Tag Archives: environment

Beauty and the Beast

Arica is a beautiful city. The coast and the ocean are amazing. There are beaches with dark golden sand and the waves are perfect. El Morro, a large, rocky hill that overlooks the city and coast, has breath taking views of the city and from anywhere in the city you can see the massive Chilean flag that flies on the top. You can’t see it from the city but there is also a huge statue of Jesus Christ on top that looks out at the ocean. It is a symbol of peace between Peru and Chile after territorial disputes were finally settled.

 

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The view of the beach from the top of El Morro.

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The group taking pictures of the massive Chilean flag at El Morro

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Closer view of the El Morro Chilean flag.

 

Outside of the city is pure desert. Sand dunes and almost nothing else. Years ago, an artist was commissioned to create several sculptures in the desert to the south of Arica. The statues that the artist created are massive, sand colored creations that are the only things that stand out for miles. His inspiration was the idea of people living in space. There is even a “landing pad” for extraterrestrial aircrafts that is a design made of rocks.

 

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Statues representing male and female figures in the desert south of Arica.

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Another statue found in the Arican desert.

 

There are also murals all over Arica. I’ve seen many around the University of Tarapacá and also around the old University Républica where we have our Spanish classes. Most of them seem to be memorials to people who lost their lives during the violent 1973 Chilean coup. All of the murals are very detailed and many are very colorful. Some are more abstract and include depictions of owls and colorful designs.

Besides all of this, there are just wonderful people. Everyone I have met so far has been very welcoming and kind. Everyone has been patient with me and my Spanish speaking abilities which I have been really grateful for. Most Chileans speak really fast and with so much slang that it’s hard to understand what they are saying even if you understand all of the words they are saying. My host family has been exceptionally welcoming. They have helped me a lot with my Spanish and they are very generous. I am really enjoying my time with them and getting to know them more. My host dad just came back from vacation the other day so I just met him but so far he seems very friendly. He’s been super funny so far. I also got to meet my cousins the other day. They are from Santiago but are currently in Arica. Two nights ago we went over to my abuela’s house for “once” (dinner). The next night we had a barbecue at our house. My host dad prepared fresh fish that he bought at the port that morning. It was delicious. The fish was reineta, a fish common in the ocean off of Chile. I am looking forward to trying more of the local fish while I’m here.

 

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Reineta being sold fresh at the market at the Port of Arica.

 

The other night I went to El Centro, the main shopping street in the center of the city, to get ice cream with a few other students from my study abroad program. When we got out of our colectivo (a carpool style taxi with a set route), there were several events going on in the plaza. One of the events was a traditional African-Chilean dance to celebrate the African heritage of Chileans in Arica. The dancers were amazing and there was a band of men and women playing drums and singing. I felt so lucky to have arrived just in time to watch the last few dances and experience this tradition.

 

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Dancers celebrating African-Chilean traditions.

 

While everything has been amazing and interesting so far, I have noticed that in the midst of all the beautiful places, there is a lot of trash. Arica’s tap water is safe to drink but most people who can afford to buy bottled water do because the tap water doesn’t have an appealing taste. I was told it’s because of the amount of minerals in it but I’m not really sure why it tastes bad. Most people buy bottled water and many families have the stereotypical office water cooler-type dispenser in their homes. Arica doesn’t have a very good recycling program and many of the people who live here are not very environmentally conscious. This means that there is a lot of plastic waste and garbage everywhere. I have found myself needing to buy bottled water occasionally and I feel really wasteful. Over the past week I have been better about filling up the water bottles that I brought with me and using those as much as possible but it is challenging because I drink a lot of water during the day. I do want to work on improving my environmental footprint while I am here though.

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Filed under Brooke in Chile, south america

Conservation in Russia

“The most majestic and beautiful of all the world’s cities, it seems, has dozed off the banks of a fast-flowing river . . . resting from storms scudding overhead and the apparitions of the past, hardening into these colonnades, these bronze lions, these eternally smiling sphinxes, into the black angel on the top of Peter and Paul’s Fortress . . . And through this drowsiness, waiting for new, even unexpected shocks that will open its granite eyes onto a second life.” —Alexei Tolstoy

The policies of the Soviet Union, a time when officials felt that pollution control was an unnecessary hindrance to economic development and industrialization, can be found at the root of many of the environmental issues in Russia. Large parts of Russia’s territory began demonstrating symptoms of significant ecological stress by the 1990s, largely due to a diverse number of environmental issues including deforestation, energy irresponsibility, pollution, and nuclear waste.

While vehicle and industry emissions are certainly an increasing danger, the irresponsibility towards water pollution remains the most serious concern as it has caused health issues in many cities as well as the countryside due to the poor treatment of waste water prior to being returned to waterways. Water treatment facilities are obsolete and inefficient and combined with the lack of funding this has not only caused heavy pollution, it has also resulted in waterborne disease spread. Much of the water pollution is a result of the dumping of industrial and chemical waste into waterways.

The trademark Louis Vuitton monogram is spray painted uniformly on these Russian trash cans. An ironic and humorous representation of luxury masking the sad truth of environmental unfriendliness.

The trademark Louis Vuitton monogram is spray painted uniformly on these Russian trash cans. An ironic and humorous representation of luxury masking the sad truth of environmental unfriendliness.

As a partaker in the time-honored American pastime known as consumerism, I am among many Americans who have noticed the labeling of consumer products become more complex than just a seal of approval from Good Housekeeping magazine.

Usually uniformly green, the labels on American goods all share the mission to protect our Earth and its resources, as well as safeguard the health, safety, and well-being of the humans and animals who call it home. Each label represents a different goal, whether it be practicing energy conservation, reducing waste, supporting sustainable forestry, or lessening our reliance on agricultural chemicals.

Unless you are a frequent shopper of overly priced goods, it’s quite rare to find the Russian equivalent of USDA Organic, Energy Star, or the recycling triumvirate of “reduce, reuse, recycle.” In St. Petersburg, it is totally different because the average person is not concerned about waste and sorting it. They simply don’t care about garbage disposal. There are however activists; students and the younger generation in particular who are interested in implementing and improving the dynamics of environmental conservation. The government has very few projects in place that aim to change people’s attitudes and approach towards nature. Further, officials decry the economic and social costs of environmental degradation. They lack the commitment, resources, and organizational capacity to address environmental problems.

Let us preserve the beauty of this frosted rose, along with other aspects of nature, as it prepares itself for the Russian winter.

Let us preserve the beauty of this frosted rose, along with other aspects of nature, as it prepares itself for the Russian winter.

The near future of Russia appears to be unable to deal effectively with the daunting environmental challenges posed by decades of Soviet and post-Soviet environmental mismanagement and recurring economic crises. Although the prolonged contraction in economic activity has resulted in significant drops in most pollution categories, substantial environmental improvement will depend on an array of socioeconomic, institutional, and cultural changes that will need to be facilitated by international engagement. Major progress is decades away.

 

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Filed under Boryana in Russia, Eastern Europe

Environmentally Conscious Australia

This semester, my wonderful study abroad group, Hobart and William Smith/Union College (HWS/U), has traveled to Lamington National Park and Girraween National Park, and will go to Heron Island in early November. Conservation is an issue that pervades these national parks and Brisbane’s inner city. It transforms Australia into an ordered, clean, and government-regulated city. By regulating natural forests, Lamington and Girraween’s pristine ecosystems have remained appreciably untouched. Although humans have invaded the once untouched forests by creating a walking track or trail through the forest, the park rangers definitely do not consider those modifications to be a significant harm to the whole of the forest. The motivating drive that contributes to the success of these national parks is its economic (driven by tourism; people like us!) and social (people want to save the wild animals and plants) feasibility.

Lamington's rainforest. Photo credit to Maryn P.

Lamington’s rainforest. Photo credit to Maryn P.

Girraween's dry forest.

Girraween’s dry forest.

Lamington is a rainforest dominated by a closed canopy and the sounds of hundreds of birds. They participate daily in the dawn chorus- whip birds, pied currawongs, crimson rosella, and catbirds that call out beginning in the early hours of the morning and throughout the day. While at Girraween, we watched the streams run through massive granite formations stacked on top of each other, and felt through our skins the climate of aridity, marked by an abundance of Eucalyptus trees. Girraween reminds me of learning about Australia’s El Nino in Terrestrial Ecology class. El Nino is a period of bone-dry and rainless weather caused by a high pressure system that pervades over central Australia. To experience this in person really involves conserving water since none falls from the sky, leaving the land parched. Thus, conservation in Australia really is key, starting with the basic needs of humans: water and energy.

A large granite boulder precariously balanced on the summit of the pyramid.

A large granite boulder precariously balanced on the summit of the pyramid.

At University of Queensland (UQ), water conservation efforts are found in the restroom facilities which all include electronic “cyclone” hand dryers, as well as around campus where there are many water fountains with signs that encourage students to use their own reusable water bottles. This is especially true as I have seen many students toting around their own hard plastic water bottles.

On the topic of energy, around campus and also citywide, electrical outlets (or what Aussies call power points) have on and off switches. This is an amazing invention, since you do not have to keep ripping out the power cord to prevent ghost power draws or to keep your waffle-maker from overheating (which I did once before I knew of the flip switch).

For transportation, there are two main ways of getting around the city quickly. These methods also happen to be environmentally friendly: buses and bikes. Brisbane city buses are highly efficient, which encourages less people to use their personal vehicles. Students can use the bus transportation system to go anywhere within the 20 zones of Brisbane, reaching all the way to the Sunshine and Gold Coast. The buses also have their own designated bus lanes. I initially thought building roads for only one type of vehicle would be a significant disadvantage, taking up a lot of space that could be used to build parks or buildings. In retrospect, the bike lanes are used by many every day and are a much better way of getting around the inner city than a car. Bike lanes are also a prominent part of Brisbane’s transportation system. Around the Brisbane River, there are bike lanes that cross bridges and go under overpasses. Moreover, in more suburban areas of the city there are marked bike lanes that run alongside regular car lanes, thus producing the breed of bikers, including me! An added benefit is that it helps keep me in shape as my alternative to running.

An Australian pedestrian and bike lane.

An Australian pedestrian and bike lane.

Composting, recycling, and dividing waste are also key components of Australia’s conservation methods. The dining facilities at UQ are adamant about decreasing the amount of waste that they produce by using color-coded trash “rubbish” bins to sort the waste into compost, trimmings, and recyclables. The streets everywhere are extremely clean because of this, unless the waste receptacles are in remote areas that are less accessible, such as Mount Coot Tha’s summit café, which was not clean at all, but it is the top of Brisbane’s highest peak.

These environmental efforts have modernized the look of Brisbane, and I believe the government and UQ have done a good job of offsetting the impact of the massive human population of the city (50,000 people alone are at UQ). These efforts provide proper bike and bus transportation lanes, water conservation, and clean streets that dictate a modern look for others in the world to follow.

Conservation in Australia has much to do with the government making small changes. I see propaganda that reminds Australians to make the correct moral decision by using our resources efficiently, for the benefit of everyone. Seeing this approach, I think our attitudes are part of the reason change is slow in America. Also in Australia, their climate is hot and dry, and it is a strong motivator to take measures to conserve water. I feel that America is decades behind, but I believe that in time, we will learn to have more efficiency and less extravagance with our resources.

I will definitely take a habit of conservation back home with me from Australia, especially since I am taking a sustainability class here. We have talked about these issues in class and compared them to our own habits by maintaining biweekly food logs. We have also expressed our knowledge about certain conservation topics, such as fish sustainability, in in-class presentations.

Specifically, I will take back shorter showers, using less plastic, biking as a mode of transportation, and continuing the use of separate bins in the U.S.. I will also try not to buy as many packaged foods, but rather in bulk size.

And a final note is if we take care of the environment, it will positively change how we view ourselves as the future eaters.

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Filed under Oceania, Raymond in Australia

A Land of Culture Shock

To most, Southeast Asia could be considered the land of culture shock. There is no place more different in culture and lifestyle than the other side of the world, Thailand. Even menial tasks become a shock to the senses, an adventure, simply something new. It’s truly a scary and wonderful kind of feeling.

Living in Thailand the past several months has had me ride through a rollercoaster of shock and awe that I never expected. It was a constant state of relearning how to do basic tasks in a wholly new environment, in a different and complex language. Yes, there were times where the shock was probably too much and I would hole up in my room wishing I didn’t have to invent hand signs to order the food I wanted or bargain for the smallest thing. But I wouldn’t have asked for a better experience.

The first several months were the definitive months for culture shock. I was in this new country where I didn’t speak the language and was unaccustomed to the significantly different style of education my host university operated on. Street food became my new dinner, water became a commodity on reserve, air conditioning became my new best friend and motorbikes my ill-favored enemy. I even found myself speaking far less with my stateside friends and family than I hoped. I loved the newness of my new world but found myself anxious and nervous much of the time. It was something I had expected, in a sense, but not at this magnitude.

But, as my first semester of study came to a close, I found myself growing accustomed to the Thai lifestyle. I could speak the language a fair amount, had made a handful of Thai and international friends and generally felt comfortable.

The second semester would follow and sometime during the 8th or 9th month of my time abroad, I came to the realization that I had become more than comfortable in my new lifestyle. Without sounding too sentimental or hyperbolic, I felt at home. Whether this feeling came from a good working knowledge of the language or the new friends or what have you, I can say that I began to feel just as at home in Thailand as in Kentucky.

In all, I believe that culture shock is a phenomenon that needs to be experienced and is a building block of any study abroad. Sometimes it may feel terrifying but eventually it becomes a lovely part of the new life and should be cherished. As I look towards the next month and my subsequent return to America, I hope to be able to experience the same shock upon my return.

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Filed under Culture Shock, Doug in Thailand, South & Central Asia

Traveling: The Push to Success

Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” – Cesare Pavese

Cesare Pavese’s perspective on travel is very true, however he forgot to mention that the brutality is self-inflicted. In the sense that the self-infliction is voluntary and it pushes a person out of their comfort zone to go after the wonders of the world. Who has ever heard of a traveler that only wants to stay within their comfort zone? I believe a traveler seeks adventure and, as Cesare Pavese said, that means accepting only having the essential things of air, sleep, dreams, the sea, and the sky.

As I have been living in England for a while, I have grown to learn that even I didn’t expect to be so out of my comfort zone. I came into this country already loving the culture and knowing the fact that it’s one of the countries that are most similar to the United States, but I have realized that the similarities are just above the surface. It was a brutal, but understanding, surprise to me when I realized that I’m much farther away from my comfort zone than I thought. At first, I was apprehensive and uncomfortable, but I soon realized that the different people, the different food (yes, it’s actually different too), and the different way of life here push my mind to be even more open than I already thought.

Even though I was uncomfortable in this new environment in the beginning, I have learned to adapt and appreciate it. I know that being out of my comfort zone won’t last long. Even though it’s a brutal push, it pushes me towards becoming the person I want to be in life. I want to be a person that has a broadened mind, more curious, and more eager to learn. One of the things that I have come to be familiar with again is the feeling of completely not knowing something and truly learning something new and alien to me. Through my study abroad program, I am pushed out of my comfort zone each day through learning new things and that just brings me closer to my destination in life.

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Filed under Lily in the United Kingdom, Western Europe

Lay of the Land in Trinidad & Tobago

While some countries are known for their grand architecture and visitors traverse the pathways of the city to photograph the statuettes perched on every corner, Trinidad and Tobago is not one of these countries. Yes, these islands have a few beautiful architectural pieces, especially in Port of Spain, but the main attraction is the lush greenery. The surrounding nature invites you in and drives you into the realization that the untouched world around us is the greatest miracle we could ask for.

Over the last few months, I have been grateful to receive this knowledge straight from the source, the forests. Trinidad and Tobago offers an endless variety of trails ending in bubbling rivers bursting with life, rainforests teeming with a rainbow of birds, and waterfalls you have to crane your neck to catch sight of! In Tobago, especially, the beaches are awe-inspiring, with light sand and clear water, sparkling an aquamarine in the sunlight.

However, despite all this beauty, Trinidad and Tobago has certainly not reached a country-wide environmental consciousness. Specific parts of the country— such as the highly tourist-populated beaches of Tobago, the nesting sites of the leatherback turtles in Trinidad, and the popular hiking trails — have come ahead of the rest in encouraging recycling and environmental safety. Nevertheless, the majority of the country does not seem particularly discouraged by the thought of tainting the beautiful landscape with crumpled cans, used bottles, and non-biodegradable items.

Often, I find myself carrying a trash bag or an empty soda cup for blocks without seeing a single garbage bin. Even around my dorms and on our campus, it is difficult to find recycling bins and trash cans on every corner as I am accustomed to at home. I realize that in America I feel that I am a particularly environmentally aware person with a strong sense of friendliness for our plant friends. It seems that I may not be as aware as I believed myself to be. In America we barely need to raise a finger to find a recycling bin ready for our plastics, or a trash can ready for our Styrofoam  In Trinidad and Tobago, the processes have not yet taken place to set up a country-wide recycling system to spread awareness about conservation.

Although people are educated about the necessity of recycling and the consequences of littering, I notice that without the proper availability of resources to aid in this (such as recycling bins every block or trash cans on each street corner), it is impossible to expect people to walk miles with their trash in their hand, simply to lay it alongside the sidewalk when it becomes too much of a burden!

On the other hand, students at UWI take great pride in stepping out and helping with environmental cleanups when asked. This leads me to believe that most people are searching for a way to be more conscious (in all truth, no one enjoys kicking trash out of the sidewalk during an afternoon stroll), but struggling to find it! When the Matura Bay Cleanup fliers went out, advertising a volunteer opportunity at 6 AM on a Saturday, an unbelievable amount of people went! At my university, with a slightly larger population than UWI, we could not have even a third of the participation that I found here. Students worked in the early hours of the morning, picking trash off the bay that leatherback turtles most often nest on in Trinidad.

I know the importance of being environmentally aware. This week, I was lucky enough to experience a rare event— the nesting of the endangered leatherback turtles. Around midnight on Friday, from our campfire on the beach, we watched as a turtle slid onto shore and made its way slowly up to the softer parts of the sand on Paria Bay. This 2,000 ton creature found an easier path up the sand to dig a nest in which to lay over 120 eggs. Why? Because this beach was clean of trash! However, a local relayed to me the problems of littering on the beach. The baby turtles, already unprotected and highly vulnerable, hatch and must find their way to the water. With so much garbage and litter clouding the beach several more turtles die than they should, as their path is obstructed.

While Trinidad and Tobago could certainly improve in regards to cleaning up litter and increasing the availability of recycling and trash bins, one thing I would definitely bring back home with me is the health conscious behavior. Yes, this climate offers an advantage to those seeking year-round hiking adventures. The United States has a decent climate for the pursuit of outdoors adventure for at least 7-8 months of the year, and yet the majority of social activities take place inside! I enjoy how Trinidad and Tobago pays great attention to the natural beauty of the world around us and encourages a healthy set of physical activities involving the fresh air and lush foliage.

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Filed under Caribbean, Sana in Trinidad & Tobago