa’s dream in life was to become a traditional Mongolian doctor, but he was unable to do so in Mongolia because there were restrictions. He is now living in Belgium and has been able to pursue Mongolian medicine.  I found it really interesting to hear about the differences in education in a country influenced by the Soviet Union. 

I benefited from the exchange of ideas which furthered my understanding of what it means to be a global citizen. Having experiences that allow me to interact with others from around the world has helped me to understand and appreciate peoples’ perspectives, ways of living, and views of the world. As a result of this exposure, I have taken this fascination and wonder and decided to travel to Morocco, for a summer study abroad program through the Global Santa Fe Fellows Fund. With their support, I will be able to have my own cultural exchange experience. In Morocco, I hope to learn about the people of Morocco and their culture, while also teaching them about my own ways of living. 

Fellows Lucas and Anna interview Amaraa Damdinsuren and Tuck Stibich at the 2022 Global Citizen Summit