Nebraska student protects tropical rainforests
HOME: CUSCO, PERU
FIELD OF STUDY: ECOLOGY
HOBBIES: DANCING, HIKING
FAVORITE SAYING: “PICTURES STEAL A PART OF YOUR SOUL.”
Hiking through the Amazon rainforest, Nohemi Huanca-Nuñez found her life’s passion: ecological rehabilitation.
Huanca-Nuñez, a 27-year-old doctoral student at UNL, remembers a stark difference between the luscious protected forests and bare non-protected forests.
“It makes you feel like you need to do something,” she said.
A recipient of a scholarship through the Fulbright program, Huanca-Nuñez researches how degraded and abandoned secondary forests can recover.
There are no rainforests in Nebraska. But Huanca-Nuñez moved to the snowy plains anyway to work with her faculty advisor, Sabrina Russo, because she was one of the few women in ecology. To be near her subject matter, Huanca-Nuñez travels to forests in Costa Rica.
The snow wasn’t the only thing foreign.
Growing up in Cusco, Peru, Huanca-Nuñez spoke Quechua, an indigenous Andean language, and was taught Spanish in school. She didn’t speak English when she first came to America. Anxious trips to the grocery store were laden with the risk of stunted small talk.
A new culture meant new adjustments. Huanca-Nuñez hyphenated her last name to make it less confusing for Americans. In Peru, children inherit the last names of both parents, with the father’s name followed by the mother’s name.
Huanca-Nuñez misses the monthly festivals held in Cusco, the historic capital of the Incan empire and a big tourist destination. February is Carnival month. People give gifts and paint others with color. The celebrations always include her favorite hobby, dancing.
She found Nebraskans to be friendlier than expected, but not as friendly as people in Cusco. Lincoln was also more diverse than she expected, but she has yet to meet another Peruvian.
She did find a common trait that crossed international borders: Apathy toward conservation of forests. Deforestation that is out of sight stays out of mind.
Huanca-Nuñez admits that working in destroyed forests can be a sad experience but a necessary one.
“You have to work in these areas instead of pretty areas in order (for degraded areas) to become pretty.”