Alpha Connect Sisterhood Series

Nancy Szalwinski, Beta Delta, and her life as a Foreign Service Officer

June 04, 2021 Kelly McGinnis Beck Season 2 Episode 1
Alpha Connect Sisterhood Series
Nancy Szalwinski, Beta Delta, and her life as a Foreign Service Officer
Show Notes Transcript

On this episode, Kelly chats with Nancy Szalwinski, Beta Delta, on the path that led to her career as a Foreign Service Officer.  If you are interested in learning more about careers representing America, visit https://careers.state.gov/.

Disclaimer: This transcript was developed with an automated transcription program, spelling and grammar errors may occur.


Kelly  
Welcome to Alpha Connect sisterhood series. I'm your host Kelly McGinnis Beck, national president of Alpha Sigma Alpha. Thank you for joining us today. This podcast series is all about connecting. On each episode, we will connect with sisters from across the country. Sometimes there will be updates on official Alpha Sigma Alpha business. Every once in a while, I might take this podcast on the road with me to an Academy event, Chapter Installation or anniversary or an NPC meeting. But most of the time, I will be interviewing members, members at all stages of their membership from collegians to seasoned alumnae and everyone in between who will share their stories, learn about their journeys, and celebrate our amazing connection through Alpha Sigma Alpha. 

Kelly  
Welcome to the podcast, Nancy Szalwinski. 

Nancy  
Thank you so much, Kelly. It's a pleasure and an honor to be with you. 

Kelly  
I am excited to have you join us today and share your story with our Alpha Sigma Alpha members. So we'll start like I do with every guest, tell us your story. How did you become an Alpha Sigma Alpha? 

Nancy  
Well, it was sort of a process of accidents and, and grace, I guess. My father was in the military and posted to the University of Southern Mississippi as the professor of military science, which is the guy who heads up the Army ROTC department. So my parents, visited a campus while they were house hunting, they also put a deposit down on a dorm for me, which is a sort of a parental hint, if you've ever, you know, had one. And so I you know, sort of humoring them, I just I went down during I think it was probably spring break of my senior year or junior year, I can't remember which and, and then visited and I had also visited another school that I was considering going to and when I got to Southern Mississippi, I you know, it was just a combination of southern hospitality and my parents having told folks on campus that I walked on water in my spare time. So to make a long story short, I ended up at Southern Mississippi and really didn't know sorority from anything. But I got the literature over the summer and signed up we had we had what was then called rush in the just before school started in the fall. And so I went through formal rush with no particular stress involved because I didn't really know very much about it. I had no family history of Greek life. And it just seemed like an exciting thing to do. And I was interested in in, in the in the possibilities. And so I went through rush and Oh, I forgot I during the summer, I had also gone to like a get acquainted pre rush party with Alpha Sigma Alpha and had met them and also metthe woman who was to become my big sister at the time, so it all kind of wove together. But I went through Rush Alpha Sigma Alpha was the only sorority on my bid list. And so there you have it. 

Kelly  
Wow, that's pretty exciting. So a couple things, so the University of Southern Mississippi, which is home to our Beta Delta chapter.

Nancy  
correct the ad but we like to refer me I guess, now we refer to as the great chapter in the sky, unfortunately, no longer active, but maybe, maybe one day, who knows. We I was also there at the same time that Dolly Boyd came back to get her master's degree. So some of our members may remember Dolly have a larger than life figure and was on a National Council for a number of years and just a wonderfully vibrant person. But yeah, so bear with us. And I'm still act still in touch with some of my Beta Delta sisters through a Facebook group. And every year they get together for a ladybug luncheon on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. So shout out to all my Beta Delta sisters who might be listening. And we're still so hopeful maybe one day we might have an opportunity to repopulate Beta Delta chapter.

Kelly  
Definitely. So was Dolly involved in the chapter in any way while you were there?

Nancy  
She lived on the floor. No kidding. We had Panhellenic dorms. So each sorority had a floor and then depending upon the size of the group, I think some of us were the one but so we have the fourth floor and Dolly was was on the floor living on the floor with us and she was sort of an I don't know if she was an official advisor just an unofficial adviser, I don't remember anymore but she was definitely someone that people went to for advice. And, and you know, if you knew Dolly, you know she was never shy of a word of advice for you. Happy to, happy to help and so she was just definitely a bright spot in our experience.

Kelly  
So back in the day when Dolly was a young Dolly was she just as particular about dining etiquette as she grew to be as an older Dolly like most of us know her?

Nancy  
I don't think we ever got dining etiquette lessons from Dolly at that point. But, you know, she was but she knew I think she helps us stay on the straight and narrow from time to time.

Kelly  
Oh my Well, that is one of my fondest memories of Dolly, I have so many I couldn't count. But I remember my first etiquette lesson and then quickly learned, you don't sit with Dolly. If you don't want, how you eat your meal to be critiqued,

Nancy  
or you know, someone else who was also good at giving us lessons on how to do things was Sidney Allen. And I remember that she taught. She taught us where to where our name tags. And she always taught us that you always wear your name tag on the right side, because you would shake hands with your right hand and then your line of sight would go right there as you shook hands with the person opposite you. And so I always wear my name tags on the right side. Now I never I will never forget that. 

Kelly  
How funny, so I learned that as well not from Sidney. But learned that same thing with the you know, the whole you extend your hand and that's where your your eyesight goes. So How interesting. My What I remember most about Sydney was at my very first convention that I went to in in 96 at saddlebrook was she got up in front of the convention body. And I hear she had done this before but for my first time and she educated us on the proper pronunciations around Alumnae and that it was always alum ne and she pointed to her knee or alumnae, but never alumni. In her deep Southern accent. 

Nancy  
And you never forget. 

Kelly  
No, never. I always think about that. So too funny. So I'm going to back up one more time. You said your father put down a deposit on a dorm for you. So I have to ask how old were you when he made that decision versus when you ended up going to the University of Southern Mississippi?

Nancy  
Oh, it was within the year. Yeah, it was definitely in the process of choosing the college I was looking at some colleges in Texas because we had residency in Texas and, and you know, college being as expensive as it is that was a consideration. And then when that he got his assignment as Professor of military science at USM, they just wanted to give me that option. I give them a hard time about organizing my life or they just wanted to give me that option. And and it was the best of all possible worlds because I could live in the dorm and have the story, the experience and then go home and get a hot meal and do my laundry. So you know, life is good. And I might have grown up a little bit faster if I'd been further away from home and more independent but you know, I think the experience was was good all around

Kelly  
Very neat. And so I believe you traveled as a field representative, they might have been called.

Nancy  
I did we were called field representatives. And at the time, it was just two of us. Suzanne  Withsosky now Alfonso and I traveled the same year. And my first convention was Buffalo. I was thinking of it as went Niagara Falls, but it wasn't it was Buffalo. And so that was where I first met Council. And I remember I remember Sidney Allen, with her delightful Southern accent took a look at both of our last names and she said to council council members, she says I'll give $5 to the first person who can pronounce and spell both of their last name.

Kelly  
Did anybody take that bet?

Nancy  
Oh I don't think so challenging enough just with one I can only I can only imagine what it must have been like to for both for both of us with, and the names aren't really that complicated. It just sounds like a mouthful when you hear it.

Kelly  
Oh that's funny. She She was an interesting woman and for those who have didn't have the pleasure of getting to know Sidney she served opposite mouth in many ways, but most notably as NPC Chairman, when needed into that into that seat so that that's kind of where we hold her in the highest regard. Such a fun lady.

Nancy  
And I had the pleasure of meeting her as a collegiate. She came to one of our she was our speaker at one of our Founders' days that I believe I was in charge of organizing. And so that was my first encounter with the lovely and gracious Sidney Allen, who had just a wicked sense of humor. Once you got to know her,.

Kelly  
That I've heard now you told me before we hit the record button that you also met Wilma Wilson Sharp. So share a little bit about that stoy

Nancy  
Oh I did, I should say we did. Suzanne and I were both in Kansas City, it was the first, And I forgotten what that stands for. But it was the interfraternity Council meeting in Kansas City, and Wilma lived close to Kansas City. And so she made arrangements to come in, and Suzanne and I and a few lucky collegiate members had lunch with Wilma Wilson Sharp, and just had a lovely conversation. And she's just a sweet, gracious person as you would expect her to be. And then when the others went their way, she pulled Suzanne and I aside and she had a little, a little box, and she opened the box. And there were two little bar pins, you know, pieces of jewelry. And one was one had the Alpha Sigma Alpha letters, and the other one had the crest. And she said, Now I don't want you to fight over these. But you just need to choose one of you will, will have the one with the letters and one with the crest. And I just want you to have this as a little remembrance of our our luncheon together. And needless to say, it is a treasured momento. In case you're interested, I had one of the crest buds. So it was just a wonderful opportunity to meet. And I was going through some of my Alpha Sigma Alpha stuff the other night and I still have a couple of copies of Phoenix magazine where Suzanne and I and Wilma Wilson Sharp are on the cover. So I have memories of plenty of that one. 

Kelly  
Well, that is a very special keepsake. Oh my goodness,

Nancy  
I once thought I had lost it. And I was just completely distraught. And I found it in the little jewelry case that I had taken to convention with me and I was like, oh, gosh, because I you know, I just don't you there's not as a kind of thing that just simply can't replace, you know.

Kelly  
Most definitely not. Well, how lucky how neat. So I know that you went on after being a field rep in in serving the sorority in a number of different ways. share with us what some of those most memorable opportunities to visit chapters or things that happened in the sorority that really jumped out for you during those times.

Nancy  
Well, it's been a few years since I travedled for the sorority so it's kind of like think back but I remember I never thought of myself really as a southern belle because I was an army brat and grew up living in all kinds of different places. And but I've lived in in Southern Mississippi long enough I guess to pick up a bit of a drawl. And I remember being in summer of the I think Pennsylvania somewhere I can't remember where but I remember I said something to a group of women I sit in y'all want to and they and they just went "she said y'all", and just gave me a hard time about about my my seven vocabulary class. But I guess, I don't know if there's any one chapter that stands out for me. But I think the experience overall for me was just such a privilege. Because of course, when you travel, you spend the majority of your time with chapters who who need perhaps a little bit more help, whether they need help with recruitment or help with I don't know could be financial management or just maybe balancing the the core values a little bit more than they're doing or sometimes they can be in real trouble and you have to sort of be straight with them and set them on on a better course. So the chance to make a difference, which we talked about a lot I know and I still talk about in my life now, but a chance to make a difference in the lives of individual women or in the lives of chapters that could go astray, and maybe you help, you know, set on a straighter path was really a treat. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was so much fun. I was so thrilled when Betty Wallick who was president about the Sigma Alpha at the time, called me to offer me the job. I was just thrilled beyond belief. And then I got to work with Rhetta Robinson, who was unfortunately no longer with us but we used to call her mama Rhetta, she was another one with a lovely Southern accent. Very, very tall woman. Work in guidance for for high school students, if I'm remembering correctly, I know she had a psychology and the guidance background and she had the most unique piece of jewelry. She had a rain, but had concentric circles that moved. I was convinced that she was she she hypnotize people. I don't know why that popped into my head. But But anyway, we have a lovely, lovely role models in both Betty and Rhetta. And I'm just really loved the opportunity to travel for Alpha Sigma Alpha and to to give back some of what I had gotten as a collegiate and again, help that work could

Kelly  
Definitely well, and I believe you said you shared with me earlier that you started your career in higher education. And then you've since kind of moved on to a role in the State Department, but share a little bit about kind of, you know, how you got started from higher ed, and then where it was, what was it that made you make that leap over to the State Department?

Nancy  
Well, the year after I traveled, Gerry Cox, who many will remember, was vice president of Chemical Manufacturers Association of America. And I was no more interested in chemistry than I was interested in flying to the moon. But it was an opportunity for a paid internship after the year of travel for the sorority, and she, there were two internships available. And Gerry was, I think, instrumental in helping me get one of them. And it just gave me the opportunity to live and work in Washington, DC, which I had always loved as a high school student, and about going back to so I was there for Gosh, I forget exactly how long but I had the opportunity to apply for a job with Loyola University in New Orleans, based upon someone I had known from college days, who was then there as as a director of admissions. And so I went down to interview for that job, ended up taking that job, and worked in admissions there for six years, and then moved to St. Mary's University in San Antonio, Texas, where I worked as director of evening studies with a lot of adult students who came out to get their degrees at night. And just down the hall from me, one year came a gentleman who was a former ambassador under Bush Senior, and he had been ambassador to Belize. And the State Department has a program called diplomats and residents, and they're typically senior Foreign Service officers now. Now there's more opportunity for other officers to do it as well, but senior Foreign Service officers who are placed at universities around the country, typically to recruit for underrepresented groups, so that the State Department can more reflect the makeup of the United States. So in this case, St. Mary's is a majority minority Hispanic institution. And so Gene was posted there, his name was Gene Scott. So it was posted there at the time. And to make a long story short, I was in this office one day, bemoaning some level of administrative complication. And I said something to the effect, you know, problems only 20 years younger, I'd run away and join the Foreign Service. And you could almost physically see his antenna go up his recruitment antenna activate that he said, we should take the Foreign Service exam. And my response was literally, "psh, right". You know, it's sure. And he said, No, he said, encouraged me said you would be a great Foreign Service officer. And so he didn't push but he encouraged me and I took the Foreign Service written exam, which is the first step in November of I guess it was 99. And then took the, passed the written exam in the past the oral exams, the following May, I believe it was, and then went into the Foreign Service in 2001. That Gene was really instrumental in encouraging me to think about it and to to, to take the next step, because for me, I was in a wonderful job, but had gotten to be a bit of a routine. And I was at a point where I didn't really know what I wanted to do next. And this, for me seeing like, the next step for other people, they looked at me and they thought, Wow, that's a leap of faith. But for me, it was the next thing to do. And I had always been raised with a very strong belief that, you know, if you're given lots of opportunity and lots of gifts, then it's your obligation to, to give back. And that was certainly true in terms of sort of my patriotic feeling about the United States. You know, I was really fortunate. And so, you know, I wanted to give some of that back. So that's how I ended up in the Foreign Service. And like I said, For some people, it seemed like, a wild and crazy thing to do. For me, it was a natural step, and I had never looked back with regret. 

Kelly  
Wow, So I can think of a million different directions. I want to go after that, that story. But so let me start first with what does a foreign service officer actually do? And what is included in that test?

Nancy  
Oh, well, the the well, I'll start with the first part, the Foreign Service written test or exam, it shifts from year to year. So anyone who might be interested in looking at careers in the Foreign Service, should [email protected] because it gives a much better description of the current testing environment than I can. But when I took it, it reminded me very much of like a GRE test or something like that, because it had a pretty strong element of communications. And I remember a general knowledge section, and then a weird section that must have been some sort of experimental mental test or whatever. But it was one of those things where they, they would ask you a question, like, how many times in the last month have you been tapped for a leadership position? And then 16 questions later, they would ask you, and how many times in the last month have you accepted a leadership position? And I remember thinking when I was marking that up that it was weird. But anyway, the Foreign Service exam, so the real exam is the first part. And it also had a, an essay that you had to write. And I still remember the topic of the essay that I wrote on it. The question was, what's more important in understanding another country, the language or the culture, which was the easiest essay I ever wrote? Because, of course, it's both. And so I remember that, but so you take you take that written exam, and then you, at the time, I don't know if they still do this, but at the time you had to wait until the three different people hand score scored, the essay so you waited, waited and waited. Anyway, so that's, it's essentially like something like a GRE, I think, I don't know that it's changed that significantly since I took it. And then once you pass that, then then you go to a day long series of, and again, this has changed a lot to the orals when I took the orals it was essentially what they're, they're looking at is, what do you bring to the table? How well prepared might you be to be a kind of person who could be a who could be who could contribute to a foreign service assignment? So are you adaptable? You don't have to speak a foreign language. Some people do. Many people do, some people don't. But it's it tests the test in a variety of, of simulated situations. I remember going in what the first thing we had to do was to we each had a set of information about a given country and a project. And we had to, we had to advocate for our particular project. And then in the middle of it, they announced that the ambassador is going to meeting in 10 minutes and he has to have a memo with a recommendation for one project from among the six of the people that were there. And so then you have to decide which is the best project and that's where you you do a little give and take. And I ended up saying Well, I think I I like my project, but I think the one across the table is better. And so you do, they was just sort of it was a test of a lot of different things, which of course, you didn't realize until after it was all over. So anyway, that's kind of wandering around that one. But, but so those two things. So that's how I, this is the process with the written the written exam, the oral exam that I entered the Foreign Service. And so what does the Foreign Service officer do, I had to sort of mentally laugh when you said that because some days, I do still wonder. There are five different areas of specialty in the Foreign Service. And when you sign up to join, you actually sort of like choosing a major before you get to college, you don't really know if that's what you're really gonna want to do. But it sounds like the best option for you at the time. And so in the Foreign Service, you have political, economic, management, consular, and public diplomacy. So those are those five areas, you choose one, and I chose public diplomacy. And in public diplomacy is the management of all of the information sources, which at the time when I joined was still newspaper, radio television, I guess that gets me away, doesn't it. And then as as I progressed through the Foreign Service, and of course, we added social media, which is now such a big part of what we do. So but that was, that was my chosen area of specialty. And so depending on where you are, you do a lot of different things. But the bottom line, what it boils down to, regardless of what you're doing, is building creating, building, maintaining relationships. So I find in, I find in many different ways that the lessons that I learned as a young collegian, and I continue to learn as an as an alumna of Alpha Sigma Alpha, they are, they stick, it's still the same thing. It's all about how you treat people. It's how you learn about what they're about, and you learn how you listen to them. You try to understand different aspects of life. And when you start to add different countries to it, of course, it gets a bit more complicated. But it's fundamentally about relationships, whether that somebody at the visa window across from you who wants to travel to the United States, or someone who is applying for a Fulbright scholarship, who that you're interviewing to determine whether or not the the embassy is going to support them as one of their selected Fulbright grantees. Or whether you're accompanying the ambassador to a an event or writing remarks for someone for a major speech or making presentations, for on behalf of the US government on a given topic, really, it just varies quite a lot. But fundamentally, for me, it all still boils down to relationships.

Kelly  
Well, that's fascinating. And I want to go back to something you said, which was, you know, at the time, when you started that you the information that you were reviewing was newspaper, radio and TV. That was just 20 years ago. I mean, it was not that long ago. And you think about how significant the world and technology has changed just in those 20 years.

Nancy  
Oh, absolutely. It's it's a different world. I remember, I remember cutting and pasting a set of of press clips for the ambassador's. He used to say he likes to read the press clips with his cornflakes. So I would, I would be in the office, I would go pick up the papers at at the back wherever we pick them up. In Australia, I would pick up the papers and go into the office and do a quick scan through five or six different papers and pick up the major stories of the day and put them together and then send them by fax to a variety of people who were on the distribution to get the morning clips. And so yeah, we did, That's what we did. And yeah, and the world has changed so much. I mean, we didn't get we didn't have we, we didn't have the internet or our desktops until right around my first assignment. I sort of came on board at the point that that I think we joined the 21st century and Colin Powell made sure that we all had The internet on our desks. And, and from there, of course, you know that we're all quite tied to it. But yeah, it's changed an awful lot. It's I mean, I joined the Foreign Service just before 9-11. And I was in Washington, when 9-11 happened. And it was it was, it was an amazing experience, I will never forget it as anyone who was alive and aware of what went on that day, we'll never forget what happened that day. And, and that was 20 years ago this year. And a group of my colleagues who entered the Foreign Service with me, we come in as a class much like you do when you pledge a sorority come in as a class, we came in as a class. And you'll also find it amusing that when we choose our next assignments, it's called bidding. I can't get away from it. But, But we, several members of my class recently, earlier this year, in January, our anniversary date was January the eighth, I believe, if memory serves to January 6, I cannot remember now, but and you'll recall that January 6, was actually the day that the Capitol was attacked. And so I reached out just to wish everybody a happy anniversary, I think that's like the day before, something like that. And one of my colleagues popped up and she said, I'm going to go down to the Lincoln Memorial tomorrow, and just renew my oath of office to the Constitution of the United States. I went, "Oh, I'm so there." And I actually drove in because I'm working from home. I drove in and we there were, I think, probably a dozen of us that were here resident in Washington. And then of course, it being the time that it is another half dozen or so on zoom. We actually had one of our colleagues on zoom serve as the emcee. And we took the oath of office again, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. And it was it was very moving. And one of my colleagues said, it just seemed like the right thing to do.

Kelly  
I imagine that was very powerful, especially with everything that has, that was going on at that time. 

Nancy  
Yeah, for sure. 

Kelly  
So you talked a little bit about bidding for assignments, tell us some of the places that you've been the assignments you've had, what were some of your favorites?

Nancy  
Well, I have enjoyed every assignment I've had, which is, is a real privilege. I started off with training in Washington. And just so that, you know, I mentioned you don't have to speak a language. I got to speak Spanish and French when I joined the Foreign Service. So of course, my first posting was Belarus, where they don't speak Spanish and French. They speak Russian and Belarusian. And so the way this works, your first two assignments as a Foreign Service officer are what they call direct to the assignments. So that means that you, you make a list of where you would like to go, and then someone else decides where you go. So I, I had had just enough Russian to wet my appetite. And so there were three or four posts on our list that were Russian speaking posts. And so I I put, you know, I put them up, put a couple of them on my list. And so I ended up getting Belarus. So I had six months of Russian training, which I'm here to tell you is not quite enough, and then training to be a consular officer, which is primarily adjudicating visas for people who want to travel to the United States and also helping with American Citizen Services abroad. And that's pretty much a consular tour is almost always the first tour that a foreign service officer has because it's the area of most need embassies throughout the world. So So I spent two years in in Belarus as the one and only consular officer for the entire country, which means that depending upon what happens with the visa window, people were either happy or unhappy with me, but so goes from there. I went from a country that has about eight or nine months of winter ever year to Australia, and I fought out in Australia. I remember very clearly when I got that assignment, I that was my first choice and I really wanted it and I won the lottery and when I found that I got I got the assignment in Australia, I was thrilled. So I served in, I lived in Canberra, Australia and had the opportunity to travel to pretty much every state and territory when I was there and thoroughly loved Australia would build out there in a New York minute, if it wasn't a 24 hour flight. From there, in Australia, I worked as we call it Information Officer, which is working with the media, which again, was still pretty much radio and television, and newspapers. And then from Australia, I went to Costa Rica as a cultural affairs officer. And that's where I got my first opportunity to work in a field that I am still working in now. Cultural Affairs officers work with cultural and educational exchange programs. This is a short description of what we do. And after Costa Rica, I came back to Washington DC to work in the Bureau of Intelligence of research, and it's the State Department's intelligence wing. And as I tell people, I will never be any smarter than when I worked in INR. It was it was an amazing experience. And then from there, I had the opportunity that a Cuba and I served in Cuba as a deputy public affairs officer. And when people asked me what my favorite posts are, I always I give them two. Australia, and Cuba for vastly different reasons. Now, Cuba, Cuba was unique experience. The people of Cuba love the people of the United States, our governments find it more difficult to get along. But I never had a negative experience with a Cuban. They all wanted to know where we were from. And then the next question was how they got a visa. But you know, but I loved I loved Cuba. And I dearly hope that things return to some semblance of normal there soon so that we can continue to build on the relations that were re established under the Obama administration. And then from Cuba, I went to Guatemala where I served as a as a public affairs officer, it was my first opportunity to be head of sections. So in charge of the entire section of Public Affairs, which includes the information officer which deals now with a whole panoply of the social media, websites, and all this sort of thing. And also the cultural affairs side where we we do programming with a variety of sources to support the goals objectives of, of the US government. And then from Guatamala I returned to Washington, and I've had a couple of assignments, but I am in what I like to call, the best job in the State Department now is director of cultural programs in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. And that, again, is where we send some of the most talented artists from the United States, musicians, dancers, poets, writers, filmmakers, culinary artists, people who teach creative entrepreneurship, we do this in connection with the posts, they will come in an embassy or consulate will come in and say, we'd like to do a program on the importance of intellectual property rights. But we don't want to do speaker we want to do something creative. So we might send a musician who composes his own or his or her own work, and as a part of a program, he might do some performance, some workshops with students. And in the process of doing that he might talk about the importance of safeguarding intellectual property rights. Just one quick example. I'll stop there because I think I've talked a lot.

Kelly  
No, yeah. It's fascinating. Just all kinds of different different opportunities and things I never knew. I'm fascinated to hear listen for hours. I don't think our audience might listen for hours not because they don't want to, but just because, you know, it's hard to do all of that in one sitting. Wow, what what an amazing career you've had thus far all over the place. What, so you told us your two favorite posts. What about maybe some of the most notable or interesting people that you have met along the way?

Nancy  
Well, I don't have a Tayna Brewer story to tell you, I did not meet Fidel Castro but but as time I was there, we really weren't allowed to, but I had the opportunity to meet a variety of people from you know, the more influential all to the students just starting out. And, again, I go back to when you have the opportunity to make a difference in someone's life and you almost can see it unfold in front of you, I guess one of the best examples of that is, is we have a program called access, which is an English Program, English language teaching program. One of my colleagues describes it as a leadership program in which you happen to learn English. But it is a program designed to help young high school level students, a little bit younger, maybe learned English, and in Guatemala, we had a very active access program. And Guatemala has a very large majority of population of indigenous peoples, and they have still have a very hard life. And so when you can help a young person in a family learn English, they can literally raise the economic level of the entire family with the job that they can get in a call center, or in an entry level job that requires English. That is, it's, it is an amazing difference. And I attended graduations for the Access Program, when, when students have completed it, and I've had parents, I had parents come up to me, and tell me, thank you for giving my son, my daughter this opportunity, because they'll be able to go to college, or they'll be able to get a job. And it's, it's hard to express the difference that it makes in the lives of those students and in the lives of the family. But we'd have a chance to make a difference like that. That's where it's with, that's where those the things that I remember, yeah, I met prime ministers, and I've met, you know, heads of state, and that sort of thing. But the people that really stick in my head are the ones who I had a chance to get to know, and who for, for, in one way or another, I had the power to give them an opportunity that all of them earned by virtue of their their own persistence, and, and help make their lives better, or give them a different opportunity that that they might not have had before, give them a chance to learn about the United States firsthand, instead of through propaganda by a foreign government that might not be as friendly toward us. So it's, it's that kind of thing that sticks in my head that, that I think I will always recall. The heads of state come and go and that the people that that matter are, are often the young people that you had the chance to, today, you know, give a little nudge, give a little boost, and help them get someplace where they might not have been able to go otherwise

Kelly  
What an amazing impact to have on people. And just, you know, to hear that, that that program could elevate the family as a whole design learning English.

Nancy  
It's really amazing, you know, and it's Yeah, I mean, it's I having served in mostly not first world countries. So Australia was the only really first world country that I served in, I learned that I much preferred, I mean, sometimes feel here, Foreign Service, you know, it's Paris, it's London, it's, you know, whatever. And I would much rather serve in a place that's a little bit more difficult to live in, where maybe you don't have everything that you're used to having, and the electricity goes out on a regular basis. And, you know, internet is a laughable commodity. But you have a chance to make a difference on behalf of the US government and on have had an impact in people's lives much rather be in in that kind of in those kinds of countries.

Kelly  
I can imagine because you can really see firsthand the impact that you're having.

Nancy  
You often do get to wait we say in public diplomacy should plant the seeds, but you don't usually get to harvest. But sometimes you get to see the you can see where it's going. I'll tell you one other quick story. We have a program called the International Visitor Leadership Program, which is there are a series of thematic programs where a group of people often from a region or sometimes from around the world come together, go the United States for a couple of weeks have a chance to meet with people in the private sector, state, local federal government around a particular theme. And in Cuba, we had not had the program for over 20 years, because in order to leave the island, Cubans had to have an exit visa and the exit visa, you had to go through a process to ask permission. And you can picture it, you know, it's before we normalize relations, you know, going to a Cuban official and asking to, for visa to go to the United States to participate in a program sponsored by the US government that would go over like a lead balloon. So we hadn't done it. And when they changed their rules, and got rid of the exit visa, so we said, okay, well, let's try this because this would be a great opportunity. So we ended up sending a woman on a program for women entrepreneurs in Latin America, and she had her own restaurant and she regularly had patrons from United States and all over the world. She was a cook by by profession, but had set up her own restaurant, and she loved going on a program. It always starts in Washington, where they get a basis and federalism, etc. And they go on to various cities. Well, the next day she went on to was Boston, two days after the Boston Marathon bombing, so I'm sitting there going, Oh, Holy Mother, and thinking, Okay, she's gonna come back, confirmed in what the Cuban government tells its people all the time, or did at the time that you know, the US is going downhill in a hurry crime, violence, etc, etc. And she's going to come back thinking, yeah, that's true. I saw it firsthand. And so when they came when, when people who travel on this program come back, the embassy always invites them to come in and talk about their experience. And so she came in, and we started talking about it, and absolutely unbidden, you know, unprompted, she said, you know, since I was little, I was taught that people in the US were cold and unfeeling, and that they hated us. And she looked at me, she said, and that's not true. And she goes, and your mind just, if your Ford sort of saucer, your mind goes, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, because you never say cause and effect like that. Never. I mean, it's very, it's rare. And but she, she described it, she said, she was in a park, on the day that they had the memorial service and the bells tolled everybody stopped for a minute, and observed a moment of silence. And she was in this park. And she said, she left her left, and she looked to her right and she saw people with tears streaming down their faces, and she realized, these people really did care. It was like, and I looked at her and I said, but you know, you know me? You know, my colleagues? Did you think that we were the exception to the rule, because, you know, we're at that point kind of friends. But that was the strength of what she had grown up with the information that she was constantly hearing. And it wasn't until she went to the United States had a first hand experience, got to see for herself, with her own eyes, with her own ears ask her own questions that she understood something different.

Kelly  
Wow, that's powerful.

Nancy  
Very. And while I was traveling and doing all of this, I have to say, I would be remiss if I didn't give a shout out to the Northern Virginia Alumnae chapter because while I was traveling, every time I came back to the Washington area for training or an assignment, I reconnected with Gerry and with Cindy Ryan and with other sisters here, and they made sure I stayed in touch there was even there's even a special NOVA chapter rate for people who are outside of the, like 50 miles or something outside of the Washington area. And I was always grown well beyond the 50 mile range. So I was qualified for that just counted chapter dues rate and Gerry would pick me up and we would go to dinner or Cindy would pick me up and go to the the the spring tea and they they're just they would just have always been a tremendous part of my experience, Gerry and Cindy came to my swearing in ceremony, which was, which was quite special when were the one actually but they came to that and I still have pictures of the second floor balcony in the State Department with wind flapping in the breeze and pictures of Gerry and Cindy and I so so they're they've been a special part of my Alpha Sigma Alpha experience. And I have to say I haven't been as involved lately with the alumnae chapter. It's like I can't get on one more zoom, call at the end of the day. I don't think you're alone. Yeah, welcome to desk.

Kelly  
That is awesome. I want to circle back on one more element of something that you shared before we kind of wrap things up. And so going back to the person who said, Hey, you should apply to be a foreign service officer. Gene tell us a little bit about Gene's impact on you.

Nancy  
Well, Jean was just a wonderful man taken from us too soon. And, you know, as I said, part of his role was to serve as recruiter, but once I was in the Foreign Service chain became my touchstone, and became a mentor to me, and I would reach out to him and say, Okay, I'm bidding on my next assignment, I'm looking at A, B, and C, what do you think? What would you advise what, here's what I'm thinking, what would you advise, and he would give me, you know, the, the benefit of his his years in the Foreign Service, and he had spent like more than four decades in the Foreign Service By that time, so he knew what was what, and suddenly gave me great advice. And then when I would come home to San Antonio to visit my parents, I would go for drinks and dinner with Gene and often with his wife as well. And he would tell stories, and sometimes he taught the same stories more than once. But we had, you know, some good laughs and he was able to give me insights on things that I found perplexing or irritating in the State Department, or just some good advice about how I might handle stuff. And so Gene, was probably, I wouldn't say the first mentor I ever had, certainly, because I would count a lot of the women in Alpha Sigma Alpha as mentors, and very important mentors in my life. But professionally in the State Department, he was definitely my first mentor, and my first champion when I, I applied, and then probably the happiest that anyone ever was when I, when I was selected as as a Foreign Service officer. And so, so I would see him regularly when I came home, and, and then when he passed away when I was in Cuba, I had to come back, I had to come back for his memorial. And it was a little challenging getting out of Cuba, because you had to travel by charter flight, you couldn't just hop on whatever flight and go. So there was that part was relatively smooth. And then I got to Miami, and of course, I had no flight from Miami to San Antonio. And I didn't have much time. So maybe that happened in whatever way. And I showed up at his memorial. And his widow looked at me and she said, What are you doing here? She was like, how,  she she was astounded that I was there? And I said, Well, you know, says I couldn't possibly be anywhere else. And when they spoke of Gene during the service, the gentleman who spoke of him, noted how many different people, I think it was some 75 different people he had recruited into some kind of federal service, whether it was the Foreign Service or some other federal agency, and they talked about the effect and the impact that change had had on other people's lives. And that's when I realized that this was yet another opportunity to to give back. Maybe not the first time I realized that but certainly, it was impactful, then. And so I think it's it's really important that when you have the opportunity to serve as either an informal mentor, you know, whether that's a sorority basis or a professional mentor to someone coming into to your profession, it's really important that you share and you died and you help someone along the way. I've been on the other end of that where someone has been more more interested in being stumbling block and that's painful. And I personally believe that there is a specially reserved circle of hell for people who do that sort of thing. But on the flip side, I think there are many more benefits to people will take the time to serve as a mentor and I sort of think of mentoring as it's kind of like your workout and you need both cardio and strength training. Sometimes you just have to get through the thing that's happening now you've got to sprint through what you're doing and get it through. And so you need, maybe you need help, just the pep talk that gets you through that. But maybe maybe you need a longer term discussion and sharing and opportunity to to regularly talk to build up some strengths and areas that you either might not realize that you have, or maybe you just need to work on elements that that you're you're not quite as strong in. So I just really can't stress more how important I think mentoring is, and that starts, again, as informally as just a good one good friend to another. And then as you progress in your profession, and you have the opportunity to reach down and lift someone else up, it's something that I think you will always get as much if not more out of the process, as the person that to whom you extend a helping hand. And I guess that kind of comes back to, to those to whom much has been given, which is expected. And you have the opportunity to do that up. You should.

Kelly  
Absolutely. And I imagine you had mentors, not just gene, but likely some Alpha Sigma Alpha members along the way that have served in that capacity for you as well.

Nancy  
And so probably done for the names of many of them, you know, during this call, certainly, I mean, Anne Hanson, who is my big sis, who I reconnected with via email today. Yeah, I can't tell you how many years we haven't been in touch. And she was my big sis. And then, you know, I mentioned a number of people that, I mean Suzanne Alfonso and I traveled together, and we were attached to the hip for for that year, and sustained each other. And Betty and Retta, Wilbur Wilson Sharp, Gerry Cox, and Cindy Ryan, Linda Rogers, Sidney Allen, I could go on forever. And it's it's really inspiring, I have to say, and no, dear listeners, she did not ask me to do this. But it's really inspiring to see how Alpha Sigma Alpha has grown. Over the years, I remember when I joined, not when I joined what I did when I traveled for for AlphaSigma Alpha. And it was all still very much a, I guess, maybe the best way to describe it is that we've become much more professional and how we manage our corporate affairs in Alpha Sigma Alpha. And I think that that is certainly due to a whole new cadre of people who now serve as mentors to young collegians and certainly are still mentors to to those of us who are long past our collegiate days. And by the way, you don't have to be older to be a mentor. No, it works both ways.

Kelly  
Absolutely. Because I think the best part of that relationship is you're both learning and growing in different ways. Absolutely. Well, Nancy, that sounds like a fantastic place for us to wrap up. I am certain we could go on for hours and hours. And you could tell us more wonderful stories. So hopefully, we'll get to see you at a convention or some other event and people will ask to sit down and have you share some of those.

Nancy  
Well, I would be more than happy to do that. And anyone that is interested in a career in the Foreign Service, I was happy to talk with you about that. Just give a shout out to the national headquarters and they can put you in touch with me.

Kelly  
We absolutely will. So thank you so much for sharing your time and your stories and your service and being a mentor to others. Appreciate it and to our listeners, until next time.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai