Megan Otsuka is an undergraduate student at the University of California, Berkeley (Class of 2017), and is currently pursuing a degree in Public Health. She is originally from Southern California and when she isn’t studying or working, she enjoys playing basketball and lacrosse, running outdoors, and eating sushi. Megan has worked with International and Executive Programs (IEP) since 2013.
by Megan Otsuka
Ever since I turned 16, the legal working age in the US, I've had a job. Whether that was folding clothes at a retail store, tutoring and nannying children in my neighborhood, or selling pies at a local cafe, I was always busy. When I was making the transition into my freshman year at UC Berkeley, multiple people advised me not to get a job. The college schedule, they told me, would be so much work and I should just focus on studying. I listened for the first month. But with all my extra free time, I soon got bored.
So I applied for a few jobs. In October, I was offered a position as an administrative assistant at the Beahrs ELP. I had no idea what it was, other than the information I got from the little research I did 20 minutes before my interview. At the time, it was just something I needed to keep me busy and make a little extra spending money.
Almost three whole years later, I'm going into my senior year, and I'm still here. Why? Because, to me, the ELP is no longer just a way to kill time. I've probably spent more time in Giannini Hall than any other building on campus because of the ELP, and my time here has shaped my college career. I came in as a freshman undeclared,hoping to major in Physics. That soon changed - for the ELP, I was tasked to learn about environmental issues in countries across the world, and its nexus with the health and social issues that impact them as well. That led me to take some public health and environmental science classes — now I'm a Public Health major concentrating in Environmental Health and Biostatistics.
001_CALCPV_1307140448_0682_NK_Huyen-1-300x199_2.jpgMore than that, I've had the opportunity to participate in 2 ELPs, and my third one is about to start next week. For three weeks each summer, I get to interact face to face with the participants I've emailed every day for the 5 months leading up to each ELP. I am humbled by the stories they tell me about the political, environmental, social, and health issues they face in their countries. They tell me about the backlash they receive from the government for trying to educate their own communities, that authorities do not enforce conservation and wildlife laws and mandates, that women are encouraged not to go to school, and that air pollution makes it hard to breathe. Although it may seem discouraging to know problems like these still exist, the participants are a reminder that there are still people who are hopeful for a better future and who are still fighting for justice. Their passion motivates me to work harder and to take advantage of the educational opportunities afforded to me at Berkeley. Receiving updates about their lives after the ELP is also extremely rewarding. I love learning about new doors that have been opened for the participants through the ELP, or more specifically the doors that the participants worked tirelessly to build from scratch and then find the key to unlock it.
As I begin my last year as an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley, I also begin preparing for my first year after graduation (yikes!). Whether that will be at graduate school or a full time job, I'm not sure . But I am sure that the lessons I learned by working at the ELP will have an impact on that decision. Thanks to Anita, David, Mio, Madhyama, Renata and all the other staff who have given me these opportunities and thanks to all the ELP participants (especially the classes of 2014, 2015, and 2016) who have let me be a part of their journeys. Because ELP has helped the participants build new doors, I know I can always knock on one of the over 500 and have an alumni welcoming me on the other side.