2019 Year-in-Review

2019 was the last year in a decade, the year I turned a quarter of a century old, and a year I spent not knowing things more than I did knowing things. We’re already 1/4th done with 2020, and I’m just getting my thoughts together on 2019.

Here are some notable events, new experiences, skills I learned this year, broken down by month:


  • Started with a government shutdown. This one lasted for over 30 days. I remember I was in LA and I had a flight scheduled to go back to DC during the first week, but there wasn’t really a good reason to be back if the government was shut down (and also, I could help out more). So, I rescheduled my flight.
  • Rescheduled my new flight couple days later due to inclement weather hitting the east coast.
  • Helped my sister plan a wedding in like a month. I mainly helped with designing the printed materials—the programs for the wedding ceremony, the table numbers, the menu.
  • Was “granted security clearance eligibility for access to information classified at the Secret level, effective January 14, 2019.”


  • Visited the Capitol and the Library of Congress for the first time. Despite living in DC for a while, I really haven’t done many DC things. I had this opportunity because my aunt and her colleague were visiting DC for a conference, and I was invited to tag along. It’s beautiful inside.
  • Began the pre-writing process to the “SOGE Retrospective,” which essentially became my project of the year, the bane of my existence. The SOGE Retrospective aimed to reflect upon the three or so years of programming, the SOGE model, and provide learnings and recommendations to USAID and SOGE Partners to inform programmatic decision-making and replication.

About Scaling Off-Grid Energy Grand Challenge for Development

The Scaling Off-Grid Energy (SOGE) Grand Challenge for Development is a global partnership founded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, Power Africa, the U.K. Department for International Development, the African Development Bank, and independent charity, Shell Foundation. In partnership with enterprises, investors, academics, governments, donors, and other industry stakeholders, SOGE incentivizes technological innovation, funds early stage companies directly and through intermediaries, and supports the market ecosystem for off-grid energy. By optimizing the collective resources and expertise of SOGE partners, we are accelerating the growth of a dynamic, commercial off-grid energy market to provide clean, modern, and affordable energy access to the millions of households and businesses beyond the grid in sub-Saharan Africa.


  • Traveled to Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire to lead a SOGE Partners Meeting. It was a big step for me because it was a high-level meeting.
  • Conducted a market assessment of the opportunities and challenges in the Ivorian off-grid energy market by meeting with Power Africa Off-Grid Advisors and visiting SOGE-supported companies and their customers. Visited ZOLA Electric in Yamoussoukro and Baobab+ in Gagnoa. Presented these findings to the Côte d’Ivoire mission.
  • Relaxed on the beach in Grand-Bassam, Côte d’Ivoire. Bought souvenirs at the Centre Artisanal de la Ville d’Abidjan (CAVA). Practiced my really poor French to get around the country.
  • Traveled to Accra, Ghana from Abidjan and learned about mission engagement by participating in meetings with the USAID Ghana and Regional West Africa missions. Visited Sunhut Limited in Kwesi Tenten and PEG Africa in Accra.
  • Stayed one extra day than intended in Ghana because my return flight to DC was just cancelled (seriously, no notification). So, my colleagues and I visited the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park & Mausoleum and tried some snails. (Apparently, snails are a delicacy, but I prefer the snails I had in Vietnam.)
  • Designed and launched the Global LEAP Solar E-Waste Challenge, an innovation competition for e-waste management solutions for the off-grid solar sector. I learned a lot about the operational and infrastructural challenges of e-waste management in sub-Saharan Africa.


  • Enjoyed the famous DC cherry blossoms.
  • Traveled back to LA on Easter. It was my first Easter in LA since high school!
  • Made a Vietnamese friend who essentially only spoke and wrote in Vietnamese. Even though I primarily speak to my parents in Vietnamese, I had a hard time carrying out normal conversations (that don’t involve food) and telling stories in only Vietnamese.


  • Saw BTS in concert at the Rose Bowl. Love.
  • Drove around the Hollywood Hills with visiting family members. The views of LA are definitely something that I take for granted.
  • Took my mom on a weekend trip to Ojai, California for Mother’s Day. It was our first time in Ojai; we hiked up to the Rose Valley Falls, devoured burritos from Ojai Tortilla House, enjoyed extremely fresh juice squeezed from Ojai pixies from Friend’s Ranch, bought and learned about the process of making Ojai olive oil at an olive farm, indulged in a very fancy dinner at The Ranch House, walked around a pop-up arts festival, sampled different flavors of honey (did you know what bees feed on affects the taste of honey?), and visited many scenic places in the area. It was a fun weekend.
  • Extracted three out of four of my wisdom teeth. The last one was too hard to extract so I was advised to come back another time and see an oral surgeon.


  • Picked lots of cherries at an orchard. 
  • Recipe tested chocolate chip cookies and rum raisin cake. My dad accidentally dropped one version of the rum raisin cake onto the grass.


  • Missed the 4th of July fireworks because of an ear infection.
  • Returned to DC (after nearly three months being away) and found that my desk was moved to a new space at WeWork. No complaints though because the space had more natural sunlight. Met lots of new co-workers and reunited with old.
  • Announced the winners of Global LEAP Solar E-Waste Challenge.
  • Two year work anniversary at USAID.


  • Gained a facility clearance and had New Employee Orientation (again). Facility clearance resolved some of the work challenges that I had faced last year. I regained access to the USAID network and facilities, which helped improve my efficiency and effectiveness.


  • Explored new job opportunities. I’d been been having discussions within my office at USAID about potential opportunities after SOGE, and someone in the front office reached out to two teams on my behalf: both teams expressed that they would be excited if I joined them. Another team lead reached out to me and expressed that if I wanted to join her team, she would love to have me. In another instance, someone else looking to fill a specific position contacted me because he thought I would be a good fit and if I wanted it, I could have it. I felt overwhelmingly thankful because I recognize that many people don’t find themselves in this position and it feels really good to be recognized and valued.


  • Attended Unlocking Solar Capital in Dakar, Senegal. I’ve been working in the off-grid energy sector for about two years now, and it’s kind of cool to see that people in the sector know who I am and value my skills and knowledge. It really is an honor to work with, learn from, and interact with such passionate people working towards universal energy access. 
  • Launched the second round of the Global LEAP Solar E-Waste Challenge, focused on product design and battery technology. An important component of e-waste management is the ensuring that solar products are manufactured and designed with reuseability, repairability, and/or recyclability in mind in order to decrease e-waste ending up in waste streams at the end-of-life.
  • Organized a workshop on Solar E-Waste Management: Best Practices for the Off-Grid Sector in Dakar. The workshop brought together winners from the first round of the Solar E-Waste Challenge, e-waste recyclers, solar manufacturers, solar distributors, researchers, investors, donors, and development and technology specialists in order to discuss challenges and opportunities in e-waste management.
  • Celebrated with family at my cousin’s wedding. He’s actually my second cousin once removed* and the wedding was fun. Guests signed Jenga blocks, which I thought was super neat. They had these really long sparklers, which made for great pictures. My cousin also painted small landscapes for each table (he’s super artistically talented).


  • Moved offices. My company moved their DC offices from WeWork to different buildings. Luckily, the new building where I would work, the National Press Building, shortened my commute. But, we had to work in open spaces for a few days as furniture and Wi-Fi was being set up. Also, the new office space had a lot less sunlight.
  • Missed my flight to Orlando, Florida. Before spending three weeks in Orlando with my aunt, uncle, and cousins, I had missed my flight there. I left work early to take the Metro to the airport, arrived with lots of time to spare, and realized I had forgotten my ID. I talked to the person at the counter, who informed me that my flight was delayed and asked if I would be able to get my ID and make it back by the new flight time. I went home, grabbed my ID, returned to the airport in time for the new flight time (I was feeling mighty confident in the security line), and found out that my flight had actually departed at its original scheduled time. I could actually see the plane still parked at the gate, but they wouldn’t let me on, and the next available flight was the following morning. Thankfully, my co-worker helped me book a room at a nearby hotel so I wouldn’t have to go all the way home and all the way back. 
  • Went on Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We actually spent the whole day at Universal, riding all the rides that we could, but Hagrid’s Ride was the best one. We also drank butter beer, and I bought Harry Potter merchandise (eg. Newt and Theseus’s wands). It was quite a treat because my cousin works as a photographer at Universal and got us free tickets and discounts.
  • Took Thanksgiving week off work, which was my first do-nothing vacation since I’ve started working.


  • Joined a new team at USAID. The SOGE team was divided to different teams across the Lab, but we still had to carry out on our SOGE responsibilities.
  • Visited my grandparents in Denver and LA. We had our annual family get-together in Denver, where we dragged our feet on putting up a 15-ft Christmas tree (it’s super heavy) to only take it down three days later, played games, fought for internet bandwidth and hot water, slept on the floor, and ate a lot. This year, my grandma had a bad fall and ended up in the hospital for a few hours. Her face was purple was days, but is okay.

Upon reflection of 2018, I had said that I wanted to be more proactive in 2019 because I felt like I wasn’t in control of my life. I wanted to better invest in myself – professionally, intellectually, emotionally, physically, financially – and constantly be learning and growing. In 2019, I can’t really say that I did this, and I think I know why. These are the some of the lessons that I’ve learned about myself:

  1. My biggest strength is also my biggest weakness. I dedicated a lot of time and energy in my work, which didn’t allow me enough time and energy for other important things.
  2. I procrastinate to protect myself. Applying to jobs makes me feel vulnerable. Exploring new opportunities makes me feel uncertain. Doing something different or new is challenging.

These are not excuses but being mindful of how I am. Some things I’m proud of this year is:

  • I am able to be successful and thrive even when I don’t have a lot of structure/guidance/supervision.
  • I am highly capable and skilled. I produce high quality work and have strong attention to detail. I’ve grown in project/data management and operations, while also increased my technical expertise.
  • I have high endurance for working through a challenge or solving a problem.
  • I’ve gained new experiences, and I learned a lot of cool things about the off-grid energy sector and more.

In 2020 and beyond, I want to continue growing and learning and improving and challenging myself. I want to choose courage over fear. All this is said easier than done, so I want to be kind to myself as well.

Be kind. Have courage. Practice gratitude. 

Over and out.


* I’m actually not 100% sure about the family label. My maternal grandpa and his mother were cousins, so I think that’s second cousin once removed(??).

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