Sustainability and understanding

Maymester students bring back lessons from Germany

Lara Ducate says she hopes the students who traveled with her to Germany in May returned to the University of South Carolina with two key lessons learned.

“I hope they have a greater understanding for people of another culture and see we are really more similar than we’re different,” Ducate says. “And I hope that after seeing the sustainability practices there, they see what they can bring back and incorporate in their lives here.”

Ducate, a languages, literatures and cultures professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, led the Maymester Sustainability in Saxony-Anhalt course. She traveled with eight Carolina students — with majors ranging from German to engineering to environmental science — to a small village in the former East Germany, about two hours southwest of Berlin. As part of an exchange program with a high school that focuses on sustainability, the Carolina students were paired with high school students and their families.

Each day, the Carolina students ventured out on excursions to sites including a wind farm, an open pit coal mine, a bioethanol plant and vineyard that practiced sustainability. There also was a 28-mile bike ride that showed off both the scenery and the infrastructure of bicycle paths.

Ducate, who teaches courses on German language and culture along with foreign language teaching methods, also teaches a course at Carolina on sustainability in Germany, a country with a goal of being powered by 80 percent renewable energy by 2050. The Maymester course allowed students to see both the accomplishments and the obstacles involved in reaching that goal. It also offered the chance for Carolina students to live with German families, something Ducate believes is a major benefit of study abroad programs.

From the blog posts and daily reflections the students were required to write, it seems as if the lessons of global understanding and sustainability practices stuck. Students shared that they plan to ride their bicycles more, investigate the public transportation system and start composting at home. One student says he realized he wants to pursue a career in urban planning after spending time in Berlin, while another says the trip reinforced what he was taught in his environmental science classes at Carolina.

Ducate says several students also talked about the importance of global networking, planning to continue the relationships with their host families. In October, the German students who hosted the Carolina students will come to Columbia, where Ducate will put together a sustainability program for them.

“They didn’t see it as just a two-week program. One student wants to go to graduate school in Europe,” she says. “The environmental responsibility they saw in Germany — the recycling and the biking — they want to bring that back. They noticed how more Germans take this on. It’s baked into them through school and families. It’s a communal responsibility there; here it’s more personal. They want to be more environmentally aware and bring that into their own lives at home.”

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