1. How it all started
Why do people act a certain way? What led them to that decision?
I distinctly remember my 6th grade social studies class, when we were learning about the Declaration of Independence. It was a picture of all who signed the document. My thoughts: “Who decided they’ll make all the rules? (none of them look like me) I wanna make the rules!”
Thus letting my interest and intuition guide me, I continued my educational career excelling in classes such as civics, psychology, English and writing, and philosophy.
Throughout, I’ve always enjoyed writing. I’ve been journaling since 3rd grade. It’s been the only form of expression where I can truly reveal who I am and what i’m thinking. Because in Vietnamese culture, you respect your elders…even if they call you fat.
I started college as an English major, but after learning I needed to take poetry and British literature….I looked for other options. Psychology 101 was overwhelming, but Government 101 is where my interest took off.
However, it didn’t last long. My focus shifted to making money. As an 18 year old working as a server and making 100 a night, I was more interested in making money. I was taking 12 hour credits, working part time, and making all new friends. Texas was all new and exciting adventures. Making money, going to school, hanging out with friends. I felt like I had a purpose. My hard work at school and the restaurant was getting the praise and recognition I never got from my family. This new concept of people tipping me for being fast, efficient, and friendly was mind-blowing. I loved working and making $100 in cash every night. I loved it so much….I quit going to college.
Who needed college? What’s the benefit of going anyways? I am making money now and I’m happy to be helping my mom with bills! At this point college was just taking time and money away from the cash flow right now. I picked up two more jobs because Houston can get expensive when you’re trying to keep up with the 30k azn millionaires. I was buying $200 pair of “denim” and drinking nearly every night. Working three different jobs brought in more money.
Houston was a toxic environment full of vanity, superficial living, and a ton of alcohol for numbing. It was all about living fast and being in love with a lifestyle I couldn’t afford.
2. New Chapter
Fast forward 2 years and my dad said he would cut me off if I didn’t go back to school.
So, I moved to Wyoming
I distinctly remember the day my dad picked me up from the airport. It was dark. I asked where are the street lights? Was that a deer?! Seriously, where are all the street lights?
As I walked into the house, a huge sigh of relief. The weight of insecurity and stability has lifted. Ya know that feeling that you have finally turned the damn page and into the chapter of exponential personal growth and inner peace. yeah…my soul could finally rest in security.
I transferred my credits to the University of Wyoming from a Texas community college….I declared a major in Political Science and started my sophomore year. I still had some other hoops to jump through like math and PE. But when I finally got into my upper division classes like environmental politics and political philosophy, that’s when my interest started to SOAR!
I love reading and learning about policy rather than playing the game of politics. I am not as interested in the politicians, as I am more interested in the behind the scenes work of creating policy and the interpersonal relationships needed to make things happen.
Undergraduate life was similar to Houston in a few ways. 12 hour credits, working part time, and a schedule full of extracurricular meetings, social events, and college drinking escapades. I still wonder with amazement how I managed to secure As & Bs with that type of schedule and activities.
3. The beginning of a young professional
The decision to pursue a master’s degree felt so right in my heart. I wanted to learn more! Finally get in depth with the topics, theories, and higher level of conceptual analysis!
I narrowed my interests to the ideas, concepts, and theories of how one’s social, political, economic, and physical environment has shaped your values & attitudes, which ultimately produce one’s behavior.
I spent nearly three years researching about Indonesia and their marine/environmental policies regarding fisheries management. My thesis advisor (chair) advised us to pick something we care about. A true interest, because the next 2 years will consume your every being towards this topic. My master’s thesis was about the little known Karimunjawa islands in Central Java.
I found a gap in the research! Nobody interviewed locals!!! Why were business owners, stay at home moms, fishers, tour operators, etc. left out of western scholarly research?! With the help of my advisors and their connections. I formed a research team and we set out to ask locals their perspective of conservation policies in their area. We conducted interviews and documented local perspective and attitudes towards conservation and environmental policies. The results: not many of the locals are aware because they’re not invited to “public meetings” about conservation efforts and policies.
My thirst for knowledge led me to win a Fulbright Grant back to Indonesia
for another year of research!
The year following my master’s degree, I was granted another opportunity to conduct a similar, but more in-depth research in a different location.
One of my top ultimate scuba diving locations:
Wakatobi National Park, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia
One full year living in Indonesia granted me deep cultural immersion and a new level of understanding. I learned the language, almost got married, and met some of life long friends, who I still keep in contact with today. I gained 15 lbs in tempeh, nasi goreng, and bubur ayam! The food, the community, and all of nature’s wonders are all the reasons I advocate for Indonesia as a powerhouse for Southeast Asia. Especially because Minister Ibu Susi of Maritime Affairs, blows up and sinks ships who cross into Indonesia’s territorial waters who are caught illegally fishing in their waters. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated, fishing is stealing millions away from Indonesians.
In Wakatobi, conducting research proved to be a bit more difficult. My language skills were not professional, government level and I didn’t fully understand social, cultural, and professional protocol when it comes to interviewing. I had to consult with research leaders, conservation managers, professors, and well-known Indonesians to fully grasp a holistic picture. See, in the U.S. getting an interview with the top official would be done last because getting basic information about an organization should be done before meeting with the president of an organization. However, in Indonesia as a sign of respect, as soon as we land….we are to make our presence known to the top official and conduct an interview that same day.
Also, the timing of fishers followed a non-traditional schedule. If it was the week of a full moon, fishers will be out on the water for a few days. The fishers we interviewed had a schedule of before sunrise departure and arriving before evening prayer, which led us to conduct interviews at night, after evening prayer. Unconventional hours and language barriers were probably the main reasons why locals weren’t being interviewed by western researchers. Yes, I was still in Indonesia. But when there’s 17,000 islands and 600+ ethnic languages….there’s bound to be miscommunication. My research team managed to rather one over arching theme. The new leader of the marine fisheries in the national park was not connecting with fishers across the island. The previous leader had built a deep trusting relationship with fishers. However, fishers now didn’t even know the new leader’s name because according to the fishers….the new leader has yet to introduce himself or visit the villages.
In public policy and conservation efforts, interpersonal relationships are of utmost importance. Indonesia’s culture of community is deeply engrained in every which way they conduct themselves. The social, cultural and political norms are directly correlated to the success of policy and conservation efforts.
After spending so much time abroad, the human dimension is inextricably connected to the success of conservation and environmental policy. Learning Indonesian, conducting interviews, cultural immersion, using advanced social science research skills and methods…ALL contributed to the research I did in Indonesia to analyze natural resource management issues in Karimunjawa and Wakatobi National Parks.
Designing, implementing, and researching this social and cultural research on the human use of natural resources in Indonesia was used to inform managers on how people and communities are effected. This was all in hopes that government officials and natural resource managers will adopt more inclusive and effective policy for conservation in these national parks.