Hi, and welcome to #TalkbackTuesday. This week’s interview is with Ms. Erika Van ‘t Veld. See her interview below.
Talkback Tuesday is a weekly interview with everyday people. It is always inspirational to look into the life of another person and realize it is just as complex and large and confusing as your own.
1. For the readers, who are you, what do you do, and what is your current side project?
I am Erika van ’t Veld, a half-Dutch and half-Japanese citizen of the world born in California. I grew up in a small college town in the mountainous state of Wyoming. There I spent my weekends hiking and camping in the mountains or at the park with my friends.
I graduated from the University of Delaware in 2015 with two Bachelor’s degrees, one in Economics and the other in Energy Policy. My first job out of college was in Houston, Texas, for a large gas and electric company on their Business Development team.
My main projects revolved around distributed energy contracts in Southern California. I loved everything about the work that I did.
But when the crazy orange man was elected to be President of the United States, the company I worked for decided to sell off all renewable and distributed energy assets, including the projects that I was working on.
Although I could have stayed with the company to work on conventional power plant contracts, I decided instead to quit, pack up my belongings, and start traveling with the savings that I’d accrued over 2.5 years.
Currently I am 6 months into a backpacking trip around the world that has no set expiration date.
In a Glance: Erika is half Dutch and half Japanese, and grew up in the USA. When her work with distributed energy was halted, she decided to quit her job and travel. She’s been backpacking for the last 6 months.
2. Talk to me about your travels. Why’d you decide to explore the world and how have your last 6 months been?
I think I got the wanderlust gene from my parents. My dad hitchhiked from the Netherlands to Greece, to Egypt, then across Africa in his early twenties. My mom also traveled multiple times to Europe from Japan when she was my age, when she could hardly speak any English.
The “Aha” moment for me was when I came to Nepal four years ago after doing an internship in Auroville, India for the summer. This was between my junior and senior year at university.
I was staying in a hostel in Kathmandu when I made a great group of backpacker friends. Most of them were on their own journeys around the world. I heard their stories and felt super happy and comfortable exploring this foreign city with them. I knew that I wanted to do something similar and travel long-term.
The last 6 months have been a complete whirlwind of new sights, smells, and sounds, suntans and hangovers, scooter rides and mountain treks, new friendships and reunions, and overall amazing experiences!
I started my trip in Bangkok and the sunny islands of southern Thailand, went to the cultural melting pot of Malaysia, 24 hours in Singapore, back to Thailand for Christmas and New Year’s, to Cambodia, two months in South India (Kochi, Bangalore, Auroville, Pondicherry, Varkala, Munnar, Thekkady, Alleppey, Goa, Mumbai), and now I find myself back in Nepal. After Nepal I plan on visiting a friend in London.
3. You said you studied energy policy and you worked on distributed energy assets at your first job. Are you particularly interested in responsible energy practices? What do you think should take first priority in global consumption practices?
I adored working in the energy sector because I felt that expanding access to cutting-edge distributed technology makes a huge difference in the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.
The projects I worked on were part of a larger, California-wide effort to promote sustainable energy technologies as they phased out their nuclear and gas plants within the state. In the U.S., California is the leader by far in integrating new technologies into their electric grid and promoting responsible energy practices.
If California is successful in phasing out their large conventional energy plants and replacing that electricity with new technology, it would hopefully become a model electric grid for the rest of the country to follow.
I believe that responsible energy consumption and efficient allocation of electric-grid power is of immense importance across the world. The first step to achieving this is understanding the electric load consumption patterns at a regional level (the load curve).
Traditionally in the U.S., over the 24 hours in a day, cities consume energy in the shape of a bell-curve. There’s a base load amount of energy that’s used for all 24 hours, then consumption starts to rise when people start waking up to go to work or to school.
The top of the bell curve reaches mid-day when all the lights and air conditioners are on in the buildings, manufacturing facilities are operating at full speed, etc. Then the load curve starts to drop off again as people head home and settle in for the night.
In India, the average load curve peaks three times, once each in the morning, around noon, and the evening. The peak electricity use coincides with the times when people are cooking their meals throughout the day.
Once we understand the load curve of a region, the first priority is to reduce that demand for electricity. This is as simple as turning off the lights or a fan in an unoccupied room. Other energy efficiency projects might include insulating a house, installing ‘smart’ thermostats and LED lightbulbs, or replacing outdated machinery.
After all possible energy efficiency measures have been implemented and demand is reduced as much as possible, power generation technologies can more selectively be constructed and operated so little waste electricity is generated.
Long answer short, energy efficiency should take priority for countries where electricity access is already universal.
4. Given that you’re traveling the world and explaining your horizons, what are 3 goals you hope to accomplish in your future travels (and you wish for other people to aspire towards as well)?
- Reduce prejudice and be kind to all others. I think everyone at some point has been prejudiced towards a person or a group without getting to know them, including myself.
I thought about this while hiking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, meeting people from around the world in different stages of their lives, everyone trying to accomplish the same task.
We’re all in this together, let’s be kind to one another and cheer each other on.
- Learn to let go of what makes me unhappy, and cherish what does make me happy. Life is a balance of good and bad, and we wouldn’t be able to appreciate the good without the bad. However, it’s been easy for me in the past to get stuck in a rut in unhappy situations or bad moods.
It’s a waste of precious time. I’m realizing more and more how much beauty life has to offer. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a waste to dwell on things that don’t make you happy.
- I’d like to become more proficient at different languages. I grew up speaking English and Japanese, and I studied German in school for eight years. But my Japanese and German are basic and conversational and far from fluent.
I’ve been trying to learn Dutch as well during the past couple of months. I think it’s so impressive when people can speak different languages fluently, it makes the world a smaller place.
In a Glance: Erika’s goals are to reduce personal prejudice and be kind to everyone, let go of unhappy thoughts and cherish the beauty of life, and become better at different languages, including German and Japanese.
5. Great. Finally, what can you leave the audience with? What should they explore next?
I was asked many times when I was in India how much I budget for traveling. The answer is for $1000 USD per month or less, you can spend time in most South/Southeast-Asian countries.
I encourage people to pick up a map and save some money. You never know when an opportunity to travel will fall into your lap!
You can also start traveling closer to home. Take a Friday off work and book a weekend trip alone somewhere. Stay at a backpacker’s hostel to meet other solo backpackers from around the world!
Thank you for reading Talkback Tuesday! Did you enjoy it?
Next, check out the previous interview from last Tuesday with Nikhil Sasidharan by clicking on the image below. Nikhil is a chemical engineering student at BITS Pilani. We spoke about his education, his parents, and his passion for football.