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State Dept-backed podcast on study abroad is a hit

What happens when people leave their regular routine and comfort zone and find themselves far from home, in foreign places and cultures unknown to them?

ECA podcast 22.33Stories of study abroad in Ukraine, Bulgaria, Jordan, Kenya, Nigeria are among the podcasts.

"I just talked to an amazing hip hop artist who found his way to Angola"

This is how the latest podcast from the US Department of State’s ECA is billed, and podcast tales from the frontline of study abroad are proving so popular that weekly episodes will continue well into 2020.

Launched in January, 22.33 features stories from people who have been involved in an exchange program supported by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

It takes its name from Title 22, Chapter 33 of the US Code, signed into law by President Kennedy, which established government-funded educational and cultural exchange programs and created ECA.

Initially planned to go ahead until the end of 2019, the podcast has been a success as more and more stories from the approximately 1m-strong community of ECA program alumni reach the podcast.

“At first we scrambled for stories and now stories are coming to us, every single day, and it’s wonderful – I just scheduled an astronaut who was an alum of a US government program, and I just talked to an amazing hip hop artist who found his way to Angola,” a creator of the podcast and ECA Collaboratory director Christopher Wurst told The PIE.

“As people listen to it and it becomes more popular, the quality of the stories we are getting is just going through the roof.”

“We started with the premise that when people go on exchanges, it has a transformative impact on their life”

The podcast was created to better express the impact that ECA international exchanges have.

Wurst, a self-confessed fan of storytelling and podcasting, decided to ditch statistics and factsheets to create something that would appeal to the general public, even to those who have never travelled overseas.

“We started with the premise that when people go on exchanges, it has a transformative impact on their life. It’s something they’ll never forget. But it happens in a unique way for every person,” he explained.

“So we thought it would be more powerful if people just heard the individual impact and the unique stories that people had from their trips, to be able to empathise with them in that sense.”

Although the podcast may serve as a recruitment aid for ECA exchange programs, stories are presented as told, with the goal to create a “community drawn to travel, adventure, and human stories,” a document on the department’s website reads.

For people interested in sharing their student exchange story, the department accepts submissions here:  ECACollaboratory@state.gov

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