Pre-Semester Seminar, Sustainability on Trial

Before starting my semester abroad in London, I participated in a traveling seminar called GEO 304, or Sustainability on Trial: Environmental Justice in Northern Europe. For 10 days, eight SU students and I traveled to Sweden, Finland and Norway to learn about various approaches to “green” infrastructure and culture. We directly observed human-nature interactions and discussed how they impact local politics, environmental issues and social inequalities.

In Sweden, we walked and kayaked around Stockholm, recognized as one of the most sustainable cities in the world, to hear about its ecological history. We also heard about a current project in the city for the construction of a new traffic bridge that will implement modern traffic solutions and address water regulation issues and rising sea levels.

In Finland, we learned about the Sámi, indigenous people who can be found in northern Scandinavia, with a museum visit and guided tour of the Sámi Parliament. It was wonderful to speak directly with the Sámi people and hear about their personal experiences and stories, as well as get a better understanding of their cultural history and politics through the years. We also spent time with some reindeer and huskies to look more at animal ethics. Our hosts talked to us about the negative impact of unethical tourism on these animals. 

In Norway, we stayed in the city of Bergen. We looked at the preservation of buildings in Bryggen, a historic harbor district, and visited a fish market and aquarium to consider the ethics and challenges of whaling, fishing and aquaculture. We got to visit Flåm, one of Norway’s top tourist destinations, to go on a boating tour of the fjords at a UNESCO Heritage Site and observe the impact of tourism on the village and country of Norway as a whole.

I really enjoyed this experience, and it was so interesting and exciting to travel to these countries and see how sustainability issues and environmental injustice are being tackled firsthand. It made me think about what changes I can make to my own life to support sustainability efforts and environmental justice and how I can share what I have learned with others. This seminar was the perfect start to my semester abroad, and I cannot see what journeys I make and the knowledge I gain as I make my way around London and beyond!