Erhardt Interviews Julia

What We Know about Julia from the Internet
Julia Lindau was born in 1987 [1]. She grew up in Chappaqua, NY in a turn-of-the-century Victorian home with high ceilings and wide planked floors, a former country inn [2]. She is the oldest of three children, with a brother Ned and sister Annabel [2]. Her father, Dan, now a broadcast advertising consultant for Advertising Production Resources (APR), co-owned his own film and video production company, Crossroads Films, for many years [3*][4]. Her mother was in the finance industry for many years before dedicating herself to working on affordable housing, for which she was recognized by the state of NY’s legislature [5]. Both her parents grew up in the NYC metropolitan area, her father in Edgemont in Greenburgh and her mother on Long Island’s south shore [2].

Her childhood summers were spent in the family’s cottage on Block Island Sound in Charlestown, Rhode Island [2]. Her family participated in the Fresh Air Fund program that arranges free summer vacations for disadvantaged youth from New York City [2]. Louis Ramirez, three years younger than Julia, used to come up from the Bronx for three weeks every summer to swim, play sports, and just hang out with the family [2].

Her academic life has centered around Tufts University [6*], her parents’ alma mater [7*] (Her father sits on the Board of Advisors for the School of Arts and Sciences [8]). She attended undergrad there from 2005–2009, studying International Relations and Spanish [6*]. She is currently a student there at the Fletcher School for Law and Diplomacy, and is on track to graduate this May with her Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy, concentrating in Human Security and International Communication [6*].

She’s been an activist and advocate for certain causes, including participating in a protest against China’s support for the Sudanese government in 2007 in NYC called Chain 2 China in 2007 [9], linking the Asian power to the Darfur Genocide [10].

Academically and professionally she’s been interested in the issue of Forced Migration [11]. Between undergrad and grad school she lived and worked in South Africa as the Regional Director of Ubuntu Africa Child Healthcare [6*], and then in Lebanon as the Assistant to the Education Project Manager in the Beirut field office of UNRWA [6*][12]. Last summer she interned for Mercy Corps in Northern Iraq [6*], and wrote a piece for BBC World on Cafe 11, a space offering a slice of freedom for the youth growing up in that conservative part of Kurdistan [13].

Online, she occasionally goes by “seahorseunicorn.” You can peek into her travels on Flickr [14] and her music tastes on Last.fm under that handle [15].

* You may need to look at the Google Search cache of the LinkedIn pages to see relevant content: [3][6][7]

Julia’s Reaction to Her Internet Summary
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Our Interview: Herself and Her Own Work
In reflecting on what drives her, Julia says she was initially interested in humanitarian work like crisis response, but the more she learned about the causes of the conflicts she was looking at the more it led her toward an interest in the underlying problems. “I’ve ended up focusing on governance-building as what I think is the best answer to addressing a lot of the issues that are arising right now. When I was in Iraq last summer I was working on civil society development, kind of the base level of governance-building, and what really stuck out to me is the importance of access to information, free expression, and civil and political rights, and how that influences civic participations and citizen interaction with the government.”

When Julia was a kid, she traveled a lot. Her mom worked on emerging markets in Russia and Eastern Europe. And when she was in high school, she participated in summer service trips to Central America. “[They] probably served the kids participating [like her] more than the communities they worked in.” But they also made her more curious about other parts of the world, and she said, “experiencing inequality and feeling that there’s something innately wrong with that and not knowing what that was or being able to do anything about it. Since high school, I had a drive to work vaguely in that area and didn’t really know what that meant.”

She admits her parents played a big role in her life and in going to Tufts, but contends she “applied there because it had a good IR program,” and “coming here [Tufts] exposed me to more specific avenues through which I could pursue this work.”

In college, she took a semester off and interned with UNHCR in Geneva, and spent some time in Zambia working in a refugee settlement. “That was my exposure to more of the humanitarian field.”

After graduation, she went to South Africa for about year, “basically managing a care center for HIV positive youth in the townships outside of Cape Town…. I did everything from dealing with the basic communications… they didn’t have internet or telephone or anything when I got there…. to liaising with bigger organizations working in the area like Doctors Without Borders and the health department of the South African government to coordinate programs for the children.”

I asked her how her experience there changed her. “It was kind of disheartening because it [South Africa] is revered as this model of successful reconciliation, and if you go to South Africa, it’s still one of the most racist places you could probably go and in a lot of ways I think it’s getting worse…. I think it’s just one of the things that happens when you’re working in development or humanitarian fields, where the more work you do the more disillusioned you get…. In South Africa, there’s this thing called the AIDS Orphan Generation, because the president after Nelson Mandela wouldn’t allow ARVs into the country for a long time because he denied the connection between HIV and AIDS and thought that ARVs was a Western conspiracy to kill Africans…. So then all these people that had HIV died off and had children right before they died. Then these drugs were allowed into the country, so there are all these little kids that are surviving with AIDS while their parents are dead. Hearing about these kids and seeing how resilient they are—as cheesy as it sounds—that’s I think what continues to drive anyone whose in this work and sees the higher level issues with corruption and nepotism and everything. And despite the fact these kids are getting completely shafted, they still wanted to be doctors and lawyers and love life. I think it was a good introductory experience into the field.”

She left Cape Town for Beirut, when her best friend moved to Lebanon to work for The Daily Star. “I traveled around the region for a few months, didn’t really know anything about it. I was really intrigued; I never really thought I would be a Middle East person or interested in going there. But I kind of fell in love with it.”

“I still had a house and a ticket back to South Africa and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next. It wasn’t on my radar at all to stay there when I started traveling. The thing that really assured me that I would be okay there, was the fact that the culture is so inclusive and neighborly in a way that I had never experienced. I think that was the main thing the really drew me to the Middle East; I just felt much more secure than were I to stay in Europe or anywhere else without any type of employment…. There are quite a few Tufts alums or people I knew through other networks that are based in Beirut. So I felt a certain degree of security or like a safety net, even though I had absolutely no plans. And in my life I’ll probably never again have no obligations to anyone but myself, and where I didn’t have a lot of money but I wasn’t in debt, so I could just do something like this. It was super exciting; I have no regrets about doing it, and I learned a lot.”

She eventually got a job with UNRWA, the UN organization that works with Palestinians, working on an EU funded project to overhaul the Lebanese education system for Palestinians. “Since the Palestinians are refugees there they don’t have access to any of the services that Lebanese nationals do. So UNRWA provides schooling, healthcare, relief and social services. Basically functions as kind of a government for these people without a government.”

Julia’s experiences in Zambia and through UNRWA gave her an introduction to the issue of forced migration. “Having those experiences makes you really think about the unsustainability of a set up like that.” Her first year at the Fletcher School made her more curious about governance. For her summer internship, she knew she “wanted to go back to the Middle East and have a kind of harder core experience.” “I wanted something a little bit realer, or more ‘field,’ in the Middle East on my CV and I wanted to look at governance.” Through Fletcher’s relationship with Mercy Corps she found an internship in Iraq.”

In retrospect, she says, “I’m really glad I did it, and I wasn’t really happy with it. That was an important experience for me to realize: what I did and didn’t want in a job. And just in terms of being in a post-conflict situation as an aid worker… it’s kind of suffocating; you can’t go anywhere alone…. There’s really a limit to the amount you can experience—the culture or the stuff you’re studying…. So that was really frustrating and it was an important thing for me… to learn about myself that I didn’t want to be within an international NGO in a post-conflict space, even though that’s what I’m interested in on a higher level.”

“It was definitely interesting learning a lot more about the relationship between the Kurds and the rest of the Iraqis, and the obstacles to engaging in the government and to engaging with each other. The system that was set up there just inhibits cooperation or reconciliation, or any type of communal investment in Iraq as one state. The fact that the government is divided along ethno-sectarian lines and, like Lebanon in some ways, it’s becoming this regional battleground for political and ideological influence, like Iran is creeping in through Baghdad and Turkey is weirdly allying with the Kurds. So it was a fascinating experience for seeing the geopolitics play out there. It was also again disheartening to see just how many blockages there were to cooperation and just what a prominent role the US has played in setting up that system that inhibits a national identity.”

“On a day-to-day level, I didn’t really like the work; there wasn’t much to do…. I became really good friends with a couple of journalists who started the only two independent news outlets in Kurdistan: Hawlati and Awena. And hearing their stories about being kidnapped and threatened by the government, getting to know that intellectual community in Kurdistan and seeing the degree of persecution, that’s what really sparked my interest in the communication/media/information access side of governance. So that I think was more valuable than the actual internship.”

Julia is now working on her master’s thesis using research she did while in Northern Iraq. It’s currently titled “The obstacles to greater civic participation in Post-Baathist Iraq.” And it’s a critique of US development policy, particularly civil society development, in Iraq “as a more covert and innocuous foreign policy strategy.” She is arguing that “the way in which USAID and the State Department are facilitating these development efforts is actually inhibiting the development of Iraq in a peaceful and cooperative way,” which “will ultimately undermine the United States’ foreign policy objectives in the long-term.”

In a few months, Julia will graduate from the Fletcher School. And while she’s really interested in the media sector and could see herself one day working at Al Jazeera, she worries she doesn’t have enough exposure and experience yet. Right now she’s aiming to work on governance issues in the Middle East as a consultant to governments.

Julia’s Reflection on Why She Is Taking This Class
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Fun Facts

  • Update on Louis: “He went into the military…. He was in Iraq and now he’s back and he’s working in the South and he has a girlfriend and baby…. We still talk to him often and he’s still a big part of our lives.
  • What you wouldn’t know about Julia from the internet (until now): “I’m clearly not always defined by the work I do and what I study. I do a lot of yoga. I work in a yoga studio between Harvard and Central Square. I love music. I go to concerts all the time. That’s also something that’s been influenced by my dad and my brother, who are both passionate about music.”
  • Where the handle “seahorseunicorn” came from: “That was from high school. It was just a name that my friend and I came up with when I did the Last.fm profile…. And I made it my Flickr—even though I don’t think I’ve ever posted any pictures to Flickr—so that I could save that name, because one of my friends told me I should make it now otherwise someone else would use it, even though I’m sure noone else would take that username. It has no significance. I just thought it was goofy when I was an 18-year-old girl.”
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About Erhardt

Erhardt Graeff is a graduate student at the MIT Media Lab and MIT Center for Civic Media, studying information flows across mainstream and social media, and exploring technologies that help entrepreneurs from marginalized groups, especially youth, to be greater agents of change. Erhardt is also a founding trustee of The Awesome Foundation, which gives small grants to awesome projects, and a founding member of the Web Ecology Project, a network of social media and internet culture researchers. He holds an MPhil in Modern Society and Global Transformations from the University of Cambridge and B.S. degrees in Information Technology and International Studies from Rochester Institute of Technology.

One thought on “Erhardt Interviews Julia

  1. Really nice background piece, Erhardt. Even though it’s informed by the professional level of your internet stalking, the post has a good balance between professional aspirations and personal motivation.

    Great to have you in the class, Julia. I’d love to hear more about your experiences with media and governance in Iraq and elsewhere.

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