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UMass student spends spring break studying sustainability abroad

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Bgr/Wikimedia Commons

Bgr/Wikimedia Commons

For students like Jasmine Abdollahi, finding time during their undergraduate career to study abroad while fulfilling major requirements is often difficult and sometimes impossible.

As a physics major, Abdollahi must incorporate difficult courses into her schedule, which are rarely offered in programs abroad. However, through the Global Renewable Energy Education Network, also known as the GREEN program, she traveled to Iceland for a week in March.

“This is a really good program for people who can’t study for a semester or year abroad,” Abdollahi said. “It was good for me because in my major, it is really difficult to study abroad since there are really difficult classes, and typically if you’re abroad, you’re doing research.”

During her time in Iceland, Abdollahi learned about the renewable energy and sustainability initiatives taking place there.

“The program is targeted toward people who have interest in those things,” Abdollahi said. And while she noted that the program included undergrads primarily interested in science and engineering like herself, it was by no means restricted to any specific major.

During a group project she completed on the trip, Abdollahi said, “I was working with an engineering major, an environmental policy major and a Chinese major, so it was really cool to see people from all different fields interested in one thing.”

Abdollahi, along with 24 other students from across the United States, visited the Iceland School of Energy.

“Iceland has 100 percent sustainable energy,” Abdollahi said, explaining why the group chose Iceland as its destination. “It has 70 percent hydro-electric energy and 30 percent geothermal energy.”

The week-long trip included tours of different energy facilities across the country, as well as lectures from professors at the Iceland School of Energy.

“We got to ask super technical questions about how things work and the economics of it,” Abdollahi said, adding that the intensity and focus of the lectures were particularly impressive.

In addition to attending lectures, students in the GREEN program participated in a Capstone project.

“We each got to pick any field in renewable energy and do some sort of business proposal or research project,” Abdollahi said. At the end of the trip, the same professors that had given lectures also sat in on the students’ proposals.

“We got the facilities, the classes, the Capstone, so it was all really cool,” Abdollahi said.

The trip also included what Abdollahi referred to as “Iceland adventures.”  These trips included hiking, cave exploration and travel to other parts of the country.

“You hear they get their energy from rivers and geological energy, and when you hike up a mountain, you really see why because of the nature,” Abdollahi said. “You see steam rising from the ground and it’s really unique.”

Added Abdollahi: “When you’re in Iceland, you don’t feel like you’re in a country. You feel like you’re on Earth and seeing what it really is. The way their culture and environment is intertwined is really unique.”

In addition to immersing herself in the Icelandic environmental physically, Abdollahi also found herself immersed culturally. She said that the food, in particular, was nothing short of a culture shock.

After being introduced to the cuisine of Iceland, Abdollahi said, “We were having really nice creamy soups and fish and potatoes, but the food they tried to scare us with was sheep heads.”

Overall, Abdollahi said her trip to Iceland with the GREEN program was powerful in exposing her to a new culture and helped expand her understanding of sustainability.

“I’m hoping more people from UMass hear about it,” she said.

The GREEN program also hosts trips to Costa Rica and Peru, which focuses on renewable energy and sustainable irrigation systems, respectively.

Katrina Borofski can be reached at [email protected]

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