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October 2017 - Nathaniel Maekawa

October  2017

Nathaniel Maekawa

BA International Studies (Global Environment and Health); minor, Medical Anthropology ‘18

Hometown: Austin, TX

Affiliations: Graham Sustainability Scholars, Health Science Scholars Program, Global Intercultural Experience for Undergraduates, Inter-Cooperative Council, Sigma Iota Rho: Honor Society for International Studies

“Water lapping at my knees, I kept my eyes fixated on the rotting wooden table. Amidst the unintended bumps, the excited shouting in French and Malagasy, and the resounding thud of a sea cucumber being thrown into a colorful bucket, I held my focus. On the table, a scale sat dripping with salt water and sandfish excrement. With each weighed sea cucumber, a red number would flash and I would quickly take note. In these late hours of the night, when the stars shone brightly, the tide was at its lowest, and the sea cucumbers were surfaced from their detritus dwellings, I was in charge of recording the real-time results of the village’s midnight sea cucumber sale.

This past summer, I worked as an aquaculture intern for the marine conservation based NGO, Reef Doctor, in Southwest, Madagascar. As a team member on Reef Doctor’s alternative sustainable livelihoods project, I maintained a seaweed farm, I gave presentations on sustainability and aquaculture, I built scarecrows for turtles, I wrote scientific and quarterly reports, and I worked hand in hand with volunteers, staff, interns, and community members to enhance local socioeconomic prosperity through environmentally friendly practices.

I was drawn to ReefDoctor by my interest in applied environmentalism, and by my curiosity on the dynamics that go into sustaining an NGO and its mission. The interdisciplinary foundation that I’ve received from my International Studies education, enabled my deeper awareness and understanding of Reef Doctor’s own multi-disciplinary initiative. Not only did this background facilitate my learning onsite, it also resulted in my ability to contribute to the project. Previous experiences and courses on anthropology, sustainability, and the environment, inspired questions and ideas that directed my work and informed my participation in aquaculture team meetings. Experience with scientific writing and research, guided my creation of reports and methodologies designed to orient the project’s future. Working for Reef Doctor helped me to recognize and appreciate the skill sets that I’ve developed in my time at Michigan. It gave me confidence that I can handle and make positive contributions to real life solutions that I believe in.

When I was a sophomore, I declared my major in International Studies: Global Health and Environment because I wanted to be holistically educated on the state and issues of our world. By developing this perspective, I hoped to apply my ideas as an agent for positive global change. The remarkable classes and international experiences that I’ve had through the Program in International and Comparative Studies have put me in a position to actualize these initial aspirations. In the classroom, in the mountains of Mexico, in the rice paddies of Indonesia, in the streets of Paris, under the fern trees in New Zealand, and in the low tide of a Madagascar sea cucumber sale, I have seen my education applied into tangible forms that have me incredibly excited for the future. I have met people that inspire me with their own unique experiences and perspectives, and I have met people who have become some of my dearest friends.

Future plans: “I am currently in the process of applying for a volunteer position with the United States Peace Corps. Working for the Peace Corps would be a phenomenal opportunity to apply the intercultural and academic skills that I’ve acquired at Michigan, into a long-term community project. If accepted, I hope to be able to create relationships and initiatives that will contribute to the sustainability of the project I am assigned to, and most importantly, benefit the communities and people we work with. The problems of the world are layered in intricacies. It is my goal to continue to develop an interdisciplinary toolkit capable of addressing these complex issues, and facilitating of my ability to progress positive change.”