Living Sustainably While Studying Abroad

Are you passionate about preserving our planet? Living sustainably is something everyone can choose to do, international students included. Creating a more livable world for everyone sometimes feels like an overwhelming challenge. But the key is twofold: stay hopeful, and know that every action you take has an impact.

As Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson, co-editors of All We Can Save, share in the anthology’s conclusion, “Onward”:

So, where do we go from here? First, we take a breath. It’s a lot. And in some ways, we as humans were not designed for a crisis this massive and all-encompassing. In other ways, we were made for this moment. What we do now is dream. From a foundation of science and community, we must imagine the future we want to live in, and the future we want to pass on, and every day do something to reel the dream closer to reality.

Let’s look at a few ideas for living sustainably while studying abroad below. These are just a few ideas to get you started, so don’t be afraid to add to this list!

Daily Life

There are lots of small switches you can make to live sustainably. Plus, many of these changes are good news for your student budget.

Whether you’re on a student meal plan or buying groceries, choosing more plant-based foods can save you money. Just make sure you’re still getting enough protein! Foods like quinoa, soy milk, chickpeas, beans, and even wholegrain rice are great picks. Eggs and cheese are good vegetarian options, as well.

Active transportation also has benefits that are good for you and good for the earth. Try walking to class, biking to a study date, or taking a scooter to your part-time job. You’ll get fresh air, improve your lung capacity, and build stronger leg muscles. Plus, parking is usually easier to find, and almost always free. In more extreme climates or for longer trips, consider carpooling or public transit.

Planning a party? From thrifting your outfit to using reusable or compostable dishes and decorations, small actions can make even the biggest party more sustainable. Before the party, find out who’s glad to take leftovers home at the end of the night. This cuts down on food waste (and can make your friends who hate to cook very happy)!

Sustainable Practices in Class

Sustainability can also be part of your class syllabus. Australia’s Group of Eight Universities’ Living Laboratory publication shares research, ethical purchasing, and energy management achievements. These projects are often built into coursework, and have real-world impact. 

The University of Melbourne has increased Fair Trade product purchasing through their Faculty of Business’ practicum program. And, at Monash University, food waste is diverted from landfills by using green bins.

Student Action

International students can’t vote in political elections when abroad. But you can vote for, volunteer with, or be student council candidates who encourage sustainable practices. Student councils look at issues students face, and advocate for policies that improve their lives. Check out the Western University Student Council page for ideas. That said, don’t forget to vote by mail in elections in your home country while you’re studying abroad!

Other student groups can make a difference, too. Here are some success stories:

  • The award-winning Sustainability Leadership Council at McEwan University managed projects ranging from Green Spaces (where students coach the university’s administration on green strategies) to addressing stationery waste.
  • University of Guelph students were key to the university’s journey to divest from fossil fuel companies in its portfolio. Chair of the Board of Governors, Shauneen Bruder, noted: “Our students helped the University shape our thinking and timing about the positive actions needed to meet the complex challenge of climate change.”
  • University of the Pacific’s Green Team encourages recycling and composting during student move in/move out. They also promote recycling at major events.
  • At the University of Idaho, student volunteers have planted over 6,000 native trees. This prevents erosion and restores the local ecosystem.

Like any change, it’s best to start small. Then, build that energy into something bigger. By introducing small changes in your life to make it more sustainable, you can encourage those around you to start doing the same. By working together on a project you care about, more impactful changes will occur. 

We hope these strategies give you ideas on how to get started with living sustainably while abroad!

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