Grad student learns about climate change in Vietnam

Grad student Shanti Johnson at the Bat Pagoda in Vietnam.

Photo: Graduate student Shanti Johnson at the Bat Pagoda, a Buddhist temple that doubles as a bat sanctuary in the Mekong Delta. (Nicky Phear)

J-School student Shanti Johnson spent her winter break exploring climate change issues for her graduate professional project in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam.

Johnson traveled with 12 other UM undergraduates through the Climate Change Studies department. The students received six science credits in the three and a half weeks they were abroad.

“I’m extremely interested in international environmental issues, the environmental impact of war, and how both connect to us here in the States,” Johnson said.

She added that she knew she wanted her professional project to involve traveling abroad.

“I settled on Vietnam for a few different reasons—and made that decision either two or three days before I had to sign up for the trip to the Mekong Delta,” she said. “It was either commit and go a month and a half later, or miss out. So I committed. And it was the best decision I could have made.”

When she first arrived in Vietnam, she said it took a while to recover from the 30-hour trip to get there and get acquainted with the country.

“That first morning, the heat struck me, along with the exhaust fumes and sounds of horns from the throng of motorbikes and the occasional car outside my window,” she said. “Coming from around 20-30 degrees Fahrenheit, from the middle of a Montana winter, into 90 degrees and humidity was quite the shock.”

While in Vietnam, Johnson and the other students on the trip traveled to nearly every corner of the country.

“We saw so much on this trip. One day were on the tip of the continent, where the Gulf of Thailand meets the South China Sea (or as many in Vietnam call it, the East Sea),” she said. “Three days later we were watching the sunset over the mountains of Cambodia to the north.”

While she said the biggest highlight was meeting the kind and generous people of Vietnam, the coolest experience was seeing the local responses to environmental issues.

“It was inspiring to be in these little villages, where people really didn’t have much, yet farmers were implementing biogas/methane capture techniques to turn their pigs’ manure into cooking methane for their stoves,” she said. “Seeing a small group of dedicated people taking matters into their own hands, creating a simple, yet totally effective system to remedy an environmental issue, was so cool. It reminded me that solutions don’t have to be difficult, massive or global; solutions can start with one person, making one small change, and it can actually go somewhere.”

Johnson will be traveling back to Vietnam later this year to report for her professional project.

- posted on 02/04/15 -