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Study Away Amidst the Climate Crisis

When I returned from a study abroad program in Peru, studying African and Indigenous resistance to colonialism through arts and culture within a Peruvian context, in the summer of 2019, people kept asking me about my trip. “Was it incredible?!” they asked.

My response has been, “I wouldn’t use that word to describe it.” Formative, perhaps? Life changing? Critical thought provoking? Heart opening? Pandora’s box opening? Deeper down the rabbit hole-esque?

I do carry extremely beautiful memories with me from the trip: The night I slept alone, under the stars, next to a fire, hugged by the valley of Ollantaytambo. The spirit-filled, sacred Apus (mountains). Being so high up in them with such crisp air and such a lack of electric light that I felt like I could reach out and touch the milky way.

These were some of the sweet moments, but it definitely did not feel like a vacation. We were participating in experiential learning for perhaps 8-12 hours a day. And on top of this we were traveling, reading a plethora of literature, writing reflections and, somehow, amidst it all, we tried to find time to process all that we were learning.

In the constant reflecting on my trip to Peru, what has stuck out to me the most is not so much the internal war with Shining Path, or the Peruvian government’s exploitation of Amazonian Tribes, or the glorification of the Incas while modern day Indios (Indigenous people) are exploited, or not even the horrific spiritual colonization of ayahuasca and spiritually hungry people looking for quick fixes through shamanism on their 2 week vacations. What has stuck out the most to me since being home has been the idea studying abroad itself. 

I am a total advocate for the global citizen. I believe that when we travel the world it broadens our perspective of one another, of humanity, of life itself. As Mark Twain said: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” But, despite this, there is another factor we must consider when thinking of studying abroad: the simple truth that if we keep emitting carbon into the atmosphere at the rate we are, our great grandchildren will have a scary future. 

And now, here I sit, in my bedroom amidst the coronavirus – taking all classes online at the University of Washington, observing animals come back to cities where some haven’t been seen in over 50 years. Looking at satellite photos of airborne nitrogen dioxide disappearing in the atmosphere as we quarantine. 

I am not saying that we should stop living our lives together. But I do question if we should be thinking deeper and more seriously about our impact and be questioning not what are the solutions to keep living exactly the way we are on a finite planet, but rather what behaviors we need to shift in order to support the regeneration of our living planet. 

The flying that my study abroad trip to Peru required emitted roughly 2.7 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, which is more than the average Peruvian emits in an entire year.

As an advocate for climate justice, this fact mirrors a lack of congruency on my end when, as Andrew King, a climate research at the University of Melbourne in Australia, points out: “…the richest countries that produce[d] the most emissions are the least affected by heat when average temperatures climb to just 2 degrees Celsius [3.6 degrees Fahrenheit] while poorer nations bear the brunt of changing local climates and the consequences that come with them.” 

We are in a climate crisis and I question my own desires at whose expense?

Before I toss some ideas about how your way, take a look at this infographic. It shows us how the total annual carbon emissions of Elena, a Quechua woman I met in the Andes and Jorge, an artist I met in Lima, are less than my roundtrip flights from Seattle to Lima. 

Possible Alternatives

I feel like we are so excited to see new places and get to know different cultures, when there are so many cultures right here in the USA, right under our noses that we may not even know about! 

Can you imagine taking a train to the Dakota’s and learning in reciprocity with  Lakota people and culture? Or what about the plethora of Coast Salish Tribes right here in Oregon, Washington and B.C.? Or what if you could spend time with communities doing guerrilla gardening or spend time in San Francisco with legends from the LGBTQ movement or travel to the south and visit plantations and learn first hand about slavery and the underground railroad? Or what about taking a trip to Selma, Alabama, and walking the 54-mile march to Montgomery? What about a Wilderness awareness program in the Hoh rainforest or a marine science study in the San Juan Islands (with a bunch of whale watching from kayaks of course). Or a permaculture and eco-humanities study in the Olympic Peninsula? The ideas that are coming to me are endless! 

I also propose reciprocity with consent. One way to change things is to give back. What does it look like to give to the community we are visiting? Have we created authentic relationships that allow us to ask what we can do for that community? Does it look like painting a community mural in a mechanical district with consent? Does it look like cleaning up streets filled with garbage? Does it look like arts and cultural exchange? Does it look like making hosts a meal? Or upon departure, writing them a thank you letter with a gift? Is it giving back to the land by planting native foods? Does it look like going home and being an advocate for long term solutions like systemic change, decolonization and climate justice? Could it be that I am an editor for a magazine and can use my platform to create space for these voices to be heard? For me, the most important takeaway is authentic connection and giving back, making the land and the people feel honored in the way that the land and people honored us.


Study abroad doesn’t have to end but rather can be metamorphosed into study away within a domestic context. This would also support the undocumented students who are not able to leave the country, therefore making study abroad not only a climate issue, but an equitable one as well. 

So I ask you, what ideas can you come up with for a study away that doesn’t involve getting on an airplane? 

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