Many students make decisions each day to lead more sustainable, ethically responsible lives and mitigate the impact of their time on this planet. These decisions may be small, like not using straws or other single-use plastic items at restaurants, or large like choosing hybrid or electric cars (or dreaming of the day that you can purchase one)! Despite these efforts in their day-to-day lives, often students don’t think about the choices they can make to have a more sustainable study abroad experience that includes ethical engagement with their host community. Below are a few suggestions of how to study abroad, sustainably.
Research your study abroad options
When you are looking at programs, you should consider the ways that the program you choose will impact you and your host community. At BCA we recognize that study abroad is a privilege, and that many people in our home and host communities may not have access to similar experiences. Because of this, from housing to excursions, BCA works closely with our university and community partners to support sustainable and mutually-beneficial study abroad programming – and our Resident Directors challenge students to think critically about their place in the world.
Pack carefully and based on your goals
Thinking about packing for a semester abroad can be overwhelming. “What should I pack?” is probably the most frequently asked question we receive. And our answer? “Lay out everything you think you want to take, and then take half.” This advice not only helps you from becoming overloaded with huge luggage (or luggage fees), but also helps you to think critically about what your goals are for your semester abroad, and what you really need. Check out Zach’s post on 5 Reasons to Embrace Minimalism While Abroad to learn how he made it through a semester in New Zealand with only 3 pairs of pants.
Embrace your homestay experience
Many BCA students live in homestays – this is a great place to engage! Not only is your money staying local, you’re likely living more sustainably everyday. Due to smaller washers and dryers, more expensive electricity, and smaller grocery trips (and no plastic bags) in many other countries, you may be airdrying your clothes, turning off lights and heat in rooms you’re not in, and eating more locally-produced food – without even thinking about it! Plus, your homestay family will be one of your first, and often most meaningful, ways to learn about your new home through the eyes of the people who live there.
Learn about sustainability and environmental issues in your host country
By enrolling in classes at local universities, you have the opportunity to learn about pressing issues alongside local students. Look for coursework that helps you understand the environmental and social justice issues in your host country. In many of our locations, you can take classes or conduct research that offer a perspective you might never hear at your home campus. Students in Trinidad learn more about sea turtle conservation and ecotourism with Nature Seekers while Quito students grapple with tourism concerns in the Galapagos Islands.
We encourage you to take the time to really get to know your host city. In many locations, you can walk or take public transportation from your housing to university and community organizations. By walking or taking public transportation, it’s easier to spot local restaurants or businesses that you might want to try. Food helps you learn a lot about culture, but you can also support the local economy by eating local food and dining at local restaurants. Shopping at local farmer’s markets, drinking coffee at your favorite café, or just sitting in a local park can be some of the best memories of your semester abroad. There are also lots of community organizations that focus on issues of peace, social justice, and environmental sustainability. BCA has developed strong community partnerships in many of our program locations and we encourage you to volunteer with them.
Explore responsible tourism
Once you’ve spent time getting to know your new home, you might want to travel outside of your host country. This can be an exciting part of an experience abroad – but do your research! You can consider many of the same issues outlined here when thinking about where to stay, what to eat, and how to get there. If you’re joining a tour group, look at their ethical and environmental commitments. If you’re organizing your own travel, think about staying in locally-owned hotels, eating at locally-owned restaurants, and researching off-the-beaten track destinations. When done well, tourism can support local economies and help you broaden your horizons. When done poorly it can degrade historical sites, inflate cost of living, and frustrate locals with disrespectful tourists.
And don’t forget your water bottle! You’ll be surprised how many other countries already use less plastic than you might be used to in the US, so it will probably be easier to travel with your reusable water bottle than expect to find bottled water (or straws, in some places).
Understand your Footprint
Getting to your study abroad location is usually no short trip, and admittedly, international flights produce a large carbon footprint. The jury is still out on many carbon off-set programs, but there are a number of tools you can use to calculate your carbon footprint (for traveling to your program and trips you take while you’re there). Once you’ve done that, you can think about purchasing off-sets and research which off-set programs have the highest sustainability rating.
Alternatively, you can also “on-set” your emissions by getting involved in environmental sustainability practices in your program location. For example, recent BCA students have planted trees in New Zealand. BCA London and Cheltenham students join initiatives such as Growhampton or the Edible Garden to promote local growing and sustainability outreach.
You’ll be happy to know that traveling economy has a smaller footprint than business or first-class, so you should remember this and be proud of yourself as you squeeze into your tiny seat. Flying economy and being close to your neighbors is also a great way to learn more about your program location. Your seatmates may have great suggestions for restaurants, places to go and things to explore.
Bring it home
Many students who have studied abroad talk about how “transformative” the experience is, and learning to live more sustainably is one of the ways the experience may impact you. Going abroad can help you learn to be greener – and many students come home and integrate some of these new changes into their lives on campus. At BCA we encourage our alumni to “act for justice” by bringing new habits, thoughts, and ways of understanding their role in the world back to their home campuses. Start a student organization, initiate a composting project on your campus, or continue to support organizations and groups you were involved with abroad.
GoAbroad.com “Green Study Abroad Made Easy Thanks to this Handy Tool”
GlobalSL Partnership for Global Learning and Cooperative Development: “You Can Do It – Individual Actions, Conscious Consumption & Personal Philanthropy”
Transitions Abroad: “Sustainable Travel and Study Abroad”