Learning to deal with defeat

As you may have noticed I took a short hiatus from Endangered Living, which I think is only too understandable when you realise I was busy with my last month of graduate school classes. Although I have posted the first of, hopefully, many virtual field trips it wasn’t what I was hoping it would be. Nor am I in the country I hoped I would be. This post is to tell you a bit about where I am with my research, how I got there, and how I think it’s making me a better person.

Back when I was full of hope!
Back when I was full of hope!

My mom always told me these uphill battles would make me stronger, and somewhere along the line I think I started to believe her. As my semester came to a close everything was looking great. I’d had confirmation from all my field sites across Malaysian Borneo, I finally putting some more thought into exactly where I would stay (wishful thinking I wouldn’t give in to before I felt I had proof-positive I would be going), and my ever faithful backpack, hereby known as Big Blue, was packed and ready for life in the field. But then the office I was assured would take over my research visa application in Malaysia bounced me to a different department, the Economic Planning Unit. Apparently my project had a bit too much to do with people for the Biodiversity Centre, so weeks after my first visa was submitted, and only a few weeks before I hoped to actually be in Malaysia, I found myself filling out an entirely new visa application with very different rules and requirements that sent me scrambling to contact any and everyone I knew in Malaysia.

Fast forward to the week I was supposed to leave. Now I’m really starting to panic. Not your normal ‘oh no, I have to change so many things!’ kind of panic, but the kind you get before you leave for a big trip where you know you won’t be able to buy what you need when you get there. It was the feeling I had in the 24 hours before I left for Africa. Where you unpack and re-pack because you know that you absolutely have to have everything with you and you just need to actually see your passport one more time. Except this time I wasn’t going anywhere. I was living every day staring at Big Blue just hoping he had everything I needed, wondering if I would get my visa and have to dash out last minute and move out of my flat and where exactly the rest of my stuff was going to go if I only had 2 days notice to get it somewhere (Just so you know this was completely unfounded. I maybe have one box of things to my name in England, and not  a big box at that).

But everything was shifting under my feet. The EPU hadn’t told me anything, so I was forced to email them again and again until I finally found out that the reason nothing was moving forward was because something was wrong with my application. Lets skip forward another 2 weeks to them admitting that there really was nothing wrong with my application in the first place. 6 weeks or so after submitting my first research visa application, it begins to be assessed.

Hope is a flickering candle in a storm, you know it won’t make it through the night. I needed to be in the field in Mid-April. That time has come and gone and so have the start dates of all of the volunteer programs. I missed the time frame for the interviews I needed to conduct to form a baseline for the changes I hoped I would be watching these volunteers go through.

Big Blue
Big Blue

I sent out one last email to the EPU, soaked in desperation. “About how long until I can expect a decision on my research visa? Days? Weeks? Months?” I asked. “Months,” they responded.

Hope was gone. Unless by some miracle I would not be headed to Borneo to fulfil my life long dream of researching Bornean orang-utans. If you have followed this blog for a while, you might actually know that the original tag line for my site was “A young girl’s journey to the jungles of Borneo” and my logo was an orang-utan. Let’s just say it was what I came to Oxford to do.

To have your dreams dangled in front of you, everyone tell you that they are more than possible, and then to have them snatched away leaves an immense emptiness that is not conducive to coming up with a new game plan for my dissertation.

I had to pull my self out of the dirt and brush myself off, come up with an entirely new plan about how I would be able to gather data from volunteer tourists and the new kinds of outcomes I wanted for my research, all while having the reality of heart crushing failure beat me over the head.

Yesterday I had some time to sit in a chocolate scented café in London where I filled my time by writing down any and everything that came to my mind about my project. And details were finally sorted that would also allow me to continue on with my virtual field trips, though since they are happening so late in the year I wonder if they are more for myself or for the fantastic kids in Florida. After this whole debacle I feel the need to rethink making them private, or at least consider sharing some of them publicly on my blog if I have any hope of gaining the reach I dream of with Wild Learning.

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 10.08.04

A week from today I board a plane, not to Malaysia, but to Indonesia. My rent is up in Oxford in two weeks and if I’m going to be sitting in front of a computer doing all of my research and writing, I might as well go some place with a view. And with monkeys.

This defeat has shaped my project for the better, taught me about crowdfunding, got me incredibly excited about the potential for Wild Learning, and shown me even when the entire world is falling to pieces around you, you can still find the best in a situation, and maybe what didn’t seem like the ideal option before becomes the ideal option once you can look at it in an unbiased manner.

So thank you, EL-followers, for sticking by me, supporting me in my first (successful!) attempt at crowdfunding and for being a place I feel comfortable enough to share my failures. Because after all, one of my goals in writing this blog was to give aspiring primatologists/conservationists advice on how I got where I am. And you can’t only share successes for that.

And with that I leave you with my advice. Apply for visas early. No matter what anyone says apply for visas at least 6 months ahead of time. If people say they won’t take that long, then let them that’s okay. And apply six months ahead anyway.

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2 thoughts on “Learning to deal with defeat”

  1. I spent a year in Indonesian Borneo teaching EL in Balikpapan, (Kalimantan-Timur) back in 1977-78 and had many great adventures exploring the jungle during time off and flying into the interior by hitching a ride with a mission pilot. The most memorable year of my life! I look forward to reading your experiences.

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