Studying abroad is a life-changing experience. (And, no, I’m not talking about the record amounts of alcohol consumed by students on their semesters abroad.) You meet new people, try new foods, and experience a new culture. Best of all, you’re completely independent.
As a temporary resident of your new country, you have a responsibility to leave it in the same condition it was in when you got there – if not better. But don’t worry – traveling green isn’t as hard as it sounds. These tips will help you make greener choices while you’re abroad so you can preserve country the for future generations of studiers abroad to come.
Research Eco Programs
There are study abroad programs in environmental fields like sustainable development, conservations, and ecology. If your university doesn’t offer any, look into schools that do and see if you can apply as an independent student.
- Michigan State has an Environmental and Natural Resource Sustainability program in Israel.
- Middlebury College gives sustainable study abroad grants.
- Engineers for a Sustainable World offers various programs in sustainable development, technology, ecology, environment, conservation, and agriculture.
- The University of New Hampshire is partnering with the EcoQuest Education Foundation to promote sustainability in New Zealand.
- The School for Field Studies offers programs in environmental field studies in Costa Rica, Kenya, Turks and Caicos, Kenya, Mexico, and Australia.
- Kalamazoo College works with The International Sustainable Development Studies Institute to offer the People and the Environment program in Thailand.
- IIEPASSPORT’s study abroad directory lists over 50 programs in sustainable development.
- Living Routes lets you study abroad in Evovillages – defined as “ecological communities that provide ideal campuses for students to learn about real-world issues including sustainable development, green building, organic agriculture and women’s empowerment” – in conjunction with University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Travel Around While You’re Abroad
Don’t just stick to the city you’re in – get out and see the region. You’ll have less of an impact traveling around while you’re overseas than you will if you head home, then go back later. The fewer plane trips, the better for the environment.
Take Public Transportation
Some study abroad programs prohibit you from driving when you’re abroad, anyway, and you probably won’t have access to a car. The good news is in most countries you won’t need a one. Just hop on the bus or subway to get to your un-walkable destinations.
Get Your Green Passport
Not to be confused with the UN’s Green Passport program, Abroad View’s Green Passport is targeted at students studying abroad. You’ll agree to reduce your environmental impact, respect the culture you’re living in, and participate in and give back to the community. Right now, Abroad View magazine is piloting the Green Passport program with Living Routes, Ithaca College, Middlebury College, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Get your school involved.
Live with a Family
Most programs offer the option to stay with a host family for all or part of your time abroad. When you watch a dubbed movie on TV with your host mom and host sister, you’ll use less energy than you would if you watched TV in your dorm room while they watched it at home. Plus, you’ll learn more about the culture you’re living in by spending time with your host family.
Check Out Local Entertainment
Support the local economy by going to the museums, plays, ballets, and operas that you won’t find at home. It’s easy to get caught up in study abroad life and put off the local entertainment until the end – when you’ll either rush to cram everything in or not have a chance to do it at all. (Can you tell I’m a procrastinator?) Before you head to your host country, pick a few of the most interesting local attractions and prioritize seeing them throughout your trip.
When I went to St. Petersburg for a semester in college, I overpacked. I hauled things to Russia I never wore there, and things I’d never used before but thought I might need while I was abroad. Big mistake. Not only was dragging around a 75 pound bag hard on my bag, but it was hard on the environment. It’s better to err on the side of too little; if it turns out you need something you left at home, you can buy it in your host country. If you just can’t figure out how to lighten your load, check out our Ultimate Guide to Packing Light.
Buy a Bike
In cities from Hong Kong to The Hague, biking is a preferred means of transportation. It’s environmentally-friendly, plus you see the city in a whole new light. And you have the option of traveling outside the city and biking around the countryside. Ask around about where to buy a used bike or search online classifieds like Craigslist.
Carry a Reusable Water Bottle
According to the Earth Policy Institute, Americans consumed 26 billion of the global 154 billion liters of bottled water in 2004. Bottled water creates a ton of waste, and it’s more expensive and less strictly regulated in the US than tap water. Reduce your environment impact by avoiding bottled water altogether – bring a reusable water bottle.
Seeing a country by foot offers many advantages to seeing it any other way. You’ll get to talk to locals, see sights you might miss on public transportation, and find authentic food and goods you might never have otherwise come across.
Cook in Your Dorm or Apartment
If you have a kitchen in your new home, use it. You can still experience local food by picking up ingredients for regional dishes at the market and cooking local dishes yourself. Plus, you’ll learn to cook new foods.
Eat with Your Host Family
Your host family’s probably already cooking for themselves, so join them when you can. It will create less waste than eating out and you’ll get to try authentic local food. And with most programs your host family is given a stipend to feed you. You’ll save money by dining with them.
Rather than heading to a chain grocery or department store, stop by the market or a street stand. Supporting the local economy is good for the environment because the goods you’re buying don’t have to travel as far to get to you.
It’s not always easy to find restaurants that serve organic food, but you can usually find some that buy the ingredients for their meals locally. And being a traveling locavore is even better than being a locavore at home because you get to try new foods from the region you’re in.
I will never forget walking into the lobby of my Dublin hostel and seeing inebriated American frat boys drinking Southern Comfort. Southern Comfort. In Ireland, the birthplace of whiskey. Don’t be a drunk frat boy – opt for the local specialty. When else are you going to get to drink Becherovka?
Take Shorter Showers
Shower heads spit out about 2 gallons of water per minute – which means that a 15 minute shower uses 30 gallons of water. You can probably wash your hair scrub down your body in 5 minutes. Give it a shot. Curious about how much water you use now? Check out H2O Conserve’s water calculator.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
These elementary school tenets hold true no matter where you are. Always shoot to use less – reduce. And if the country you’re in accommodates recycling, take advantage of it. If not, think of new uses for products before tossing them.
Every country has at least one organization devoted to sustainable development, conservation, the environment, or a social issue you’re interested in. Ask your professors, host family, and new friends about places to volunteer, or check out these links from Adventures Great and Small to get some ideas.
Turn Out the Lights
It’s easy to get lazy and forgetful when you’ve got a new country to explore, but something as simple as unplugging your laptop before you head out can save a lot of electricity. So unplug appliances and turn off the lights before you head out.
Make Yourself at Home
Spending a semester abroad is liberating. It’s the first time you’re completely independent, with no parental interference. It’s tempting to rebel against your parents by doing the things they’ve always told you not to do – leaving the lights on, cabbing to unknown parts of the city, and getting takeout every night. While you’re establishing your independence, remember your actions abroad have the same environmental impact as your actions at home.
Be conscious of the choices you make while you’re abroad. Believe me, you can still have a good time eating local food (mmm, blini and borscht), drinking local alcohol (did somebody say Gzhelka?), and exploring local shows (I will never forget the Bolshoi – and not because of the ballet).
For more ideas and information on sustainable travel abroad, check out this article from Transitions Abroad.