Anabel Reyes-Ovalles is an alumna of the 2019 CLS Portuguese program in Florianópolis, Brazil. She recently completed a Master of Science in Terrorism and Homeland Security at American University’s School of Public Affairs, and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Latin American and Caribbean Studies from Union College. She currently works as a Passport Specialist for the U.S. Department of State. Anabel hopes to use her language skills working in public diplomacy and Foreign Service. She enjoys Zumba, photogenic scenery, volunteering as a resume coach, and visiting friends all over the world.
Getting to Know Anabel
I was born in Santiago, Dominican Republic and moved to the beautiful immigrant city of Lawrence, MA when I was 10 years old. I was awarded the National Posse Foundation Leadership Scholarship and the National Coca-Cola Scholarship to attend Union College in Schenectady, NY. During my time at Union College, I studied abroad in Brazil and researched child trafficking during the 2014 World Cup, researched the nexus between gender inequality and coffee in Ethiopia and interned at the Centre for Human Rights and Development in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia for my thesis on human trafficking. Prior to graduate school, I worked in Greece as a college counselor for Greek-minority students and advanced my passion for international security and education.
Exploring Identity and Language
At first, I found Portuguese captivating because of my love for Brazilian soap operas, but I fell in love with Portuguese because it helped me challenge my identity. I took an interest in the way Brazilians self-identified and being in Brazil helped me open up to my African roots as a Dominican. What continued to fascinate me once I arrived was that I could still not understand my Cape Verdean Portuguese speaking best friend Rosie when she spoke Portuguese, but we were still able to share our love for Brazilian soap operas during study breaks. I think that Portuguese is a beautiful language because it is universal in the way people express themselves, but every country has its own dialect.
One of my most rewarding experiences during the CLS summer program was having dinner and discussions with my host mom. We would spend two to three hours a night during and after dinner discussing topics that were important to us, such as the intersections between race, gender, education, and religion. These conversations allowed me to not only practice my Portuguese but to get to know my host mom on a deeper level. She encouraged this type of dialogue in the household because she too was a non-traditional student, studying cognitive psychology at the university, and challenged me to learn new words and phrases every day.
All of these opportunities abroad have reaffirmed my dedication to understanding a country’s culture, history, politics, economy, and society before a difference can be made. Consequently, my experience as an immigrant has reaffirmed my interest in the Foreign Service. I aspire to one day utilize my passion for human rights and cultural adaptability to offer my transcultural perspective on American foreign policy recommendations geared toward a more peaceful and stable society.
I hope to utilize my language professionally to better serve the American public and to build public diplomacy skills domestically and abroad. I have had roles where I’ve been able to utilize my language abilities and have realized the difference it makes when helping others.
A Favorite Word
My favorite Portuguese word, “saudade,” refers to missing someone or something. However, the word translates to “a melancholy longing or yearning,” and depicts how heartfelt Brazilians are with their words.
April 29, 2020