Wednesday, April 23, 2014


Coming from Hawaii, I’m sure most of us have participated in at least one beach clean-up at some point since arriving on the island.

And if not, shame on you.

Anyway, I think people are slowly coming around to the ideas of environmentalism and at least picking up after ourselves. BUT some places in the world do not have the same resources for waste management that we have in the US. If somebody told you that there are terraformed landfills that extract methane gas and can be built upon, I’m sure you wouldn’t be too surprised.

Now if I told you that there are people who live off of landfills and supplement what (if any) income they have with scavenging from piles of waste for anything from scrap metal to food, that might be a bit harder to take. My program and I went to Panama for a weekend, considering it’s so close. We were excited to have a beach day and swim and all that jazz.

However, almost immediately after crossing the border into Panama, we could tell that the standard of living in these more rural areas was dismal at best. People are tied to the lands that are owned by large agriculture corporations. The wages they make are barely enough to live on, so they don’t have much of a chance to leave. This means that their children are also stuck in the same situation, and the cycle continues.

We saw an enormous landfill that went all the way up to the road, and a man sifting through looking for who-knows-what. In probably the most sadistic irony I've ever experienced, “We are the World” was playing on a 1970’s-80’s mixtape the driver had.

Nothing puts your socioeconomic status into perspective more than when you’re going somewhere to lounge about, spend money and eat fresh fruit (fruit probably grown by the same people I’m talking about), all the while passing people on the road that have to work 12+ hours a day in pesticide ridden fields making a wage that is barely livable by anyone’s standards.

And then you see things like this. This unnecessarily large boat is floating not even a ten minute boat ride from the same garbage piles and shacks we had passed coming into the country.

It took me studying abroad to put everything I had ever read about, heard about, or saw on TV to actually understand exactly what is going on in the world. Study abroad is an experience that you can tailor to whatever you want it to be.

You want parties? You got ‘em.

You want profound learning experiences? You got ‘em.

You want both? You got ‘em.

My recommendation is to just get out there and see the things you learn about in your textbooks.


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