Fellow Feature: Dao Xayalath

On the lenses and challenges of philosophy, a desire to represent the Lao people, and creating impactful messages by bridging visual media and conservation

Dao Xayalath is a Conservation + Tech fellow studying philosophy at UC Berkeley. Here, Dao discusses his major, long-term career aspirations, and goal to represent the Lao community in academia.

How did you end up where you are today?

I was originally born at a refugee camp in Laos that no longer exists today. My parents were refugees from Laos who wanted to come to the states to give my sisters and I a better opportunity than they had growing up. Although I was quite young when we moved to the states, I definitely felt the pressure of coming from a refugee family because I had to pull my weight at an early age so we can have stability.

I grew up Buddhist with my parents reminding us not to forget our Lao roots and they instilled very valuable values within us that I still hold onto till this day. After traumatic personal loss, I realized my life was going to change and the only way to adapt to what was to come is to create stability for myself and my sibling which I knew I could acquire through education.

Being the first in my family to pursue higher education, there is an enormous amount of pressure that I feel to succeed for the sake of my loved ones. However, I also recognize the privilege I have of being the first to pave the way for others like myself. I realize it will not be easy but I am willing to take this opportunity to tell my parents’ story through my accomplishments.

What do you study and why?

I am currently studying philosophy with an interest in ethics and morality. I took a philosophy course at my junior college during a time in my life when I was uninspired and ready to settle on a major that I was no longer passionate about. Thankfully, I began to fall in love with philosophy, mainly ethics, which is something I would love to begin focusing on as I continue my education at Berkeley.

I remember reading texts that challenged my ideas as an individual. I would say this is when I began liking the field more and more because I could feel myself changing as a person and having a new perspective on life through philosophy with the new set of lenses that it gave me. It taught me to analyze life in a more logical manner while appreciating human interactions and story. It was one of the first times in my educational career where I felt challenged and had to learn a new set of skills to understand the concepts I was taught.

I am interested to begin studying modern philosophy because it correlates more to the issues we are facing in the world today. I hope to one day become a part of the change that I wish would happen to the world.

Why did you decide to become a Conservation + Tech fellow, and how has the experience been so far?

I found the fellowship through searching through various opportunities at UC Berkeley and was immediately drawn in. A huge part of my major that I want to study is ethics, which I believe ties into the idea of human-centered design. I wanted the opportunity to study more about conservation because I can confidently say I am new to the field.

I also wanted to use my background in ethics to approach the design challenges, as I was raised to value all life. Although that is a cliche in itself, it is a core principle of the teachings I was given. I am passionate about finding solutions to help sustain our planet so we can effectively pass it on to generations of conservationists to come after us. I want to use my background in design to bridge the gap between visual media and conservation to create impactful messages since it is a field I believe has not been explored much.

So far I have had a very positive experience and have learned so much through our lectures, lab and most importantly my fellow cohorts. I was able to challenge myself to break out of my shell and in the process have learned how capable I am as an individual. I know there is more wisdom to come and I am eager to continue growing as a cohort.

“I am passionate about finding solutions to help sustain our planet so we can effectively pass it on to generations of conversationalists to come after us.”

What are your professional goals?

I aspire one day to become a professor. I would like to teach abroad in third world countries one day and serve different communities that exist within those countries. I believe it is my duty to become a support system for others and serve them to the best of my abilities. It is also a dream of mine to one day open up a school in my parents hometown in Laos; they have always instilled in me how valuable education is, and it would be my way to say thank you to them.

What would you say is your broader mission when thinking about your academic and professional goals?

I would like to represent Lao people and bring focus to their community along with their stories, trials and tribulations. Many times in life, I usually am the first and only Lao person that people have met since they were unaware of what a Lao person is. I want people to remember me as someone who is able to support the Lao community in a positive way. I want to recreate a space where everyone is safe, supported, and valued regardless of their gender, identity or background.

I hope that the impact I make will allow the Lao youth to pursue education and follow their dreams in ways that I can not even imagine now. I want them to feel like they belong and that any venture they choose in life will allow them to continue representing the Lao people. I hope I can become someone who others in the community would be proud of and look up to.

“I hope that the impact I make will allow the Lao youth to pursue education and follow their dreams in ways that I can not even imagine. I want them to feel like they belong and that any venture they choose in life will allow them to continue representing the Lao people.”

Do you have a passion project that you’re currently working on?

I am currently applying for a volunteer tutoring position with Refugee & Immigrant Transitions, which is an organization that welcomes and partners with those who have sought refuge, employing strength-based educational approaches, and community support so they may thrive in our shared communities. My family and I were refugees from Laos, so this is an organization that is dear to my heart and I would like to serve those in the program to the best of my ability.

Do you have any hobbies that inspired your professional goals?

One of my hobbies is cooking, it stems from having parents that were both chefs. Cooking is the perfect way for me to express my creative side, but I also find it very therapeutic. It allows me to feel closer to my parents knowing that the opportunities I have is because of their hard work in their respective profession.

Another hobby of mine is digital art which has endless possibilities when it comes to creative freedom. Digital art has always been a way for me to integrate what I am learning to a new medium which is quite the challenge in itself. Due to the fact that I am passionate about both hobbies, I have always wanted to teach them one day so I can confidently say that no matter what path I choose to pursue it will lead to me teaching.

Is there anything else you’d like to add to the blog?

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my story and in a sense my family as well. Hopefully the next time you hear from me it is because I was able to achieve something groundbreaking. :)

“I can confidently say that no matter what path I choose to pursue it will lead to me teaching.”

Connect with Dao // Edited by Lauren Leung

Fellow Features is a series dedicated to showcasing the Fung Fellowship community and learning more about their lives and their stories. If you’re interested in being featured, please fill out our feature nomination form: https://forms.gle/bqVYCGUJFsAt99bW8

The Fung Fellowship at UC Berkeley is shaping the next generation of health, conservation, and technology leaders for a better world. 🌱

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