#myessentials with Cynthia Leung

Cynthia Leung | Masters in Sustainability Management 

Sustainability is not about tree-hugging, or saving the polar bears. It’s about making this earth habitable for all life that’s on it right now. It’s for humanity. And we can either give up, or fight harder. I choose to fight harder. 

I volunteered on a solar storage project at a school in Cambodia a few summers ago. It was so unbearably hot, and the entire school relied on a single power generator to function. The deafening drone of the generator signaled that the power was on, and it powered the lights, the fan, and our stoves. 

One day I woke up, and I didn’t hear the generator. But the AC was on. 

And I thought, “This is what clean energy can do. Students can think, and teachers don’t have to yell.” That was incredibly impactful…it really hit home for me that day. This is why we do what we do. 

During my time in Cambodia, I also led a dance class and taught lessons – two of my other passions. I’ve been dancing since I was 5, everything from classical ballet to hip hop. I’m also a professional mentor and impact coach for TechWomen, which is a program that brings women from middle east, africa, south asia to the bay area for internships. It’s an amazing opportunity to meet women from other countries – they learned about the solar space; I learned about other cultures. 

I travel every chance I get, and have been to over 25 countries. Morocco, Lebanon, and Egypt are next on my list! I enjoy travelling alone, with the goal of fully immersing myself in a foreign culture (I’ve included Cynthia’s best travel tips below). One trip that stands out in particular is Kazakhstan – I arrived having no idea what to expect, and was welcomed with the most incredible hospitality. Everywhere I went, I was greeted with hot tea, food on the table, and open arms. On the bus on my way to a local amusement park, I met a woman who insisted on showing me around. She rode the bus with me to the amusement park, introduced all the activities and stands, and stayed with me for almost four hours that day out of the kindness of her heart. 

We communicated through google translate on our phones the entire time. 

Then there are the days where my driver refused to stop watching a movie on his phone while driving me to my hotel in the middle of a snowstorm, but overall I’ve been pretty lucky when traveling. I commit everyone I meet to memory by taking a photo with them. I love photography, because it’s so simple yet creates another level of connection with that person. It reinforces your shared memory, and instantly tells you where, how, and when you met each other . (Can confirm, Cynthia and I took a selfie when we first met!) 

This summer, I’m interning at the Clinton Foundation, working on climate initiatives with a focus on island energy program. My role is focused around facilitating a transition to using clean energy for island nations in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean. Previously I worked at SunPower for 6 years, developing solar projects! 

My essentials: 

Advil

Go away migraines! It’s always nice to have Advil on hand just in case.

Metrocard 

A must for any New Yorker.

Toothpick

Either for me or someone else.

Carry everything or just the essentials?

I’m definitely a just the essentials kind of girl. Everyday before I leave the house, I think “what is the least amount of stuff I have to carry to get me through the day?” and then pack accordingly.  

Your motto?

High impact high efficiency high effectiveness. High effectiveness, because what is efficient is not always effective. 

Coffee or tea? 

Tea – I don’t really need any more energy. 

Morning or night?

Used to be night, but now I’m a morning person. I love the quiet, and having time to myself before life happens. 

Breakfast or dinner?

Dinner – because you can EAT EVERYTHING! 

Sweet or salty?

Sweet for sure – my faves are milk green tea and tres leches cake. 


Cynthia’s tips for solo traveling: 

  • Do your research! Know which districts to avoid, and familiarize yourself with the best way to get around. 
  • Stay low key, leave the logos at home. Really, all you need is a sim card and local currency. 
  • Stay organized, always know exactly where your stuff is.  
  • Tell other people where you are. Provide them with your rough itinerary so they know to reach out to you if they don’t hear from you.
  • When in a taxi: Call someone (or pretend to call someone), and tell them “Hey __, I’m on a taxi right now heading over. I should be at your place in about 20 minutes.” Then, look at a map and trace out your route. 
    • This does two things. First, the driver knows you have local friends. Second, the driver knows that someone is expecting you.
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