Following Selection, Graduation and Eight Weeks of KnowledgeWell coaching, Vivi Nguyen PE arrived in Palau to begin her career.


Recently KnowledgeWell connected with the first student it sent overseas. At that time she was a few months from graduation at NCSU. Once chosen, out of three finalists, the KnowledgeWell coaches began empowering her to make a successful transition to a new culture, share her knowledge and to launch her career.
Q: As you approach the 15 year anniversary of your masters engineering graduation from NC State University and traveling with KnowledgeWell to serve and launch your career in Palau, describe the excitement, expectations, and any apprehensions you might have had before departing for a country you had never visited.

A: After traveling to a few locations abroad with my family, I fell in love with travel, especially internationally, and was thrilled at the opportunity to live abroad, in a stunning location like Palau no less. Having never lived abroad, never visited Palau, never having done anything like this ever, I left expectations aside knowing pretty much everything I was going to experience was going to be new. My biggest apprehension was not really knowing what I was getting into regarding work and having very little work experience.
Q: What type of feedback did you receive from your classmates, professors, friends and family?
A: Family and friends were pretty surprised that I’d decided to up and move, quite literally, to the other side of the world. Very few people that I mentioned it had even heard of Palau. My parents had apprehensions also not knowing anything about Palau, and generally preferring that I don’t deviate from the straight and narrow, but in the end, they were supportive.

Fruit Bat Soup

Q: Before departure KnowledgeWell volunteer coaches met with you for cross-cultural training over eight weeks in order to help smooth your transition and prepare you for success. Please speak to the value of that preparation before moving to Palau.
A: The cross-cultural training was invaluable. Not knowing anything about Palau, and at that time, not having many resources to learn about Palau, the training helped a lot in easing the anxiety of not knowing. There was also a lot of good advice given regarding what-to-do and what-not-to-do, and that is helpful in the context of learning about any culture. One piece of advice that still sticks with me to this day is ‘don’t go in making a bunch of suggestions, observe, listen, and learn for at least the first few months.’ It was a reminder to learn about the place first, gain understanding about why things are the way they are, and not making assumptions.
Q: Can you describe some of the cross-cultural differences you experienced?
A: My favorite cross-cultural difference I experienced was the pace of life. Life moves slower in Palau, like really slow, and even slower on the outer islands. It was one of the first things pointed out to me upon arriving. It can be frustrating at times if you’re waiting for something, but in terms of absorbing, enjoying, and experiencing life, it’s the best. In some ways, I think it proves that a very large percent of the hustle, stress, anxiety, urgency, that we experience in America is selfimposed. One of my more interesting cross-cultural experiences was learning how to eat fruit bat soup. Fruit Bat Soup Learning about the culture itself of course was very interesting, the history, family structure, chiefs, abais, funerals, and first birth ceremonies. And the fishing. Even not being much of a fisherman myself, the relationship with the sea, and the amount of cultural knowledge that is handed down about where and when and how to catch which type of fish is astounding.

ATLANTA: Having Launched Her Career in the Public Sector, Today Vivi Nguyen PE Serves the Public Sector as Hazen and Sawyer’s Senior Principal Engineer

Q: What benefit or value did your work in Palau provide for you personally and professionally?
A: The personal value of my experience in Palau is immeasurable. It changed me as a person, I guess as one would expect from living abroad. One of the big reasons for wanting to go to Palau was that I felt like up until that point, I’d lived to meet other people’s expectations, and that led me to be in a pretty small bubble. I wanted to do something different, to be adventurous, to become an interesting person with interesting stories and experiences. What I found in Palau were people that were doing life differently. The majority of Americans have a school, work, marriage, house, kids path, or at least that expectation. The expats I met in Palau all had different paths and all kinds of stories and life experiences. I got to do so many things that I’d never dreamed of doing, especially in a place as beautiful as Palau; things like scuba diving in one of the premier locations in the world, learning to sail, sailing to islands to camp where there’s no one else, sailing a vintage racing skiff, living on a sailboat for a short time, wakeboarding behind a motorized canoe, trolling and catching a large king mackerel from said canoe, snorkeling in jellyfish late, kayaking, spear fishing, swimming in the brightest bioluminescence at night, hiking to waterfalls, hunting for crabs at night, catching the elusive coconut crab, eating mangrove crab with claws the size of my hands, having orchids growing everywhere, snorkeling with dugongs, the list goes on. I am still in touch with friends I made in Palau, over a decade later. I should also mention that I went to Palau not knowing how to swim and being terrified of water any deeper than what I could stand in.
Another experience that hit me profoundly and unexpectedly, was the lack of consumerism. I didn’t have a TV, I barely had internet, I didn’t read magazines, and there aren’t billboards in Palau, meaning the intense, ever-present, non-stop data gathering, ad machine in the interest of consumerism to support materialism was non-existent. I only ever bought things to support my hobbies, or when something wore out. I never felt a need to have the latest fashion, in fact, I didn’t even know what the latest fashions were. Immediately upon returning to the US, I felt the inexplicable urge to buy, everything I had was not good enough, that I had to have the latest models, be in fashion and wear makeup and high heels, and realized that’s the power of the ad machine in America. Even armed with this knowledge, I find it difficult to resist the constant nagging urge to buy. This is one experience I wish I could import to my life now.

Professionally, I would say the most important skill I gained was “to figure it out.” Because there weren’t a lot of references. In order to succeed, I learned to be resourceful, flexible, and to work with what’s available. Working in a new and challenging environment was also beneficial in terms of character building. Even though the work was not directly related to the field I wanted to go into, I feel that employers even now see it as a positive on my resume, not necessarily in terms of direct work experience, but in terms of life experience, and showing that I have the ability to adapt.
Q: You are a highly accomplished professional with Hazen and Sawyer. If you could go back to graduation day, would you still apply and accept a position on a remote Pacific Island Nation?
A: Yes, see answer to previous question :D. Also, the timing was right, as I was just leaving school, and had no set plans, no house, no kids, no pets, so it was relatively easy to make the move.
Q: Since its founding, Knowledge Well’s delivers knowledge and expertise. Speak to the opportunity that graduated students and retirees have to deliver value in Micronesia.
A: I think KnowledgeWell has a unique capability to match a need or demand for given professions to individuals who have not only the experience and skillset, but the mindset to be able to succeed in such an environment and situation. In addition, the experience and knowledge about Micronesia itself and ability to communicate that in the training prior to arrival incountry is unique and valuable.
Q: Why CSR Partners, Sponsors or Individuals consider supporting KnowledgeWell with their time and or donations?
A: KnowledgeWell helps match people with a given skill set to areas in Micronesia that are underserved. It gives people the opportunity to gain life and professional experience while filling a need for those skills.

Vivi Succeeded Where Previous Experienced Experts Did Not
What makes Vivi’s success even more remarkable is that she filled a postion prematurely vacated by two different experts with decades of experience. Having lost two people for the role is one of the reasons the nation reached out to KnowledgeWell. KnowledgeWell could help not only select qualifited candidates, but could teach instill needed cultural transition knowledge for a successful and sustainable onboarding experience. Each of the two previous experts that had filled this role had been unable to fullfill their contracts and returned home prematurely- approxiamately six months and two weeks repectively. Vivi however not only fulfilled her contract, but renewed it at the end of her term.

Nan Madol- The 99 City Block “Venice” of Asia Pacific in Pohnpei FSM

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