[also published here on the 2013 Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives Global Sustainability Studies Programs blogsite]
I left a piece of my heart in Washington, D.C in July 2008. At the time, I was sixteen, blissfully naïve, and participating in a program called the National Young Leadership Conference during which I spent ten days walking around our nation’s capitol in awe-struck wonder. Everything about the city from the beautifully crafted monuments to the history that envelops everything creates a unique, energetic atmosphere that I have never forgotten.
It hasn’t quite sunk in yet; it doesn’t seem real that I’m going back. I’ve dreamed of the day of my return for far too long for this to seem like reality. On that note, it doesn’t seem real that I will be visiting London on this trip, too. I have never been outside of the U.S., and if there had to be one city outside our borders that I could have chosen to visit first, London would have definitely been it.
Looking back at the description of the program I am going to participate in, I realize that of course it would take place in Washington, D.C. and in London. The comparison of sustainability across cultures and governments could not possibly be done outside of the political heart of the United States. And if D.C. is the heart of our country, London is certainly the cultural, economic, and bureaucratic center of the United Kingdom. Now, if I could pinpoint the most important thing that I have learned so far from my classes at the School of Sustainability, it would be that the concept of sustainability is ridiculously complicated. Its ties to all aspects of life, from society to economies to the environment, just add to its intricacy. Studying it from a political standpoint adds even further dimensions, but add another style of government to that analysis and forget about it. Truth be told, I am relieved I get to study this kind of complexity at the political centers of two of the most influential nations in the world. Where else could I possibly begin to understand policy and governance in sustainable systems unless I were actually where all things related to government are derived from?
Many months of happy anticipation later, I still don’t know what to expect from our meetings that will take place during the two weeks our program runs through. I’m predicting that I will sit in polite confusion for many of them. I’m really afraid I will ask some very obvious questions to which everyone else will know the answers, or fire off inquiries I should have already figured out on my own prior to the program. Because of the fact that the more I learn in the field of sustainability, the less I feel I actually know, I fully expect to be stumped, confused and more than a bit overwhelmed at times.
But I am discovering that the beauty of study abroad trips is that they are just as they sound: they are a chance to study, a chance to learn, and a chance to grow. I may not be the one with all the answers, but come June 15th, our departure date, I know I will be that one person in the group with a lot of the questions. I am so lucky to be able to ask them – and receive answers! – in two of the most incredible places on the planet.
Today, I’m twenty-one, still pretty naïve, and I still fully anticipate walking around both cities in awe-struck wonder. I may be a relatively inexperienced sustainability student, but I know that there are just some aspects of sustainability that cannot be taught; rather they must be felt and experienced in person. And as I soak in the unparalleled energy that D.C. thrives from and live through the excitement of being in London for the first time, I know I will learn more than I believed possible.
D.C., London, I hope you are ready for this study abroad group.
Here we come.