As students prepare for their journey abroad, they are undoubtedly excited about all the opportunities they will experience. All students should also take some time to consider the potential impact their journey will have on the environment and communities that they visit. As more students take advantage of the chance to study overseas, it is important for them to incorporate responsible and sustainable travel practices wherever possible. While many communities benefit from the revenue generated by tourism, this increased traffic also strains the local environment, economy, and culture. Astrid Jirka, co-director of the Green Passport Program and an outreach coordinator at Ithaca College’s Office of International Programs, explores this dilemma in her article “Sustainable Travel and Study Abroad.”
This page provides suggestions on how to become a more responsible traveler and minimize impact on the environment. If students would like to focus specifically on environmental studies and/or sustainability while abroad, they should make an appointment with an Education Abroad Adviser. There are several programs around the globe which focus on these important issues.
From Yancey Fouché, Director of Sustainability at Davidson College:
When you travel abroad, you will likely experience and hear about wide-ranging and sometimes devastating impacts of climate change on the communities you visit. Climate change is accelerated by human activities that produce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). At Davidson, education abroad flights are the third largest producer of GHGs, behind only the electricity purchased to operate campus and the fuel burned to heat campus buildings.
The College values the deep learning that education abroad offers but also acknowledges that accelerating climate change is problematic. We are considering these trade-offs in developing an updated Climate Action Plan. You can do your part by seeking low-carbon ways of engaging with your host community while abroad. Passion Passport has some easy tips.
Davidson Student Testimonials
"I had prepared myself for lectures on climate change, for re-explanations of how carbon dioxide traps heat radiating off the earth, from textbooks. What I experienced was totally different and much better than that. Since SFS is very research-oriented, I worked with 10 other students to gather data on the potential impacts of the climate-induced bursting of a natural dam on a glacial lake upriver of the tiny village where we lived.... I enrolled in the program able to recite the main causes and potential negative outcomes of climate change, but I left with a real understanding of exactly what some of those outcomes would look like."
"The field trips for the biology classes were highly relevant to material we learned in class and each issue was dissected from every angle. For example, we toured a pineapple farm and went snorkeling the same week we learned about the sedimentation of corals due to agriculture. That same week in the social science class, we learned about role Nicaraguan migrant workers play in the cultivation of these crops, toured a pineapple farm, and interviewed two Nicaraguan migrant workers."
Peru and Denmark
"The main difference between Denmark and Peru is that the transportation system in Denmark is designed to be as sustainable as possible whereas the transportation system in Peru is merely the product of people trying to reach their destination as cheaply and easily as possible.... In Denmark, there is an extensive effort to promote sustainable transportation through bicycle infrastructure, buses, and trains, [and] Danes choose to bike and walk primarily out of concern for their health.... In Arequipa, [Peru], the second largest city, the primary modes of transportation are walking, riding a combi, or taking a taxi, [which is] the product of people trying to reach their destination as cheaply and easily as possible."
"After hearing about [a former intern's] project that calculated the carbon-intensity of student travel and estimates of other carbon-emitting factors on the part of students during their time studying abroad, some students in my semester and I decided to collect ‘baseline’ data on our food consumption, electricity use, and collective trash.... We audited our campus trash to see where most of our waste was coming from [and] also took a trip to the city landfill, met with community members that make a living sifting through mountains of trash and turning in the recyclables. Our discussion was impactful in considering the growth of the city and the limited future capacity of the landfill, as well as the lives affected by how we all generated waste."
- Davidson College Sustainability Office
- Davidson College Environmental Studies Department
- National Geographic's Guide to Sustainable Travel
- Responsible Traveler's Handbook
- Environmental Performance Index Rankings (by Yale University)
- How to Travel More Sustainably