UGA Maymester student Emily Schoone reflects on her study abroad experience in Costa Rica. Thanks for taking the time to share, Em! :)
On a scenic walk back to campus after getting ice cream, my friend told me that she liked being “sustainable”. I asked her to clarify what she meant by that, and in summary, she told me that the general Costa Rican lifestyle of being mindful of waste and of the earth was something she could support. I agreed and asked her if this was something she was just now thinking about.
After all, UGA (where we both go to school) has been making small steps towards sustainability with a new bike program, a strong recycling emphasis, and the announcement that the coal burner will be taken down.
She then said that she knows about the benefits of living a “greener” lifestyle, but honestly, she didn’t really care to live it. This was surprising to me in the sense that the physical evidence of a rapidly disintegrating and unhealthy earth is visible, the evidence of which is apparent on both small and large scales.
However, I wasn’t completely surprised because I know how difficult it is to become a torchbearer in a “cause” such as this one. I don’t want to come across as another voice drowning in the sea of commands to use fewer paper towels or to live off the produce from your own garden. Life is about balance, as everyone always reminds me, and this teeter-totter of life includes the choices that we make with our time and money. My friend balances her own life in a way different from mine, and I greatly respect that.
That being said, the number of causes that exist in the world is vast, but is presumably related to the number of corresponding problems in this world, which is also vast. My friend’s honesty with herself and with me about her efforts towards sustainability put the reality about this “balance” into perspective for me. The efforts I personally put into raising awareness about current environmental issues (on and off campus) is parallel to the efforts that another individual may put into raising awareness about cyber-bullying or sexism.
You may think, “These issues aren’t on the same level,” which is the thought I believe my friend had. There are problems and their respective movements that resonate with us more than others, and this subjectivity does not mean that there should be “levels” of causes. The truth is that we don’t have the time or resources to contribute to all of the causes that we think matter.
But here is my case for tacking sustainability onto your list of lifestyle changes and onto my friend’s: the earth touches every living being and any small effort or lifestyle change that acknowledges that will move us as people in the right direction.
That’s all I’m saying—what you do with that is out of my hands. It’s a broad case, but bringing your own bags to the grocery store is a change in habit that has visible effects, just like an encouraging comment on social media. So, let my case matter to you or don’t, but just let something matter.
What’s the bottom line, you ask? There are things we care about and there are things we do something about. What I took from my time in Costa Rica may be a little different than expected. I have since returned from my study abroad and have thought about what I care about enough to do something about. Whether those actions are deed based, time based, financially based or something else, I want to consciously make an effort to identify the steps I can take towards the health of this planet and its people.
Blog post contribution by Emily Schoone, UGA Costa Rica Maymester study abroad student.