Friday, November 18, 2011

Conservation in the United Kingdom

Studying sustainability while abroad has probably amplified my awareness of how human impact on the environment is dealt with here. In general, the cars are smaller and therefore more fuel-efficient. The only person in my building who has a car drives a mini cooper. Supermarkets here charges extra if you do not have reusable grocery bags. My flat is right next to a nature preserve and near a wind turbine. The public transportation infrastructure is pretty good. There are even more bicycle paths than I original noticed. The cycle share program in London is rather popular. The recycling program at my university is rather through and the administrators support other initiatives that encourage us to reduce our residences’ carbon footprint. The flat that turns their light off the most often and therefore uses the least energy gets some reward at the end of the semester. I got a pamphlet and pens made of recycled plastic from the Environment Team the first week I was here. Castles, Roman sites, Stonehenge and other similar historic sites are my only experiences of preserved areas though. I signed up to do volunteer restoration work at a near-by park, but the project doesn’t start until December. 

Other than the difference in average car size, I’m still not exactly quite sure how conservation here differs greatly from in the States. Recycling efforts are implemented all over the West nowadays and college campuses in the states also generally have a great presence of environmental awareness development programs. It’s not as if the plants and animals differ much from the variety in New York. The only place I saw an electric car was in Norway. No aspect of environmental conservation seems drastically different yet.

The sustainability class I am in here discusses how society sustains itself, the options society has to effectively use resources and develop agriculture and industry in light of the green movement’s goals. The goals being to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. I was surprised to find that even in a European class rooms, discussions of the development of environmental concerns often references the States, but that is where the green movement and organizations like the Sierra Club first gained ground. Plus, U.S. organization like the Environmental Protection Agency often still are the first to set standards which then are adopted elsewhere in the West. A film screened in one of the workshops actually went over each American Presidents’ approach to environmental issues. The overall issues seem to be the same. Water depletion, fossil fuel use, and pollution all need to be reduced in the States and here, but this has proved easier said than done. The decision of whether it is better to invest in more efficient and environmentally friendly new technological developments or to just cut costs is common to not just the UK and the US, but all people.

Spending extra money and time on evaluating the ways each new construction affects the local ecosystem. Consulting sustainable development firms and securing environmental services cuts into investment capital. However, it is taught that short-term cost cutting can have major long-term consequences. Plenty of examples, such as the British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, demonstrate how clean up costs far exceed the cost of preventative measures. Some new research and theories under the title of “ecological modernization” even suggest that sustainable development investments will actually stimulate the economies by creating a new green collar job sector as well as maintain long-term economic stability and growth by preventing environmental disasters. Also, technological innovations and environment-informed design are leading to more efficient solutions to the need for sustainable development.

It will be interesting to see which countries make the most progress redeveloping sustainably. As of right now the direction is up in the air so future elections will determine which nations either further invest in their environmental agencies or slash their budgets. Who knows, if the EPA gets defunded in the states, majoring in environmental chemistry may one day mean having to looking in Europe  for a good job.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A weekend holiday in Norway

A plane ticket from London to Norway is only £12 (~$20). It was a sort of random choice, but I am really glad that I had and took the opportunity to go. One of the great things about my school’s location is that it’s near a lot of airports. London is the cheapest city in Europe to fly in and out of. The Ryan Air plane my new friends and I took was so small that we had to walk out onto the tarmac to board.

Arriving at night, the fog, candles burning on the sidewalk at night, the most amazing sculpture park, metal music, some sort of waffle bread snacks, buildings older than my country, graffiti, lots of playgrounds, a white granite opera house that seemed to rise out of the water, lots of walking with a heavy backpack, kroner, the Viking ship museum, patties of meat for lunch, bands marching in football pep rallies, mystery meat stew, three foreign letters (æ ø å), and the view of a lake from the train back to the airport all made for a very interesting break from school work.

In three days we saw Rggye, Friedrickstad, and Oslo, the capital. The locals assume anyone with blond hair and blue eyes speaks Norwegian so I got to hear a lot of the language. The only bit I remember though is “takk” means thanks. It confused me at first since I was just getting used to “cheers" and also becasue“tak” means yes in Polish. Just about everyone in the capital spoke decent English so it was easy to ask from directions and advice on where to go. There were a lot of other tourists there the same weekend as well since the World Music Festival was going on.

Norway was a place I never would have thought to of have gone unless I was already near-by in England, but the sights were so much more captivating for never having know of them before. It wasn’t much colder and I had such a great time.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Stonehenge kind of blew my mind in the sense that you could tell that the spot and the huge rocks were important. The effort and time it must have taken for a primative society to bring the rocks from far away to this one spot had to be for a reason. It all means something, but we don't really know exactly what. Only guesses can be made and there's never a way of knowing for sure. It's mysterious. Mystery still exists.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Why I like to travel

Traveling should be more that getting from point to point. I find it easy to treat travel as a valuable journey no matter where the destination is. When there are exotic locations, different cultures, and a few obstacles thrown in the mix there’s a quest at hand. Such has been often been the case for me these days.
Traveling on any quest entails exploring as well as being away from home. I have a need to see the world for myself. I fight for the window seat. If there is significant distance between two stops, there’s something significant to see along the way. I know imagining Big Ben coming into view while crossing over Westminster Bridge from the top floor of a double-decker bus is not the same as the first hand experience.
Airplane WindowTraveling allows one to experience new surroundings and forces one to reflect on those passed. It has all the ingredients for making new memories and revisiting old ones. My fondest childhood memories are rambling up and down the East coast with my family. It never really mattered where we were going. All really I remember of trips made at the beginning of autumn is starring at the changing colors of the leaves on the side of the road. As I flew over Great Britain for the first time, I saw sheep pastures and golf courses. I’ll always remember the view and rejoice in the felling of wonder that I got from flying over the vast Atlantic and then reaching a new land.
Traveling’s hardships teach lessons of vigilance just as sight seeing imparts history lessons. It typically involves long hours with cramped leg room exhausted being worried about the tales of passports stolen from sleeping rail passengers, the possibility of a car breaking down in the middle of no where, or the swarms of pickpockets waiting for innocent tourist. My family has a habit of writing to check that I am still constantly vigilant of these situations. I’ve learned not to keep my wallet in the back pocket. These worries will never keep me from venturing though so long as I get to occasionally look out at passing cow pastures and eventually arrive at a historically fascinating and mysterious place such as Stonehenge, where I went this weekend. Yes, “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.” Maybe, it’s just me, but this harsh description of travel by Cesare Pavese tends to remind me that exploration is a rush. As someone who has always had wanderlust to spare, but few opportunities to go for a while, I am now excited to extend my comfort zones and more than willing to spend time searching for the right tickets, filling out the paperwork, and mapping the best route. I’ve realized that leaving my comfort zone to travel is going to be worth the risk and effort most of the time. I like that the scenic route learned on one trip becomes a comfort zone next time returning or going in the same direction is possible.
Roman BathTraveling is a means for first hand experience to replace imagination. I have yet to hear of there ever being a shortage of pictures of the Roman Baths, Stonehenge, or Big Ben. Yet, most everyone visiting these sight has a camera in hand. As a tourists I get walk on hallow ground and touch the water from ancient springs. The first hand perspective is a very thrilling personal experience that matters to travelers and motivates us to travel the distance. Saying to yourself Am I really here? Did I make it all this way? Yes! I am seeing this up close with my own eyes! This is awesome! is such a rush. I love being overwhelmed by these thoughts. I arrived in England. The first weekend I went to Cambridge. Then I did London, Bath, and Stonehenge. I want to go still even further in order to feel a sense of progression. So, today I booked a flight to Oslo, Norway with friends I met here. I expect weekends in random cities like Oslo will sustain the thrilling feeling of realizing how far I’ve made it. Maybe I sound crazy. However, I know I cannot be the only one I know who keeps maps just to encourage pondering how I made it to a far away land and where I’ll go next.
Traveling is a choice. Pavese said, “nothing is yours except the essential things: air, sleep, dreams, sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” I think “essential things” includes choice; the decision to travel is yours as well as the decision of what to take with you, so long as it’s a limited amount of baggage though.
Traveling accomplishes goals and results in a sense of awe upon reflecting on the road traveled and reveling in the sense of everything being new and different and special. That’s why I support indulging wanderlust when the opportunity arises. Especially since sometimes the chance and time to are fleeting. One day the trekking up hills sights on the other side is done with and then it’s time to passing stories and luggage along to grandchildren, just as my grandmother did to me just before I left for Europe.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Saturday, October 1, 2011

For Lunch

Fish and Chips
Tea and crumpets are a somewhat antiquated tradition and I am rather settled on coffee and toast. Battenbergs are sort of sugary cake treats also meant for tea time of which I eat my fair share. I have yet to tried meat pies here, but have heard good reviews. Pub food varies quite a bit, but the atmosphere of a pub caters to a perfect lunch break from sight seeing. So, as far as I can tell, “fish and chips” seems to be the most reliable option and the most popular English dish for probably that reason. At first, I only ordered the dish for the sake of it being a staple food, something you can get anywhere over here. Now, I am a fan, which surprised me since I would never have ordered fish fried as such in the states. You can even eat it riverside beneath London Bridge where the picture of the sign was taken. I may get used to being away from New York delis. I’m even slowly getting used to thinking of French fries as “chips” and chips as “crisps.”

Monday, September 19, 2011

Tea and crumpets are not my thing

          I gave them a shot at the welcome reception the “uni” had for us, but afterwards went shopping at a nearby mall for a coffee machine. I want to give their customs a chance, but I will not be adopting that one anytime soon. Some of my flatmates and I decided to buy other kitchenware together as well since there are no meal plans here, just a kitchen I will have to learn to use.

         More and more people are moving into the on-campus housing. I am meeting so many people from all over the world in such a short time span. The experience is quite exciting. There are no British people in my building yet, just a Canadian, a Cyprian, an Italian, a Spaniard, a German, and two other Americans.

         Today, I got a chance to explore a bit more. Other than the funny looking money, the scenery is the most obvious difference. There are wind turbines and lush green grass all over campus. Houses look just like Privet Drive. In fact, quite a bit of the area looks like a Harry Potter sets. The infrastructure is different than back home. Instead of intersections there are circle loops that the cars drive around. I believe they're called roundabouts. Along the same directions as the roads and roundabouts are separate bicycle and pedestrian pathways. After getting over some initial confusion, I've found the set up rather appealing. It seems convenient for the drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. In addition, the center of the circle is usually a well landscaped area that improve the appearance of everything. Bike and walking paths that are better planned, separated from roads, and therefore safer are something I have wanted to see and advocated for back in the States. I'm so glad that the airline let me take my bicycle free of charge. There are also plenty of covered shelters for bikes and paths that go under roads. When you do have to cross a road, there are signals and better defined crossings for both bikes and pedestrians. I really am so psyched to pedal around getting to know all the unfamiliar spaces. I've heard that in central London, you can rent a bike off the racks station all over the street for something like a £1 per hour. New York only just passed its first transportation bill that included these kinds of complete street provisions. I would like to see more of this aspect of England back home. Maybe we could trade for New York bagels? I certainly am going to miss them. None the less, this trip is working out to be well worth the sacrifice. I think I'm really going to enjoy my stay here!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tonight, I fly over the Atlantic!


           It is difficult to believe this is really happening. The realization that I am about to go to Europe for the first time and will be living and studying in the United Kingdom for five months is only just starting to hit me now. I am sitting in an airport window sill near the departure gate pressed up against the glass and waiting to board. From where I am sitting, the 747 plane I’ll be boarding is clearly visible. I arrived quite early to the airport. Since doing so, my body is pumped with adrenaline as I am thrilled and nervous at the same time.

            It has been difficult to prepare to move somewhere I have never been before. I completed piles of paperwork. My passport, boarding pass, and other essentials are stowed in my carry-on. I already changed some money into pound sterling. I even checked my bicycle so that I’ll have a way to explore campus once I am there. My need to reassure myself that I’ve prepared as much as I can is beginning to wear off. It will be morning in England by the time I get there.

The one thing on my preparation to-do list that I have yet to do, was introduce myself. So let me break down the basics of who I am, what I’ll be doing, and where I’ll be, when I am doing this, and why I am bothering. 

Who? My name is Christopher Rooney. Many friends who know me just call me Topher or Rooney. I realize that for most of you, my name alone does not tell you much. Well, I am student, friendly guy, and a twenty year-old from Long Island, New York. I am normally an Environmental Chemistry major and Spanish minor at Stony Brook University. There I am involved in the Chemical Society and played for the Quidditch team.

            What? While abroad, my studies will be of a broad array yet still related to the degree I am seeking from my home institution. This fall I’ll be taking four modules: Sustainable Futures, Biochemistry, Advanced Spanish, and Exercise Health Science. This will be the first time I have enrolled in a sustainability course. As far as I have found out so far it is a study of just what it sounds like: how society sustains itself, the options society has to effectively use resources, and the development of agriculture and industry in light of the green movement’s goals. I expect the specifics will delve in to renewable fuels, recycling, and energy efficient building. I am a bit more familiar with Biochemistry, how the different chemicals in our bodies work together maintain our organs, metabolism, and protein activity.

Where? My flight will land at London Heathrow Airport. From there I will take a short ride to the University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, England, United Kingdom. It’s a large university that I choose because they teach chemistry, which not every school in Britain does, and are only about twenty minutes north of central London. I also will hopefully be soon making trips to relatively near by countries such as Ireland and Poland.

When? Well, it is September 17th and I am at the airport waiting to board. Preparing to move to a foreign country has kept me too busy to write this introduction post earlier. So I leave for the United Kingdom in about an hour. I’ll be there until at least January. We get a three week break for Christmas for which I plan to stay in Europe.

Why? In one word: wanderlust. This trip is a long time in the making. It’s always been my goal to go to Europe. The chance to combine traveling and studying was a windfall opportunity I couldn't turn down.  My upcoming study abroad experience will impact how I look at the world and see my place in it. Such an opportunity to explore, meet people, delight in powerful experiences, and share those experiences for years to come would be both the fulfillment of a dream and a crucial step towards becoming a well rounded person. A semester abroad will add to the abundance of valuable experiences I am having while earning an undergraduate degree in chemistry, choosing a graduate program, and setting out on a career that incorporates all that I learn.

Perhaps you are a prospective exchange student figuring out what you are getting yourself into by applying. If so, you will find this blog posts a useful source that highlights the benefits of studying abroad.

My exchange program is made possible in part by the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship Program administered by the Institute for International Education, the Long Island Caddie Scholarship Fund administered by the Long Island Golf Association, and International Academic Programs a department of Stony Brook University.