The Power of Study Abroad: The ENVS Experience

There are few subjects of undergraduate study that are more inherently transnational than environmental studies or environmental science. Not only do our fields of inquiry often transcend disciplines, but they almost demand that we explore the global, interconnected nature of environmental changes and challenges. Studying abroad for ENVS students both helps illuminate for students this global aspect of their studies in a way no classroom in Ithaca can and nudges them outside their comfort zone—the place were some of the most enduring learning happens.

For these reasons ENVS encourages all of its majors and minors to include a study abroad experience in their education, whether it be for two weeks in between semesters, for a summer, for a semester, or for a whole year. Several of our students went abroad in 2016, and in addition to sharing their stories with students and faculty upon their return, three of them sat down with Professor Michael Smith to chat about their experiences—all of which were quite different.

Sophia Lux, who graduated in May, spent the Fall 2016 semester in Freiburg, Germany, through the IES Abroad program. “I knew I wanted to be in Europe,” Sophia says. “I am not the most outdoorsy of environmentalists and I wanted to be able to travel all over the place so I also wanted to be in or near a city.” She chose IES in Freiburg for its environmental track that allowed her to transfer more credits back into the degree program. It was a good choice. “There was so much great international food in Freiburg.” Sophie says. “But most importantly, just the general vibe of Freiburg was really perfect for me. It's similar to Ithaca in its college-town-ness and liberalness, but much bigger, with different cultural attributes and a different language. So I felt at home, but it was still pushing my comfort zone and forcing me to learn new things and adjust.”

One thing common thread that seems to run through all of the accounts of study abroad experiences is the expanded perspective on both environmental challenges and the applicability of tools acquired in an ENVS education to help address them. Zach Stewart (’19) spent part of his winter break in Belize with Susan Allen-Gil’s long-running “Rainforests, Reefs, and Ruins” class. “It opened my eyes in so many ways,” Zach says, “and gave me interesting perspectives in my field. It’s easier to see all the sides of conservation when you go visit the rainforest you want to conserve and the people who live with and around it.” Denise O’Leary (’17) says that her experience in Iceland through the CELL program gave her “the opportunity to deepen my knowledge of the environmental sciences by seeing them in real life. I was able to have conversations with people working in sustainable energy. I walked through geologic features like lava fields and glaciers. This program allowed me to learn about topics in the classroom and then experience them the next day.”

Denise’s assessment of the power of a study abroad experience has been echoed in one way or another by every IC ENVS student who has tried it. “Studying abroad has changed my life. Not only has it brought me to a beautiful country, but it has expanded my view of the world. I learned more about another way of life and, more importantly, learned about myself in the process.” We look forward to more such stories of transformation as our students take their exploration of environmental studies and sciences abroad!

Originally published in Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences: The Power of Study Abroad: The ENVS Experience
Denise O'Leary (3rd from right) with her CELL cohort in Iceland