In the beginning of June, I had an incredible opportunity to be a part of National Geographic Explorer Spotlight Asia. Essentially, this event is part of National Geographic's regular agenda to bring together various people whom considered illuminate and protect our world through their work in science, exploration, education, and storytelling.
National Geographic Explorer Spotlight Asia event was held in South Korea, located on the enchanting island of Jeju, from June 6 to 9, 2022. I had no dream to visit this advanced and charming country until I received an invitation from National Geographic Society (NGS), as the leader of Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI). ASRI received support from National Geographic in 2021 to conduct a research on Covid Resiliency as well as supporting ex-loggers community through Rainforest Covid Stimulus. The selected National Geographic Explorers would be trained to tell incredible inspiring stories to the world. NGS believe great stories have the power to transform our understanding of the world and our role in it. The following is a recap of my personal experience during the event.
Day 1, June 5th
The flight from Jakarta to Seoul took about 7 hours. Another 1 hour flight brought us from Seoul to Jeju. We stayed at Maison Glad Hotel, a very nice yet super busy hotel in Jeju. That night, we had a welcome dinner where we got to meet all of the NatGeo staff in Asia and the other explorers who will participate in the event. It was truly amazing to meet brilliant scientists, photographers, and project founders from diﬀerent Asian countries. Despite the freezing temperatures caused by heavy rains and strong winds, it warms my heart to know how happy the next few days will be and how grateful I am on behalf of ASRI to be a part of this incredible National Geographic Society.
Day 2, June 6th – First Bootcamp Day
As part of the National Geographic Explorers, we were asked to share our stories with hundreds of students and NatGeo/Walt Disney Executives. What a challenge it is to speak in front of a large audience and to keep it very brief (only 3 minutes!) but compelling. We gathered in a raining and foggy morning to begin our first day of storytelling bootcamp. A fancy, comfortable bus with a big NatGeo sticker on it took us to the National Geographic Society Jeju Hub.
We were obviously excited to take photos near the yellow border the first time we arrived. And girls were always the first.
We then began session after session in a very cozy workshop room (I wish I had a space like that in ASRI!). There, we learned about the NatGeo Society and the explorers, about the support NGS provides to the explorers, about storytelling through public speaking and photography, and about the work of other explorers.
After such an interesting learning day, we finished the day with typical Korean dinner & drinks. I'm not a big foodie, but other fellows would always asked me to try new things. Mashita, yum, yum!
Day 3, June 7th - Second Bootcamp Day
Universally, NatGeo is a trusted brand with huge number of fans. According to data, @natgeo is the #1 non-celebrity brand on Instagram. Only 14% of customers trust ads on social media, but 98% of customers trust National Geographic. I was not really surprised when I saw those stats. Simply because in South Korea for example, I have seen so many people wear NatGeo items such as suitcases, bags, t-shirts, etc. My fellow explorers and I learned about the above stats from our first class on the second day of the bootcamp.
Day 4, June 8th - Third Bootcamp Day
To began the day, the NatGeo Explorers and NG staffs walked along the coastline of Jeju where we can see the dark-colored volcanic rocks and some windmills which reminded me of Holland. A group of reporters from local TV were filming us. We were like.. alright this is our turn. Forget the K-Pop or K-drama, now Koreans watch us!
Jeju Island has a well-known community of women divers, known as Haenyeo. We were lucky to be able to see them. They can dive up to 10m to collect shellfish without oxygen masks! According to our guide, the number of women divers dropped significantly, from about 35,000, 15-20 years ago, to only about 3,000 left now, with the average of their age is 72 years old! Hmm, what's gonna happen 10 years later?
After the nice walk on the coastline and learn about Haenyeo, we visited Dongbaek dongsan wetland conservation area. We walked to the forests and saw an almost dry pond. The guide told us that many years ago, the villagers used the water from the pond for drinking.
Next, we went to Branksome Hall Asia, an International school for girls. When I first set foot there, I was completely blown away. This is a very large and magnificent educational area. I have never seen such a school or university building. When we entered the hall to get ready to speak, we were a little taken aback. Really, we thought the school auditorium would be just like the others. Nope, the stage is amazing! Hundreds of students and teachers came to hear our stories. My hands became cold as I realized how difficult it would be to speak in English on such a large stage, and live streamed! However, I sensed a very supportive atmosphere among the explorers and NGS staff. We encouraged one another.
Finally, I delivered my speech, and thanks God it went well! After the talk, a girl approached me and said she enjoyed my talk because she is very interested in Planetary Health. I was curious how she knew about Planetary Health. She said that she wishes to pursue medical studies. I hope she can visit ASRI in Borneo someday to learn more about Planetary Health in action!
Day 5, June 9th - Last Bootcamp Day
This was the last day of the National Geographic Explorer Spotlight Asia. We had a final task to present our stories to the NatGeo / Walt Disney executives and partners in Asia. The venue would be at the auditorium where National Geographic Society Jeju Hub is located. Everything was nicely set up, plus an event backdrop with the red carpet!
Before the main agenda started, we had an opportunity to get to know unheard stories about each of the explorers. After the lunch, we start changing the outfit. I wasn't sure which one I should wear, then the other explorers would just so kind to give advice and even voting for the best outfit match. They seemed to have picked a good one, didn't they?
In the afternoon, we entered the auditorium, checking the slides, doing the rehearsal and photo shooting until the audience came. The spotlight event began, each of us told the stories. With persistent practice and support from the other fellows, I shared ASRI’s story with full comfort and confident.
We finished the event that night by having a gala dinner and listening to a poetic photo storytelling from a NatGeo photographer Hannah Morales about lullaby songs from several countries in the world before and after the pandemic. Last but not least, enjoy the happy moments with all the explorers, NG staffs and volunteers. The next few days before going back to Indonesia, I had a chance to explore the beauty of Seoul which was really amazing and refreshing.
I want to thank ASRI and Health in Harmony (ASRI’s sister organization), that provided me with great support to be able to participate in this event. And certainly, my biggest thank to National Geographic Society for giving me such a priceless experience, inspiration, and motivation to contribute better within my role at ASRI to protect the rainforests - the wonders of the world.