before school
I am traveling to Buton Island, Indonesia this summer with Operation Wallacea to undertake a rigorous cultural immersion and biological fieldwork program. I will be studying the Indonesian language and joining a team of researchers to monitor the biodiversity of the Lambusango rainforest. The program has a duration of four weeks, and I will receive credit through St. Andrews University in Scotland.

I am traveling to Buton Island because it is my passion to work with people. I am a biologist with a penchant for the study of humanity. I believe the most sustainable approach to the study of biodiversity and conservation is one that embraces the living history of a community and its immediate environment. Only by learning firsthand the cultural, linguistic, and familial interaction of a community with the surrounding ecosystem can we advance genuine methods for lasting conservation.

The rain forest on Buton Island is a direct indicator of the health of the worldwide biosphere. The Lambusango forest represents one of the most biologically productive places on the globe, much as Antarctica represents the least polluted place on the globe. Yet we found the hole in the ozone by investigating the atmosphere above Antarctica; and only by studying the most biologically diverse archipelago on the planet can we understand the true nature of biodiversity loss.

Buton Island is not simply a place on a map with a rain forest—it is a place that sustains 500,000 people, 13 languages, 11 forms of martial arts, one major city, one boat-service, and a rainforest that has been an integral part of the local community since Buton was settled in the 14th Century. When Amanda Vincent took it upon herself to save the seahorse from imminent extinction, she didn’t turn to the policy room to illegalize the livelihood of local fishermen. Rather, she turned to the local fishermen to help them become farmers. On Buton Island we will continue a 15 year project that is promoting a budding ecotourism industry and teaching sustainable job skills. The project seeks to explore the villagers’ dependence on the ecosystem in order to refine a model for environmental protection that incorporates the local community into an itinerary for global environmental preservation.

Indonesian culture is of particular interest to me. I earned my black belt in 2007, and since have dedicated my training to the Indonesian martial arts of Penjak Silat and Kali Escrima. I also have a passion for learning languages, and have formally studied French, German, Italian, and have undertaken Hungarian independently. Indonesian is one of thirteen critical need foreign languages designated by the U.S. Department of State because of Indonesia’s vital role in global economic and environmental policy. The opportunity to study Indonesian in a home-stay program, while exploring a diverse ecology that is closely linked to Indonesian lifestyle, is a valuable learning experience that I am eager to pursue.

I am a biologist and a cultural anthropologist. It is my dream to find a career in environmental conservation in order to address biodiversity loss within the context of local communities. The fieldwork and cultural experience I will gather as a member of the Operation Wallacea research team will enrich my classroom studies and also assist me in one day leading my own research initiatives in cultural anthropology and biodiversity. . . .

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Day 2: Tentative Exploration

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We went walking through Menforcsanak. The town is idyllic, and all the houses look homey and inviting. I could have lived in any one of them. Especially the one with the for rent sign. Maybe next summer…. We got caught in the rain at the end of the walk, and had to run. The rain picture is followed by a similar one about five minutes later with no rain at all. The storm even had ice, which drilled holes in many of the flowers in the garden. We took family photos in the aftermath.

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Day 1: A Car Ride and Bizarre Weather

Adaora and I were picked up from the airport in Vienna by her uncle Zoli, and we drove through the countryside in a pseudo-rainstorm. Everything seemed fresh; any aesthetic is after spending your life in one place. But the rainbow that we saw was absolutaly fantastic. First there was one szivarvany half, then a full rainbow, and then a ful double rainbow. The full arches didn’t photograph well, but I did manage to get this photo out of the car window. We stopped to pick up Melinda, Zoli’s wife, and drove to Menforcsanak to where her grandparents live.

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