My parents and I immigrated from China to the U.S. in search of our American dream when I was six years old. I brought with me vivid memories of the years before we moved, when people fished in murky waters and suffered allergies due to worsening air pollution from urban development. I learned from a young age the critical balance between environmental protection and economic prosperity.
My family moved every two years across the U.S., always trying for better opportunities. We made homes for ourselves in Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey, and I had the immense privilege of meeting and learning from people from all walks of life. But no matter where I went, I saw the tension between environmental considerations and people’s struggle to make ends meet. In 2011, our town in Vermont, our home, and everything we and those around us worked for was destroyed by Hurricane Irene – a rude awakening to the critical nature of climate change.
Fueled by a passion for environmental work on a global scale, I simultaneously pursued two undergraduate degrees
in Environmental Science and International Studies. In search of creating tangible impact, I used my language skills to work as a teacher in rural China, where I developed and taught courses on sustainability. Encouraged by mentors, I delved into marine conservation policy and conducted research with various environmental nonprofits to study emerging marine technologies and assess potential impacts on global fish production. To deepen my domestic policy knowledge, I worked as a Hollings Scholar with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to analyze commercial fisheries data and U.S. marine regulations.
These experiences highlighted the usefulness of a cross-cultural background for understanding issues beyond face value. It also reinforced my belief in the importance of recognizing economic motivations in environmental work, engaging the public in decision-making and considering the real impact that policies have on people, and promoting cross-border initiatives.
Driven by my desire to implement positive change at an international level, I returned to China as a Fulbright Scholar to examine the policymaking process of sustainable fisheries management and its impact on local communities. While this experience clarified my interest in a career in public service and foreign affairs, it was the abrupt ending to my Fulbright and hasty return to the U.S. due to COVID-19 that solidified this path for me. Witnessing the breakdown in relations and ensuing antagonism unfold from Wuhan reminded me yet again of the essential nature of international diplomacy and the effect on humanity when there is a lack thereof.
Immigrating to the U.S. opened my world to countless freedoms, opportunities, and exposure to diverse cultures. But perhaps most importantly, my experiences since have elucidated a path for me to pay it forward. Thus, I took to the Rangel Fellowship – a State Department program that provides funding for graduate school and a pipeline for the U.S. Foreign Service – to allow me to serve my country and the world how I know best.
I look forward to officially joining the Foreign Service upon completion of my final year in pursuit of a Master of Public Policy degree at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. It would be an honor to serve the American people and help build a safer, more prosperous planet for everyone.
– Luo Zizhan, Rangel Fellow