Getting to know Sustainably Mer
One year ago, I embarked on the most unforgettable, life-changing adventure by moving across the world to Bali, Indonesia to pursue a climate change research position. This experience taught me more than I could have imagined and I want to share it in hopes of inspiring those who either share my interest in environmentalism or are just simply on the fence about making a seemingly crazy change in their life. I also find that the lessons I learned through this experience could be very helpful to many right now. I initially questioned the timing of this post given the obvious COVID travel restrictions and general state of uncertainty, but I think that this time offers each of us a chance to consciously consider our next chapter for “this too shall pass", as they say.
This story begins in my AP Environmental Science class, my senior year in high school. That is when my initial passion was set in motion for the environment. I had the most amazing teacher (shout out to Mrs. Landry for changing my life!!!) who, to this day, has been my most influential teacher throughout my formal education. Her teachings and guidance instilled a deep passion for environmental science. I remember thinking that I can’t have this newfound knowledge of the environmental degradation going on in the world and not do something about it. At this time, I already had plans to begin college at Virginia Tech, where I had been accepted into the business school. I quickly changed my major to Environmental Resource Management before starting, a decision I didn’t give two thoughts about because I knew that I wanted to study and pursue a career in something I was so deeply passionate about.
Fast forward to my senior year in college four years later, when I had the incredible opportunity to further my studies with The Green Program at Reykjavik University, where I participated in a program focused on renewable energy and international sustainable development (another wonderful, life-changing experience!). The most impactful experience was glacier hiking, where I witnessed firsthand the impacts of climate change on the recession of the glacier marked over a 10 year period (pictured below). This event was extremely influential and sparked a profound interest in climate change work.
This brings me to how I ended up in Indonesia! Upon graduating in May 2019 from Virginia Tech with a B.S. in Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, I landed a climate change research position for an environmental think-tank in Bali, Indonesia. I frequently get asked how I found this opportunity and I wish I had a more exciting answer. The truth is, on a whim, I searched “climate change jobs in Indonesia” online after learning of the fact that the brunt of the climate change burden is experienced by Southeast Asian countries. I came across a climate change research position for an environmental think-tank, Sustainability and Resilience.co (su-re.co), based in Bali, Indonesia, and this organization’s initiatives really resonated with me. It was very important to me to gain a firsthand global perspective of the complexity of environmental issues and how it impacts the most vulnerable before jumping straight into a career in the United States.
Upon accepting the research position in Bali, I had six weeks to pick up and move across the world. Mind you, at this same time, my parents were preparing to move from my childhood home which I had lived in for the last 22 years (my whole life). I can’t express enough just how much change was going on in my life. There was the stress of the whole ‘what am I doing with my life now that I have graduated college’; the stress of working four jobs to afford to travel to and sustain myself in Bali; preparing to move across the world, all the while packing up all of my belongings from childhood — this all happened in the span of less than two months. I’ll admit that at times I questioned whether it was the right time to pick up and move across the world since it felt so abrupt and rushed. Reflection: Change is the only constant in life. It may never feel like the right time; you can’t let that stop you. Your life doesn’t begin when you feel ready. Your life is right now — today — you’re as ready as you’ll ever be.
The biggest challenge for me was to let go of fearing the unknown. I had to learn to let go of the idea of comfort, familiarity, and stability. I had to push myself out of my comfort zone and try to replace my feelings of angst and fear with excitement. Yet, this is way easier said than done, and I had to convince myself that it was okay to feel all the emotions that come with change (including the culture shock in this case). When I first got to Bali, I felt super depressed, anxious, and lonely. I didn’t know anyone and the 12 hour time difference made communication with friends and family back home difficult. When I would be waking up and just starting a new day, everyone back home was ending theirs’ and going to bed. This made it so that, outside of work hours and before meeting friends, I had no one to really talk to or experience these new, scary yet exciting times. When truly on my own with absolutely no familiarity and adjusting to the new way of life, it brought a vast level of disconnect from the life I was accustomed to. Reflection: Do not fear the unknown, for it brings an insane amount of new experiences, challenges, and opportunities to learn and grow.
I accomplished and experienced things I never thought imaginable. I was given incredible opportunities so young in my career to author and co-author publications and reports, present environmental policies, and work with tremendously bright individuals. With all of these new and intimidating experiences, I learned to get comfortable with not knowing and to lean into the discomfort it brought me. Outside of the climate work I did, as a way to supplement my income, I signed to a modeling agency. Now, this was something I never expected to do! From this experience, I learned that I am not just one thing and neither are YOU. I can be both a climate scientist and a model. I decided to throw limiting stereotypes, expectations, and preconditioning aside. Through modeling, I was able to get in touch with my creativity, and work with some really kind and amazing individuals within the creative community in Bali. Reflection: The only thing standing in your way is yourself. Explore and embrace new interests; you never know what you might learn about yourself! Also, get comfortable with not knowing and lean into the discomfort.
Not only did this experience teach me a lot about myself and offer the opportunity to look inwards, it also taught me a lot about working with others. During my time at su-re.co, I worked in a multicultural environment with a team from seven different countries. I had incredible chances to work with Indonesian policy makers and government agencies, along with other stakeholders from all over the world. I found it to be so inspiring to work directly with like-minded, passionate people who are working hard to make changes for our environment and world. Reflection: Together, we are change-makers and can make a positive impact on this world!
In sum, here are my reflections and lessons learned from this experience:
Change is the only constant in life.
Your life doesn’t begin when you feel ready. Your life is right now — today — you’re as ready as you’ll ever be.
Do not fear the unknown; it brings along with it many new and exciting opportunities to learn and grow.
The only thing standing in your way is yourself.
Get comfortable with not knowing and lean into the discomfort.
Together, we are change-makers and can make a positive impact on this world!
For those of you who have read this far, I will leave you with this final thought: What is the point of the life you’ve been given if all you do is stand in place? Embrace change, in fact, seek it. There are no limits on what you can do in this life.