It’s amazing sometimes how different things we do in our lives can intersect and demonstrate the interconnectivity of people, places and things.

Aside from being the Washington correspondent for WorkBoat, I wear another hat – as the U.S. reporter for a newspaper in the faraway island of Mauritius.

Jessica Lukasik. Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard Academy. 

It’s a sublime locale of tropical beaches in the Indian Ocean, Creole cuisine, sugar plantations and textile factories that, aside from being the homeland of my husband, was also once home of the ill-fated Dodo bird.

You’ll need keen eyesight to find it on the map. Drawing your finger from the coast of Mozambique, move east into the Indian Ocean, first crossing Madagascar. Your eye will be attracted to the Seychelles to the north, but keep going, past Reunion Island until you hit Mauritius. You have moved more than 1,200 miles from the East Coast of Africa. Those familiar with U.S. naval bases will recognize its proximity to Diego Garcia.

A few months ago, imagine my surprise when I received a press release from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy announcing that one of their graduating cadets – Jessica Lukasik from Georgia – would go to Mauritius on a scholarship from the prestigious Fulbright foundation.

Jessica arrived Monday on the island with an ambitious plan: enroll in a master’s degree program at the University of Mauritius while developing a “sustainable marine economic development model” that will help the island’s fishing industry continue to exist in the face of increasing competition for coastal space from foreign fishing fleets, local tourism, shipping and acquaculture.

 Location of Mauritius

Her project will involve studying maritime law, identifying user groups, analyzing data and interviewing government officials, businesses, fishermen, the local coast guard and other marine experts. The end result will be a plan that will guide the use of the island’s marine resources. Jessica will present her plan to the government of Mauritius and when she returns to the U.S., she will present her findings to a workshop at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn.

In an interview for the newspaper in Mauritius, I asked Jessica how this project will relate to her future work in the Coast Guard, especially since the agency has developed a more domestic focus given budget cuts and the agency's move into the Department of Homeland Security.

There’s been an emerging interest within the Coast Guard in the Africa region, she says, especially when it comes to maritime security (think Somali pirates) and fisheries and marine conservation. But more importantly, she believes that having the experience of living in a different culture and dealing with people of different backgrounds will help her become a better Coast Guard officer back home.

“As an officer, our ability to communicate well and make decisions is often based on little information and requires us to work with people who we don’t know and perhaps don’t like,” she said. “Embedding myself in a foreign place will teach me communication skills that will be invaluable. I will have to work in an environment in which I will be the underdog.”

In addition, Jessica says she will learn how to deal with fishermen and will better understand the challenges they face at sea. The marine model she will develop might also become useful in addressing fisheries resources in the U.S., she hopes. “Studying a small island nation with a smaller government would make it easier to come up with solutions rather than getting bogged down in a big federal system,” she said. “There’s the potential to learn things we might not know.”

After serving in the Coast Guard, Jessica says she’d like to continue her passion for Africa by eventually joining the U.S Foreign Service. “I hope what I do as a representative of the United States in Mauritius on this Fulbright will help strengthen U.S. ties to the Indian Ocean.”

This shows lots of maturity and wisdom from someone who is just 21.

The Coast Guard is smart to encourage young officers like Jessica to pursue such international experiences, as they enrich the leadership skills of the individual and of the agency as a whole.

Pamela Glass is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for WorkBoat. She reports on the decisions and deliberations of congressional committees and federal agencies that affect the maritime industry, including the Coast Guard, U.S. Maritime Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Prior to coming to WorkBoat, she covered coastal, oceans and maritime industry news for 15 years for newspapers in coastal areas of Massachusetts and Michigan for Ottaway News Service, a division of the Dow Jones Company. She began her newspaper career at the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-Times. A native of Massachusetts, she is a 1978 graduate of Wesleyan University (Conn.). She currently resides in Potomac, Md.