Rebecca Yoo, a senior, is studying Civil Engineering with a focus in Environmental Systems. Aaron Bivens is a PhD student in Environmental Engineering with an emphasis on drinking water quality. Two years ago, Aaron was a Teaching Assistant in a class Rebecca was taking called Environmental Technologies in Developing Countries. They traveled to Bolivia twice together with this course with Rebecca serving as a TA alongside Aaron on the 2nd trip. They are now friends and came together again to discuss a little bit about what they’ve learned from their work and research in international settings.
Aaron Bivins: What is it that you feel like you’ve been learning from your international travels while a student at Georgia Tech?
Rebecca Yoo: Wow, there’s so many. So I don’t know which one to start on, because I think every single trip that I’ve gone on has a unique story to it, and a unique feel to it when I look back on it. when I think back on Bolivia, I— the first thing I think about is definitely landing at the airport.
Aaron Bivins: Yeah. Landing in Bolivia is always surreal because you fly through the night, you leave Miami at like 10 PM in the evening, and then you land at 5 in the morning at 12,000 feet of altitude.
Rebecca Yoo: Yeah.
Aaron Bivins: Especially the altitude. You could really feel it when we landed and de-planed, and you were having trouble breathing and they had all the— Remember all the oxygen tanks they had laying around for the gringos? [laughter]
Rebecca Yoo: Yeah. It’s kind of hard to think about the first time we went, actually. Because I keep on mixing it with the second time.
Aaron Bivins: Yeah?
Rebecca Yoo: But I think— I think, yeah, when I look back on that first trip, it was definitely a meaningful moment in my, in my student career at Tech, should I say? Because it was the first trip that I had gone on with an academic purpose. All my other travels had been with family or, you know, nothing related to my career passions. And so I think it was— it was like a birthplace, one aspect of my passions, I guess. Was somewhere where I really started to explore the opportunities of meeting my, my interest in traveling, and also my academic interest. So that was really cool.
Aaron Bivins: Was there, was there one particular moment on that trip where that congealed or became clear?
Rebecca Yoo: I think I didn’t realize it at the time, but that one day when I was out with Lauren, who was interning with EIA—Engineers in Action.
Aaron Bivins: I remember that. [laughs]
Rebecca Yoo: Yeah, that was a big day. [laughs]
Aaron Bivins: That was a big day. [laughs] I threw you under the bus that day. [laughs]
Aaron Bivins: So the team went out to collect water quality data each day, and I had led each day up to that point. And I kind of stepped back and thought that you could really grow from being in a leadership spot. And so I, if you remember, I basically said, “I’m taking the day off"
Rebecca Yoo: I mean, it’s kind of funny to look back on it now, because from your perspective, it’s like, “Oh I’m just sending this undergrad student out with a team to collect samples.” But I really appreciate that you were able to maybe look at it from my perspective and see what a big task or what a daunting task it could look like to me.
Aaron Bivins: Yeah. I think the unknown is difficult, and I always talk to people—especially students—about the things that you don’t know you don’t know. And those are the things that always surprise us and throw a wrench in our plans.I think I started learning this when that interaction with you—was that you have to give them the confidence to stare those things down and improvise and use what they do know to overcome the things didn’t know or are now learning first-hand through trial and error.
Rebecca Yoo: Yeah.
Aaron Bivins: So that’s become an important theme of all my work with students. So you were the guinea pig. [Yoo laughs] And luckily it worked out.
Rebecca Yoo: Right.
Aaron Bivins: Yeah. So it seems like people are always a big theme of your observations and your interests and your passions. How would you say that that has grown in your mind or your understanding of that has grown throughout your travels?
Rebecca Yoo: I think... I think particularly with the Bolivia trip, I just saw the potential of using civil and environmental engineering and working with people or working with communities. I think I’d heard of, you know, engineers who could make a difference abroad in the area that I would like to. But it didn’t really come to life to me until I met Lauren. The way that she communicated and related with people totally changed the game for me, just to see interactions. I think that’s the key, because when I hear of opportunities on papers, it’s like, “oh they’re doing really awesome work,” but you don’t get to see the relationships that they built through that work.