Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Cheerio Chaps! - Andrew Sorge

Cheerio chaps!  My name is Andrew Sorge and I am a Senior, Social Science--Teaching major from West Des Moines, Iowa coming to you from across the pond in the gorgeous United Kingdom.  A few months ago I never would've imagined that I'd be enjoying the history and sights of London, the delights of British pubs and cuisine and the rugged beauty of the Welsh/English landscape.  But that is the great thing about study abroad, even a bloke like me who is only a few credits shy of graduation can have the chance to experience this sort of opportunity before closing the book on a wonderful college career.

Looking at a hydrogen fuel cell

 I will be the first to admit that the content of this course is not what drew me to take advantage of this summer opportunity.  I'm far from this class's expert on environmental issues and sustainability but I do recycle my bottles and cans and I make sure all of the lights are off in my house at night. What more could Louie the Lightning Bug ask for? The main reason I enrolled in the Capstone class, Sustainability in the United Kingdom was so that I could finally have my own study abroad experience before I graduate and become an educator within this state, and this trip to the United Kingdom felt like the perfect fit for a number of reasons:

       1. I speak English fluently.
       2. Two weeks abroad over the summer as opposed to one academic semester/year worked a bit better with my plans for student teaching and graduation
       3.The U.K. is vital to our own history and development as a nation but also could provide me with a unique economical, geographical, historical, political and social perspective that can be used in my future classroom.
       4. I could expand my limited knowledge on environmental issues and possibly utilize this to help out the University of Northern Iowa become a greener and more sustainable institution.

London was some kind of monster.  Chicago is probably the largest and busiest city I have ever been too and while London gives me nostalgia, there is no real comparison between the two.  Every road in London is crowded with people, shops and motorists (occasionally the sidewalk caters to the latter as well) and the Tube (London's extensive subway/rail system) seems to contain all 12 million of the cities residents at every terminal we try to use.  It's incredible how efficient the public transportation system of London is able to run despite such a large volume of local residents and the immense number of tourists that frequent the city each year.  This entire metropolitan area is close to the size of Black Hawk County yet it holds more than 75 times the population of Cedar Falls/Waterloo and twice the population of Iowa. That's bloody insane. I'm very thankful I don't live anywhere a city of that size.

Recycling on campus at the University of Birmingham

The people of England are something else as well.  Despite possessing a major focused on understanding cultural issues, history, geographical populations, etc...I still expected to fly from a state of mainly white, mild-mannered people fed by corn, livestock and beer to a country of mainly white, mild-mannered people fed by fried fish, livestock and beer.   England has held such a diverse population of residents that it's hard to believe that the United States is considered the "melting pot" (yes, I know the term is outdated).  But one has to realize that this country has been more or less, the most important global empire over the past 1000 years and has colonized, conquered and assimilated peoples and cultures on all inhabited continents.  And this diversity is what made our time in London so memorable (and tasty).   From my own perspective there was something amazing about seeing a group of people speaking converse in one language and give a stranger directions in another.  The amount of unique cultural interactions that I witnessed over the first several days of our trip was very exciting.  The people themselves seem aloof and unaware of others around them but for anyone who has been to a large crowded city, this is nothing unusual.  When talking to others in shops, on the buses, etc...everyone is friendly and helpful (whether you need directions to the next stop or just someone to snap a photo) although perhaps they can be a bit cheeky and sarcastic for their own amusement.

My favorite cultural experience so far has to relate to the Euro Cup (Europe's continental soccer tournament).  On one of our first nights in London a group of us went to a local pub to watch the match between England and Sweden.  Naturally the pub was packed with English supporters and the game was tied at 1-1.  Shortly after we arrived, Sweden scored to go up 2-1 and the pub immediately filled with groans and then went silent.  It was deflating, even for someone like me who roots for my ancestral fatherland of Germany and does not care for about any English results. But you could feel the disappointment of a nation from just the simple kick of a ball.  However, within moments the pub exploded in cheers as Danny Welbeck scored a fantastic equalizer to level the score at 2-2 and shortly afterwards the noise reached a fever pitch as England went ahead 3-2 and would eventually take the victory.  To have shared that exciting experience in England was incredible and something I will never forget as a football fan.

Of course, on a trip like this, you can't forget that your traditional home cooking is now a foreign concept when you go abroad and London is no place for someone who sticks to only grilled cheese or a burger when they eat out.  Fish and chips is obviously a classic British meal and there is no shortage of sellers on each block and pub you visit, but if you don't always feel like a heap of beer-battered, cholesterol and sodium filled fish and potato goodness then you won't be hard pressed to find numerous cuisine options for Indian, Lebanese, Ethiopian, Thai, Turkish, Italian, Chinese, French, Hispanic and many more cultures and nationalities.  Of course if you've gone mental and forgotten you can get a burger or sandwich back in the States, the U.K. is not lacking in the traditional American restaurants and fast food chains that we are used to back home.

A few of our hosts at the University of Birmingham

To get back onto the subject of the class and off of my ramblings, yesterday we visited the University of Birmingham to meet with several faculty members and students about the U of B's efforts to make their campus more sustainable and efficient.  To be honest, I was dreading this part of the trip.  It's summer, I had little interest in being anywhere on a college campus except for my front desk spot as UNI's Admissions Office.  Add in lectures and presentations on environmental sustainability efforts by a British university and I was already planning an elaborate escape route, but of course that ended up being unnecessary.  I thoroughly enjoyed listening to a few brief presentations about how the university had been vigorously reducing its campus emissions and carbon footprint as well as attempting to further educate its campus of 25,000 students and 10,000+ faculty on "going green".

The coolest thing wasn't how successful they had been or how simple their projects were but the fact that UNI has already begun undertaking similar projects such as switching over to LED lighting, installing systems to make lighting, heating and cooling processes more efficient and refurbishing (or in Baker Hall's case, demolishing) buildings that do not meet efficiency standards and expectations.  Just within the past year UNI has undertaken projects that by simply changing a few light bulbs will safe the university close to $50,000 in energy costs.  UNI am impressed.  We were also given the opportunity to learn about how the University of Birmingham was promoting their efforts to students and faculty with more creative marketing plans, activities and groups that would allow students to become directly involved in sustainability efforts and educating their campus more clearly on things as simple as what materials and items, specifically, are and are not recyclable. We Hopefully after this trip we will have a few more ideas and projects that we can implement to make our university even better and more sustainable for future generations of students and faculty.

As we are driving through the Welsh countryside the beauty the landscape around us is stunning.  There are massive green hills that weave through the towns and wooded peaks that reach far above the Irish Sea to the west.  The highway cuts right through the hills and we can see water flowing through drains and pores in the rocks which almost gives off the appearance that the hills are weeping.  But that notion is asinine, how could anyone be sad in a place this beautiful?

Today, June 19th, marks the approximate halfway point of our trip and I have not been disappointed.  This has already proven to be the trip I was hoping for and I cannot wait to see what the next week has in store for us.  Cheers mates, and Go Panthers!!