A Semester in Ireland

kurtThis spring I studied abroad in Cork, Ireland. I lived in the city and attended UCC Cork. My experience was, in a world, incredible. Having been born and raised in Montana, I was completely unprepared for living in an urban city halfway across the world. Still, studying abroad was the one thing that I absolutely wanted to do in college, and I am extremely grateful that it was possible. As part of the GLI program, I have a unique theme and challenge that I wanted to research. My goal was to examine how international policy programs can effectively fuel environmental protection efforts.

Cork is fortunate enough to be one of the multicultural towns in Ireland. I was able to meet and become friends with several French, Italian, Spanish, and (of course) Irish students over the course of the semester. I was also been fortunate enough to travel across Europe at various points throughout the semester, which has helped me discover just how diverse and complex the world is. I’ve had conversations with my Portuguese roommate about the refugee crisis, witnessed a march against Brexit in London, and was part of a rally for science outside the Pantheon in Italy. More than anything, during my time abroad I’ve been made aware of how little I really know about the world. I’m forced to wonder how to best spur international cooperation on the issue of climate change. The problem doesn’t have an easy answer. However, I don’t believe it is impossible to solve the problem. There are a variety of small steps many countries have taken to work towards lessening carbon emissions. One of the major bus companies in Germany, for example, gives customers the option to pay a small amount more to purchase a carbon-offset for their bus trip. The extra money will go towards funding programs in Germany or developing countries that promote more sustainable business practices.

I also took the time to do some independent research and observations on climate change and environmental efforts in Europe, as was a part of my goal when originally coming here. Ireland has several areas where policies and regulations produce excellent energy results. Recycling is more prominent in Ireland than America, for example. Regarding my challenge, I’ve realized how difficult it is to communicate the causes and effects of climate change. Raised in suburban Montana, I took it for granted that people were at least aware that greenhouse gas emissions are a long-term problem. Since travelling, I’ve realized that this is not always the case. We should take greater efforts to not only combat the problem, but also to improve general awareness of the issue. In the U.S. especially, recent discussions over current political actions and environmental leadership have convinced me that there is a need for action. We will need political support in order to make any meaningful progress in slowing human-caused climate change. The European Union has enacted programs such as the Carbon Emissions Trading Scheme in an effort to reduce overall emissions without damaging the European economy. Norway, as well, has contributed substantially to REDD, a program designed to reduce emissions from deforestation. I believe that we in the US can emulate these political actions. However, in the current political economy, it will take substantial pressure from grassroots organizations and corporations to progress towards meaningful change. I feel that as a result of having studied abroad and talking to so many different people I am more ready to take action in local and national efforts. We have many challenges to tackle, but taking action begins with efforts as simple as having conversations about the topic.

I feel that my time spent abroad helped to widen my view of the world. I remain amazed at the many achievements so many people I met abroad have met. I spoke to one man who was hitchhiking across Europe so that he could teach in Iran. I saw pictures of a mural one refugee painted after years spent seeking a new home in Scotland. And I hope that I can achieve a fraction of what these incredible individuals have done.
Thanks for reading.
Kurt Swimley

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