Journal Entry #1: Thoughts Before the Trip

A close-up picture of plants in a greenhouse.

A lot of traveling these last couple of days! I’m on the plane to Costa Rica now and even though I’m excited, I still feel a little apprehensive. I’m a serious homebody most of the time- I live in the Midwest and I love it. So leaving Traverse City yesterday, and Ann Arbor early (and I mean EARLY) this morning, I’ve had a little bit of an uneasy feeling. This is so outside my wheelhouse! But everyone in my family has lamented how they regret not studying abroad. So, I’m planning to make the most of it. I’m lucky enough to have received a scholarship to do the Food, Energy, and Water Systems course as my final class at U of M. I’ve looked over the itinerary, I’ve been back in the United States for a week now. Adjusting was both easier and harder than I imagined. I did not expect the jet lag to make me exhausted by 8pm. As someone who is appalled at the idea of going to sleep before midnight, the thought that I happily start my nightly routine at 11pm is hilarious. I miss the architecture of Europe, but I am grateful for the greasy pizza and abundant delivery options of Ann Arbor. Because of the inconsistent schedule in Vienna, with some museums and concerts being in the morning and others late at night, I feel like I haven’t been able to have a concrete schedule and catch up on the sleep I lost during winter semester finals yet. That being said, I wouldn’t change any of it.

Looking back, I am so glad I traveled abroad. I have traveled a little around the country but there is something totally mind-blowing about walking into a museum where almost nothing is in English. The ethnocentricity of American culture is not tolerated in Austria. Another aspect of Europe that I found very interesting and different than here was that they reminisce and looked back in nostalgia at their past kings, queens, and emperors. In America, we value our freedom so much, but there, people looked fondly on their fallen monarchies. I couldn’t help but wonder why and ask myself how these people could possible cherish a family that ruled over them for so many centuries. The differences in American culture and Austrias couldn’t be more apparent, they also couldn’t be more fascinating.

I think that the one aspect of studying abroad that really affected me the most was the freedom we had. I could choose most of my meals, whether that was eating in or out, that was my call. In between lecture and concerts, we could do whatever we wanted-- mainly get lost in the city and explore. I learned a lot about myself here. Walking around and people watching, pretending to be a local or the most tourist-y of tourists-- everything was my call. I will never forget my time in Austria, the food, the culture, the music, and all the memories I made with new friends was a wonderful experience that I will cherish forever.

I still don’t know exactly what the trip has in store; I just know that it’ll be totally applicable to the environmental policy career path I hope to pursue directly out of college!

I understand the class is pretty intensive, but I’m curious about where we’ll be staying. Earth U is supposed to have thousands of acres of rainforest for study. I wonder how much I’ll be able to access on foot? Will I have time to run? Will the humidity kill me if I try? Also a little concerned with dorm-style living with a stranger since my freshman year almost 6 years ago now (sheesh). I’m an out, gay man… will that be a problem for my roommate? Will I have to grapple with that at the school or on public tours?

Regardless, I’m looking out over the ocean now and getting so stoked to check out some of that foreign flora, see how a nation that still considered “developing” can be so sustainable- and how that is pitched to a partisan public, or in rural areas. Also can’t wait to get to know some of the other people who took the initiative to take this class! I hear we do almost everything together. And oh man, the food looks incredible.

Journal Entry #2: 2/3 of the Way

Students stand in a line observing a green structure.

I can’t believe it’s already been two weeks! I’m on the bus now, leaving EARTH’s Guacimo campus on our way to our final week in La Flor. The new place we’ll be staying is property that was donated to the school by a former Costa Rican president. Very cool.

As it turns out, my concerns were totally unfounded. I feel closer with this group than I have practically anyone else at U of M. In just two weeks it seems like we know everything about each other, and with good reason- we’ve spent almost all of every day together.

The roommate situation worked out great. I’m living with another polisci major who’s super progressive. As for the school in general, I was a little concerned about responding to questions about whether or not I have a “girlfriend” back home when introduced to some of the students- how would they react? But, about a week in was the international day against homophobia and transphobia. EARTH put up signs and served a flamboyant rainbow cake at lunch and made it clear- I don’t have anything to worry about here.

As for my other experiences, I’ve seen so much that I never thought I’d get to: wild sloths, iguanas, and howler monkeys, a sprawling pineapple farm, a cascading river with prehistoric cliffs on either side. I even faced my deep-rooted fear of heights and ziplined through a rainforest canopy. This has been an absolutely unforgettable experience. Can’t wait to see what the final week has in store!


Journal Entry #3: Reflections

A student holds a very small pineapple.

I’m on the plane with 5 other CGISers on the way back to Detroit. We spent yesterday seeing everyone else off on their post-class Costa Rican adventures, had our last dinner, last breakfast together. Now that it’s all quiet and calm on the plane and I am EXHAUSTED (but unable to sleep while flying), I have some time to reflect and look through my photos. It’s just unbelievable that we crammed everything in to three weeks. Like I said last time, I feel so close to all the other students, moreso than for any other class or org. It’s just a different way of living!

In the last chunk of our time here, we saw a geothermal energy plant, a wind farm, a rocket company with the only hydrogen-fueled bus between Houston and Brazil, 2/3 of a nearly-extinct waterbird population, and stayed in the remote but beautiful satellite campus of EARTH- surrounded by farms and forest. In our last class, we were testing out various metrics for defining a person’s footprint, and cheering each other on during the data entry. So fun.

I’m going to miss so much about this trip: constant company, the best breakfasts of my life, going on runs through small towns or open areas, and the landscapes from the bus window that just never got boring. I get why everyone living in CR is so enthusiastic about their country and friendly; how could you not be?! So glad I had this opportunity to finish out my time at UM with such a special class.


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