Vassar College Digital Library
This paper explores the fundamental tension between mobility and the environmental consequences of the transportation that allows for that movement, zeroing in on the paradox of studying abroad in order to learn about climate or environmental sciences. With this, I consider what makes students feel justified in participating in such programs, whether the perceived benefits of these experiences outweigh the environmental costs, and how these programs play into the larger discourse of sustainability and tourism. By framing travel —air travel in particular— as technology embedded with political and cultural ideals, I analyze how and why concepts of mobility influence student choices, as well as how these tensions are navigated by its participants. Through exploring the history and objectives of these types of travel-intensive programs in conjunction with the historical purposes of travel and study abroad, considering the climate impact of air travel, and relating concepts of "Academic Flying" to study abroad, I question why students feel entitled to the privilege of embarking on such an environmentally detrimental journey, and whether such programs should even exist. My research culminates in surveying over 200 School for International Training (SIT) and School for Field Studies (SFS) study abroad alumni about how the climate impact of their travel abroad impacted their decision to participate in their program, whether or not they discussed or thought about their climate impact over the course of the semester, as well as how they would respond to criticism regarding travel for the purpose of discussing climate change. I conclude that the choice is messy; while the benefits of these study abroad experiences may outweigh the environmental costs of the travel required, this is not always the case. With this, students engage in a level of somnambulism, where they fail to question the concept of study abroad and think critically about the potential repercussions of their actions. This can in part be attributed to the social and cultural capital that travel promises, and the lack of reflexivity promoted by both study abroad organizations and students' home institutions.