Jennifer Hibbert, ATMS ’09, found peace in the most unlikely of places

russiaSenior year at UNCA, Joe Phillips and I found ourselves dreaming of adventures around the world. He ended up at the South Pole with NOAA Corps, and I ended up working for private industry in Singapore.

Graduating in 2009 meant that jobs for recent graduates were scarce. I applied for a few jobs around the world, but most companies were not keen to sponsor the visa of someone with no experience. One application, for a position as a marine forecaster in Aberdeen, Scotland was sent back to their main office in Houston, and they made me an offer. My only offer. My entire UNCA ATMS career learning the arguments why climate change is real and how I, personally, am going to save the planet, now faced the reality of the only industry willing to make me an offer: Oil & Gas.

I went to Houston. My company, Wilkens Weather Technologies (WWT), provided me with excellent training to forecast marine conditions anywhere in the world. My spirit for adventure meant I was the first to volunteer for any opportunity, bringing me offshore for rig construction projects in the Gulf of Mexico and later off Sakhalin Island, Russia. Turns out, Dr. Miller’s final ATMS project, “Seasick in the Pacific,” would be my actual job every day. I discovered I love working offshore. I find profound mental peace out at sea.

My thirst for adventure was not satisfied by just moving to Houston. I wanted an international life, to live as an expat, and I wanted to forecast for the southern hemisphere (to vindicate my unpopular choice to study a southern hemisphere storm during the very last week of our education. It was an unwelcome curveball!). When a job opportunity for a marine offshore forecaster opened in Singapore with Fugro, I applied immediately, and was clearly the right fit. Three weeks later, I packed up my apartment and blindly moved to Singapore.

Now I have been here for nearly five years. I was promoted to manager of the weather forecasting operations, leading 5 forecasters from Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar, Greece and Brazil. I’ve had the chance to travel all around the world, and started a charitable organization, Waybright Foundation, to support organic farming, basketball and eco-tourism in Philippines and Indonesia. In 2017, I have built two bungalows so far: one at Villaconzoilo Compact Organic Farm in Leyte, Philippines; one at Bubble Addict dive & yoga center on Pulau Weh, Indonesia. I’ve launched a business to sell custom-printed basketballs to support Waybright projects, and plan to sponsor students from Philippines to learn from a similar farm in Jogjakarta, Indonesia. I am so inspired by the folks in these developing countries building businesses sustainably, caring for the environment, and striving to make a better world for their children. A little help goes a long way on this side of the world. The simple bungalow in Philippines (a traditional “bahay kubo”) was built from local materials with a budget of $1,000 in 30 days, and the income they now generate allows their village school to cover up to grade 6 when previously it stopped at grade 3. Many kids ended their education after 3rd grade, because the 7km walk to the next village is too difficult.

Despite the tragic Boxing Day tsunami in Indonesia, and the devastating Typhoon Yolanda in Philippines, these two places maintain an unwavering positive spirit, and have rebuilt their communities to be stronger and safer than before. It’s so easy to lose perspective of what is important when you live in modern convenience. Singapore is so clean, safe and efficient that I have grown impatient! I visit these places to remind myself how to be patient, and that instant gratification and comfort do not create happiness.

I credit UNCA for setting me up to thrive in multi-cultural settings. One elective course I took for fun- Food in Arab Culture- is one I now refer to daily. My entire life is a Humanities Cultural Event! American education heavily focuses on independent critical thinking and problem solving, which are unique and valuable traits in an international context. Classes in rock climbing, dance and volleyball at UNCA gave me the confidence to try all sorts of other new physical activities, and recently I’ve learned to sail, SCUBA dive, and Zumba. Taking extra time for fun classes at UNCA is the way to go, you never know what skill will come up later. I wish I had taken Meditation.

While my career is going great now, before I found the job in Singapore but wanted to leave Houston, I was discouraged by the amount of computer skills sought by employers. Getting promoted to manager meant learning lots of code fast (VBA, GrADS, DOS batch). Now I write programs (poorly) and wish I had taken some more computer courses while in University… or rather, I wish I had put more effort into Fortran!

My advice is to takes risks while you are young. Move out. Take a chance. Explore somewhere different, either with friends or solo. Life slows down eventually, priorities change, many peers will be content starting families and buying houses in the suburbs and it becomes harder to find adventurers. Not everybody has wanderlust. But if you do, go for it. You can travel for less money than you think. Home will always be there, but the time in your life where having an adventure and seeing something new beats being comfortable are magic years to be celebrated. American culture has a fear of traveling that does us a disservice. There is nothing to be afraid of! Hostels are the place where your new friends are waiting to meet you. Traveling will broaden your perspective in a way that will benefit your career for the rest of your life.FugroonAegir

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