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Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellowship Goes to Surfing Alumna

September 9, 2019 – Georgetown alumna and expert surfer Emi Koch (C’12), who was National Geographic 2018 Adventurer of the Year, is now a Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellow.

The nonprofit she created while at Georgetown, Beyond the Surface International, works with small-scale fishing villages to offer surfing, storytelling and mindfulness workshops for youth and their communities in the quest for healthy and sustainable seas and fish-dependent livelihoods.

Hometown: San Diego

Undergraduate Major: Psychology, with concentrations in anthropology and justice and peace studies

Graduate Degree: Master’s in marine biodiversity and conservation, Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, 2019

Emi Koch in the ocean high-fiving a young boy

Why the Ocean?

“My dad put me on a surfboard when I was a toddler, and we’d paddle around the kelp forests and then catch waves to head in,” Koch explains. “I simply cherished the ocean as one might treasure an imaginary friend. My father was a former lifeguard, and he instilled in me a deep respect for the ocean through the power of play.”

Why Surfing?

Emi Koch surfing in the ocean“Surfing promotes the cognitive, creative, physical, social and emotional development of young people while also engendering values for a lifelong commitment to environmental stewardship,” Koch says. “On a planet contending with climate change and a collapsing ocean, surfing’s relevance as a kind of nature play engages the next generation who will face the most critical social-ecological challenges to humanity's sustainable future.”

The Fellowship: National Geographic Storytellers get the opportunity to share their stories through National Geographic and social media platforms.

Koch’s project will investigate climate change and the impact of food insecurity in Vietnamese small-scale fisheries by facilitating photography workshops with fish-dependent stakeholders.

She’ll also create an interactive map featuring these multimedia stories while analyzing qualitative data on social-ecological well-being in fisheries utilizing the U.N. Human Security Framework.

“I am really excited to further cultivate my relationship with National Geographic and leverage my storytelling opportunity so that there can be a platform for the voices of the most vulnerable coastal communities to be heard and their stories to be shared,” she explains.

Why Vietnam?

“Vietnam is a microcosm for this reciprocal relationship between access to fish as critical resources and human insecurities,” Koch says. “With over 2,000 miles of coastline and China as its neighbor, Vietnamese fishing communities face the problems of overfishing in coastal areas, degradation of the marine environment and conflicts between fishers.”

Georgetown Influence:

“I took a conflict transformation course that really made an impression on me,” Koch says. “I felt driven to understand really complex social injustices and almost that I had a responsibility to, which was an empowering feeling as well. I also took professor Fathali Moghaddam’s Political Psychology course, which gave me some mental wherewithal to think about the context social injustices occur within.”

Obstacles Overcome:

“Being a student that learns ‘differently’ at any university, but especially Georgetown, was really challenging. I have ADHD and dyslexia. My courses were completely overwhelming for me, but I received help from several professors and the university’s Academic Resource Center was a huge source of reassurance and assistance for me.”

Professional Experience: Billabong Surf Rider; international director, Global Leadership Adventures; photographer, World Peace Initiatives; emergency response intern, International Rescue Committee.

Favorite Spot on Campus: Midnight Mug

Campus and Community Activities: “I loved being part of the CORP and working at Midnight Mug. There was something so nice about making lattes or mochas as a break from studying or working on my nonprofit and working as a team with these amazing friends.”

For more information about the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellow and other fellowship opportunities, please visit the Georgetown Office of Fellowships, Awards, and Resources.