Sustainability and Study Abroad

From Alexandra Ninneman, '10

Alex Ninneman

¡Hola amigos!

Having spent a summer abroad in Granada, Spain my junior year at Willamette, I'm unbelievably excited for you now as you make plans for your own foreign adventures. My semester abroad was one of the most fulfilling and exciting semesters I completed with Willamette, and I hope the experience is the same for you.

As wonderful and necessary as the opportunity to study abroad is, it comes at a high price - a high environmental price, that is. Travel emissions to and from destinations have an obvious impact on our climate, air quality, and quality of life; tourism-related development disturbs natural ecosystems and cultural practices; and a myriad of unseen and unexpected consequences of increased tourism are proving harmful, both socially and environmentally.

So how do you weigh the environmental and social costs of studying abroad against the benefits of such an important cultural experience?

Consider this:

  • How does sustainability fit into the study abroad picture? Is the experience worth the harm it may cause? How harmful might it be?
  • How does ‘sustainability' vary from culture to culture? What is deemed environmentally responsible in one place may be culturally unacceptable in another. Will you be able to maintain your sustainable habits in your host country? Will you bring some new habits back?

These are questions many people are trying to answer, and it is important that you join the conversation and take appropriate action! Here are some resources to help you as you maneuver through all these challenges abroad:

-Inform yourself: Read an interview with environmentalist Bill McKibben on how he views travel and sustainability, and other articles on the topic:

-Complete the "Sustainability Lesson", one of the options for the "While Abroad" assignments in the IDS 102X Maximizing the Study Abroad Experience course.

- Finally, check out the Green Passport Project. Increase your awareness, take the Green Passport Pledge and other action.

As you go forth on your study abroad adventure (which I am very jealous of - I wish I could do it all again!) and the many adventures that follow, I hope you will keep these questions in the front of your mind. Not unto ourselves alone are we born, oh fellow Willamette travelers. Don't you think sustainable travel is a fantastic way of embodying our fine motto?

Happy Sustainable Adventuring!

Alexandra Ninneman ‘10

Granada, Spain - Spring 2009

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