Remaining Sustainable While Studying Abroad

As the final weeks of the spring semester are upon us, and the temperatures continue to plummet, I can’t help but feel excited to study abroad next fall. I am traveling with a Colgate group to Wollongong, Australia, and thinking about that Aussie sun has left me completely unmotivated to finish this semester. However, I unfortunately haven’t given much thought to the sustainability logistics of my travels. In an effort to further procrastinate work as well as hold myself accountable, I’ve been doing some research on how to incorporate sustainability into traveling abroad, and I thought I might share my findings with you all. 

Firstly, it’s important to recognize that air travel has a pretty serious impact on the environment; a single person on a round-trip flight from Washington, D.C. to London, England generates over 2.5 tons of carbon dioxide gas emissions. If it’s economically feasible for you, you could look into offsetting your flight. You can use online calculators to estimate the carbon emissions of your travel and then counterbalance it through investing in projects that sequester carbon. Or you can simply find the most efficient airlines that travel to your study location.

Secondly, it is important to read up on the country you will be studying in. Do they recycle? What are the norms surrounding water conservation? How do people get around? These are all questions that will help you to assess the sustainability of your study abroad location. As the U.S. has one of the largest ecological footprints in the world, it won’t be hard to find countries who are more environmentally conscious. Try to eat local products and bring reusable bags to the market. Utilize public transit or purchase a used bike as a means of transportation. Try to find ways that locals engage in sustainability by adopting cultural norms and practices such as air drying clothing. I am also realizing that I will need to purchase appliances and dorm necessities when I arrive. In order to be environmentally friendly, I will be buying as much as I can from Colgate students who were on campus the previous semester or from local consignment shops. You most likely won’t be bringing your blender or dorm decor home with you, so why not buy used?

Additionally, it is important to be aware of your privilege while abroad, as the social aspect of sustainability is just as important as the environmental. As Colgate students, we need to be more respectful of other cultures. It can be uncomfortable to be in a new place, but you should embrace new ways of life that you encounter. Lastly, all the websites I’ve found have stressed the importance of learning from your experience abroad. While you’re abroad, be mindful of how your place of study practices minimizing their impact and imagine how these practices could be put to use at Colgate. If you pick up any new conservation habits, bring them home and try to influence your friends to tread a little lighter as well. Also can we all agree not to buy any stupid souvenirs? They’re ridiculously expensive, probably culturally insensitive, and honestly no one needs another keychain. 

Please keep these tips in mind as you prepare for study abroad travel and I will be sure to update you all with what I’ve learned from my travels as well! Now, back to the grindstone.

Contact Makenna Bridge at [email protected].