Editor’s note: This is one in a series of profiles in the Humans of Wausau series, which is funded in part through a grant from the B. A. & Esther Greenheck Foundation. Follow the Humans of Wausau Facebook page here.
By Kelli Oligney for Wausau Pilot and Review
Kou Moua, 34
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I was born in a refugee camp in Thailand.
How did your transition occur from the refugee camp to the United States?
I was born in Thailand and was about three years old when my parents immigrated and came to the USA in 1989. I don’t remember any time in Thailand or the travel, but I wish I did. My parents had a lot of family in the Wisconsin area and that helped bring them over because of the events occurring such as the Vietnam War and hard times that were happening in Thailand.
Do you still have family that live in Thailand?
Are you able to communicate with them often?
Not so much. I think it is harder now that we are older and I think my parents still try to communicate with letters, but most of the family is here, in Weston.
What made your family decide on this area?
A lot of my family helped sponsor them to bring them over and since it was a nice area, they stayed here in our youth. We grew up in downtown Wausau on Forest Street.
What do you do for a living and how did you decide your profession?
I’m a law enforcement officer. Right now, my position is a Community Service Officer; specifically to DARE for D.C. Everest Schools in the Weston and Schofield area. I also work on special investigations involving crimes against children and sensitive crimes. I am also involved in various community events and activities such as 10K With a Cop and organize two annual events: The Community Halloween Party and National Night Out.
How did you decide on a law enforcement officer?
It took me a long time, actually. I went to a four year college at UW-Eau Claire for Criminal Justice, but I didn’t know if that’s what I wanted to do. After I graduated from college in 2007, I worked odd jobs here and there. I really enjoyed Criminal Justice, but at the time, I didn’t know if I could do it. I set myself back because I was worried about all the hurdles. I came to a point where I knew I needed to do something with my degree and was currently working as a teachers aide at a school in Wausau and they had a DARE officer come in to teach all the fifth grade students. I realized, “Hey! I have a degree in Criminal Justice and I love working with kids; I could be a DARE officer!” That helped me decide I needed to go into this profession and take serious steps to work into it.
How long have you been a DARE officer?
I have been a police officer for over seven years and I just became the DARE officer for about a year.
What are positive and negative aspects about your position?
Right now, I enjoy being a Community Service Officer. I am able to work with kids and they have a different energy that is so positive and they are happy to see officers. Whenever I walk into an elementary school, I receive waves and “Hi’s” from the kids and they’re excited to see you. The negative part of being a law enforcement officer; in the past was it was negative attention and dealing with negative situations that usually weren’t happy because police were called or someone was getting arrested or in negative light with issues in the community. Being trained on the position has changed my viewpoint on what I do in my position.
What was one of the most memorable moments of your career?
That is hard to say as there’s been a lot of them. I think what stuck with me was when I became a DARE officer. There was a two week training and it was intense. I went down to Illinois for training which consisted of two full weeks of education on what to teach the kids, the curriculum, and what’s expected of you. I’m really proud I did it because some people don’t make it through the training and if you don’t, you cannot become a DARE officer. It was a proud moment for me to get through it all, pass the training, and do what I do now.
What was the hardest moment of your career?
The hardest moment was prior to my career in law enforcement and was actually getting into the career; I didn’t have confidence in myself at that time. I kept thinking about the hurdles and obstacles and that other people wouldn’t take me seriously. I ended up trying and went to the Law Enforcement Academy here in town and did really well. I realized, “Hey, if I can do this training, I can do this job!” It was great that I took the initiative and went through with it, otherwise I’d probably be doing odd jobs here and there that I wouldn’t enjoy.
What advice would you give to those that wish to pursue similar dreams?
Just keep trying; you don’t know unless you try it out. People hold themselves back a lot without realizing it.
What have you learned about yourself from being a DARE officer?
I was more capable than I thought I was. This job is hard, but there’s so many things I can bring to the table with my background and experience that I didn’t realize. When people come into this job, they bring their own personal experiences that coincide with how they treat people and do their job. It was important to realize what my strengths were because I didn’t realize they were strengths until I started doing the job and realized how great it worked for me. Part of it was my size and people asking, “How are you a cop? You’re so tiny!” I get everything done that a normal size person does and I didn’t realize I wasn’t “normal” size until someone pointed it out. Some people see it as a negative, but there’s been times in my job where they needed someone small to fit somewhere and I was able to do it.
What are hobbies you enjoy in your spare time?
If I get spare time; which is hard with my job and I have two kids. One is a four year old and the other is a one year old and they keep me extremely busy. My husband and I have been getting up early in the morning prior to work to run. I don’t do it as much as I’d like to, but I find it helps me out. It took me a long time to figure that out because physical activity relieves stress for me and if I haven’t worked out in a long time, I can tell. As soon as I start doing it, I feel better.
What is a favorite memory from living in this area?
I love the Rib Mountain area. We don’t go up there much, but my favorite memory is running up the trail by the quarry that my husband and I used to run all the time. I love this area and spending time outside especially now when it is coming to be Fall.
What changes would you like to see in the community in the next five years?
I’d like to see more positives in general. It’s hard to say because I love this community, I like being from here, I love working here and being around people I grew up with and familiar faces. You see so many negative messages on the news and social media, but this area does a lot and has a lot of positive things.
What was one of the hardest moments of your life?
When I was in high school, I was in gymnastics and broke both my forearms. That was very difficult and was in two arm casts for six to eight weeks.
Did you break them in the middle of a routine?
It was during gymnastics practice and I was on the uneven bars doing a basic move because we were just training. I was swinging back and forth and I slipped off the bar and fell 10 to 15 feet onto a mat and I stuck out my arms automatically and broke them.
Were you still able to write with the casts on or was it painful?
A little. I probably milked it a little longer than I needed to.
What was one of your hardest ages growing up?
I would say all through school. I had a hard time transitioning from growing up with two different languages in my household. School was very difficult for me; I did well, but I was so shy. I didn’t talk or give eye contact to other students or teachers and took me a long time to overcome that. I had that difficulty all through high school until I graduated.
Did you ever have anyone treat you differently due to cultural differences?
Me, specifically, I have never felt that way. I know other people in the area have. I think I was so quiet so everyone ignored me. I didn’t have any interactions or relationships with any of the students I interacted with at school. It might have been different if I would have opened up more.
What is your favorite local spot?
I love the Mountain Bay Trail. We live close by that area so we do a lot of walks and biking now that my kids are getting older. I’d love to eventually bike the whole trail all the way to Green Bay.
What’s your favorite quote and why?
“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” I think that has driven me since I have gotten out of my shell and if you put your mind towards something, you can do it. It definitely inspires me.
What’s a hidden talent of yours?
I can make balloon animals! It sounds frivolous and silly, but it’s fun. I interned at the Marathon County Public Library one summer. There was a summer event for kids and someone trained me how to do it and now I do it for kids, at times, and they love it!
I used to buy the balloon animal kits from the store and try it! I mean, it didn’t typically go well and I’d pop a lot, but it was entertaining!
You’d be surprised; those balloons are pretty resilient! The hardest part is being afraid they will pop when you’re twisting them because that’s the hardest part, but once you pass that, you’re fine.
What’s one moment that changed you as a person?
I don’t have one specific moment, but I feel every moment in life has shaped me into the person I am today. If I didn’t have those moments, I wouldn’t be who I am.
If you had advice to give anyone, what would it be?
Keep trying; everyday is hard. You don’t know what people are going through in their internal lives. I see it all the time with work; some people will just talk, and talk, and talk because they want someone to listen because of what they have gone through or have going on. Keep trying even if it’s to get through one hour, one day, one week, and keep going.
Do all your siblings live here as well?
Some of them do. They’ve all somewhat moved apart, but we all still come together in the end.
What has made you stay in the area?
My family has made me stay. As I said, I grew up in this area and I enjoy it. My parents are rooted here with their family too and help us out a lot with our kids. My husband’s family are here too so we get that connection. We all still get together for football games and family gatherings. I have eight other siblings so family is very important to me.