Post-graduation, I’ve found myself in a strange period of limbo. While most of my classmates have reported in to their new ensign billets and started work out in the fleets, my orders are still pending. I know where I’m going and what I’ll be doing; I’m just anxiously waiting official clearance to go. In the meantime, here I am, back at the Academy for a somewhat-awkward two-something-week period, waiting for my next adventure to start.
At the end of April, I received an email from the U.S. Fulbright Commission saying that I had been selected to receive a 2014 U.S. Student Award to study in Mauritius. Since that time, life has been an absolute whirlwind of paperwork and preparation and anticipation. Reply to the Fulbright Commission; fill out their paperwork; notify my Coast Guard chain of command; fill out their paperwork; get screened for an OCONUS billet; attend the Fulbright Orientation; meet at Coast Guard Headquarters; and, in the meantime, arrange for an apartment, university enrollment, a car, a bank account, a cell phone, and all other things necessary for life in a tiny island country in the middle of the Indian Ocean. My post-grad leave period has not been restful, but it’s been as exciting as it has been baffling. At the Academy, our instructors and mentors always implied that being an ensign is in large part an exercise in figuring out how to do tasks that you’ve never learned how to do with very little help or instruction. If that’s true, then I’ve dived right into ensign life headfirst!
This isn’t to say, however, that I’ve been entirely without help. There are two real ways to get through a task you have no idea what you’re doing: stumble through with trial-and-error, or, make a connection with someone who does know what they’re doing. In the past couple of months, I’ve been fortunate enough to connect with people who were not only able to help me but were generously willing to take time out of their day to help me with this mind-boggling moving-abroad process. I owe a special thanks to LT Stephen Elliott and his family. LT Elliott, coincidentally, was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to Mauritius back in 2005 (I wish I’d known that when I was applying!) and his wife’s family lives on the island. They’ve been enormously helpful in guiding me through the ins and outs of moving to an remote island far off the sub-Saharan African mainland and giving me some idea of what to expect when I arrive. I can’t say that the prospect of moving to a dot of an island on the other side of the world isn’t daunting still, but with the help of LT Elliott and family, it’s become a little less scary.
I’m supposed to receive my official orders this week, as my original orders to Sector New York were finally cancelled this past week so that the new ones could be processed. As soon as I have those in hand, I’ll be booking the soonest possible flight to take me away from the U.S. for the next two years and off to my new home in Mauritius.
The Fulbright Scholarship will cover the first nine months of my studies, but the Coast Guard has authorized me to stay in Mauritius for two years so that I can complete a Master’s degree, for the duration of which I’ll be relying on my ensign salary to cover tuition and living (thankfully both are relatively low overseas!). I’ll spend two years pursuing a part-time M.A. in Economics from the University of Mauritius and also working part-time as an intern at the Maurice Ile Durable Commission, a government-sponsored sustainability initiative for the island. In the meantime, partially in conjunction with my Master’s thesis but somewhat in extension of it, I will be researching the marine and coastal space use conflicts of the artisanal fishing industry and the growing tourist industry in Mauritius in hopes of helping these competing sectors achieve a more sustainable system of resource usage in the future. This will, interestingly enough, bring me into contact with our service’s parallel on the other side of the world – the Mauritian Coast Guard. Our services have had very little interaction in the past, but I’m excited to see how they operate and if there’s any potential for greater exchange in the future.
Of course, the Fulbright experience isn’t all about work; it’s designed to promote both academic and cultural exchange, and Fulbright students and scholars are expected to get involved in the local community as much as possible. This is the part that makes the experience exciting, and I’ve already looked into a number of great outlets to get to know the island and its people better. Mauritius is considered a tropical paradise, and outdoor recreation is huge. From an active mountain biking and cycling community, to scuba diving groups, to hiking tours, there seems to be no lack of collections of people getting together to explore all of the natural wonders Mauritius has to offer. I hope to keep up my triathlon training as well, and if there’s not a team present on the island, I’ll start one!
I’ll do my best to maintain this blog while abroad. I know as a cadet applying for scholarships that I would have liked to have had the chance to hear about the experiences of Coasties going off on experiences such as Fulbright, so I’ll be here as a resource for any others following the same path. Anyone in the Honors Program or others who have questions about Fulbright or study abroad opportunities, never hesitate to email me at Jessica.D.Lukasik@uscga.edu.
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