Monday, June 25, 2012

Wales - Kara Poppe

I loved Wales. Wales was filled with beauty. There were rolling hills, purple flowers, and fluffy sheep as far as the eye can see. The Welsh are very proud of their heritage. Every sign is in Welsh first, then in English. Their flags stand strong everywhere, even through the constant winds and drizzles. Our short time in Wales brought great outdoor adventures. Anyone who knows me knows that I love anything outdoors, so of course, Wales was my favorite part of this trip. Wales is definitely eco-friendly, too. They have reduced rubbish pick up and recycling is stressed everywhere. Despite the lack of sunshine, solar panels are popular on homes. I also witnessed many wind turbines around. There was even a wind farm in the Irish Sea. However, what stuck out to me most was that it is mandatory everywhere in Wales for a store to charge at least five pence per bag used in a store. This is one idea that I would love to see brought to UNI. So much waste can be avoided by one simple measure.

Kara Poppe and Jill Thompson on the Great Orme in Llandudno, Wales

In our incredible two days in Llandudno, I enjoyed exploring the beaches and the Great Orme. Something about being outside and not knowing what will be around the next hill fascinates me. After Llandudno, we were off for a hike Mt. Snowdon, the highest peak in Wales. Of course, Mother Nature had some of the poorest weather planned for us that day, but I had been looking forward to reaching the summit for months, so I was determined to give it a try. Luckily, it ended up not being nearly as cold, rainy, and windy as had been originally forecasted. After four hours of hiking in clouds, drinking buckets of water, and repeating encouraging words, we had sixteen Panthers on the top of Wales. Even though we could not see anything from the summit, it was one incredible moment for our class. This was my fifth mountain climbing experience, but Mt. Snowdon was particularly memorable because it reinforced the skills you can learn from the outdoors. Teamwork, motivation, and endurance. Even after walking 20,000 steps and having a sore body, climbing Mt. Snowdon with everybody was by far my favorite day.

Standing on the Summit of Mt Snowdon in Thick Clouds

We also went canyoning in Wales. If you do not know what that is (as I did not before I looked it up), then try imagining what whitewater rafting without the raft would be like. The water levels were extremely high, so we could not do the route originally planned, but our route still brought many challenges and adventures. We walked through raging waters, climbed over slippery rocks, and "swam" through the gorge. Even though the water was very chilly, spirits were high, and we have crazy videos to prove it.

Yesterday, we ventured to the Centre for Alternative Technology. This place has been leading environmental technology for years. Since I love anything environmentally friendly, this was definitely my kind of place. I loved it. They practice what they preach. The CAT focused on environmental issues ranging from climate change to organic gardening. Fun features of the center were composting stations, a worm slide, a mole tunnel, and a wind seat. They even had a research toilet, where they were collecting poo for experiments.  I especially liked the CAT, because they identified problems, but they also provided solutions that every day people can incorporate into their lives. However, what stood out most to me was that Great Britain has made a Carbon Zero by 2030 commitment. The CAT outlined a plan for how Great Britain can achieve this goal. Some of the areas were alternative energy, transportation, and food. The United States is behind in its commitment to the planet; it would be amazing if the United States could follow in the United Kingdom's footsteps.

UNI students at the Centre for Alternative Technology

After visiting Powis Castle, we said goodbye to Wales and headed back to Birmingham. We were all quite sad to leave the beautiful countryside to return to the hectic city. However, there are still adventures in store.

Today, we traveled back in history to the early 1900s when this area of the United Kingdom was known as the "Black Country." We visited the Black Country Living Museum, which focuses on the importance of coal mining in the country's history. The museum is similar to Living History Farms. The village townspeople were very informative. When talking with one lady, I was shocked to learn how much coal was used in the homes. The coal fire burned 24/7 in practically everyone's homes. Most men worked in the coalmines.  I cannot imagine how unhealthy that lifestyle would have been. The village also highlighted foods of the time. They had great fish and chips! Then, we went on a canal tour, which was much more exciting than I had expected. The canals were created to mine limestone. We viewed huge karsts and fossils in the canals. However, the highlight of the canal tour was when Eric volunteered to walk the barge with his legs. We ended our Black Country Living Museum experience with a tour of a replica coal mine. This truly exemplified the poor and dangerous working conditions that boys as early as nine worked in. In comparing the CAT with the Black Country Living Museum, I am impressed in the radical steps the United Kingdom has created in their commitment to alternative energy in just the last century.  I learned that the United Kingdom has come far since their primary coal days, but it will always remain as an important part of their history.

We are ending an educational and fun day by watching the England versus Italy football game. Even I am beginning to like watching this sport, and yes, I am rooting for England!

Hello from Wales - KaLeigh White

Hello from Wales! My name is KaLeigh White, and I am a junior Sociology and Public Administration major from Ottumwa, Iowa. I write to you today on day 10 (June 22, 2012) of UNI's Sustainability Capstone in England and Wales. This trip marks my first experience abroad, and it has yet to disappointment me. I came on this trip to experience new cultures, see some history important to the United States, and of course, to fulfill the Capstone requirement of my Liberal Arts Core classes.

I will be the first to admit that "going green" is not a passion of mine but I am always interested in improving life at UNI, and naturally, saving UNI money. Thus, exploring the benefits that going green can offer UNI is of interest to me.  Since arriving in the United Kingdom, I have noticed several sustainable efforts everywhere we go. (I am not sure if I am noticing more because of the topic of this Capstone, but I would venture to say that being green is much more prominent here than in the United States). Kara and Andrew both mentioned several examples of sustainability in their blogs and the number of these examples have only increased since. We are currently staying at Bala-Backpackers Hostel where the owner, Ms. Stella, has no shortage of signs/notes regarding being environmentally friendly  (and signs about everything else under the sun). Every room has a sign that reminds you to sort out your "rubbish” and recycle. The bathrooms are plastered with reminders to conserve every drop of water and low flow showers (that shut off every 15 seconds). Next to the kitchen trashcan,  Ms. Stella notes that one "wheelie bin" of trash is all that is needed for 40 backpackers over a two-week time frame. I find that to be truly amazing. My home uses one "wheelie bin" every week for three people. I hope to learn from this minimalist life style and, like them, use fewer disposable products.

Just as I would like to come back to Iowa a little greener, a large part of this trip is to bring new sustainability ideas back to UNI. This is a huge challenge indeed. As they mentioned at the University of Birmingham, changing the habits and mindset of people is a huge challenge. After all, humans are creatures of habits. Additionally, many of us at UNI have everything we need. We do not worry about running out of clean water. We can generally afford everything we need (or want), and it is just a quick trip in the car when we run out of our paper towels, bottled water, chemical cleaning products or anything else we could possibly "need." I can barely even imagine what it would take to replace all the paper towel dispensers on UNI's campus with hand dryers or to convince students to take shorter showers (I don't know if I could even convince myself of that). I think this will be the biggest task of the UNI Sustainability Capstone class.

Now, let's move on to the spectacular Wales. Tonight is our last night here, and I do not want to leave. I do not think any of us do. The scenery is breathtaking no matter where you look. All of the little towns we have visited have a massive amount of character. Since we arrived the weather has been surprisingly nice. We were expecting constant rain, but today was the first day that we caught a few showers.

KaLeigh White, Stephanie Hogan, and Jill Thompson on the beach in Llandudno, Wales.

The first place we stayed at was the Westdale Hotel in Llandudno, Wales. It was adorable and well kept by the owners, Lesley and Simon. They made it all that anyone could hope for and more. They welcomed us with open arms and a friendly face. Lesley made us a delightful English breakfast our first morning, and later, a great sack lunch for hike up Mt. Snowdon.   On our last night, Simon joined us for conversation in the living room, and in the morning when we left, they stood in the doorway to wave us goodbye. But I am getting ahead of myself, so much happened before that goodbye.

Andrew Sorge and KaLeigh White in one of the towers at Conwy Castle in Conwy, Wales.

Our first night in Llandudno, we enjoyed a group dinner at the Whetherspoon, and then, we explored the shore and the hillside. It was beautiful beyond words. I could have sat forever on top of the hill that overlooked the city. The next morning, we hopped onto the city bus (the public transportation is amazing throughout the United Kingdom) to visit Conwy Castle.  The castle, like the rest of Wales, was stunning. We climbed the towers, enjoyed the views, and soaked up the history.  Before leaving Conwy, we meandered around the village's shops and enjoyed some traditional fish and chips at the port.

After Conwy, we headed to the cable car in Llandudno that went over the Great Orme. Three of the girls were lucky enough to ride in the same cable car that the Olympic torch went up the Orme in. Again, the views were awesome.  Once we had soaked up enough of the sights, we headed down the hillside to enjoy some dinner in downtown Llandudno and a relaxing evening in the Westdale living room.

KaLeigh White descending Mt. Snowdon

Bright and early (too early), we woke up to breakfast with Lesley and Simon before Nigel (our coach driver) picked our luggage and us up to "enjoy" Mt. Snowdon. About an hour after leaving the Westdale, we arrived in the mountains, and Nigel dropped us off near the end of our trail up the mountain. The spirits in the group were mixed. Many of us were very excited, while others of us were nervous. It was not long before we were all feeling "the burn". We would be feeling the burn for 4 hours up that mountain. The climb up took a little bit of teamwork, some encouragement, and a lot of endurance. There was a thick fog blocking what we knew were spectacular views the whole way up. I, along with the rest of the group, was really bummed by this. But as condensation collected on our eyelashes and after a number of breaks, we finally made it to the top. That was the best feeling in the world. We had done it together, and despite being exhausted and cold, spirits were high. It was a great moment to share with these wonderful people who I have only known for a few weeks. I think it really brought our group together.   You could feel the comradery bursting at the seams.

We briefly caught our breath and warmed up before heading down the mountain. Just as we were leaving the summit, the fog cleared and we were blessed with views beyond our wildest dreams. The whole way down we took tons of pictures and gazed upon the grace and peacefulness of our surroundings. The path we followed down was more challenging, but faster.  It was fun climbing over and round the rocks of the mountain side (even though I fell A LOT). We eventually reached the bottom 2.5 hours later, a little wet (or really wet) from the rain.  A short time later, we arrived exhausted, sore, and did I mention wet to Bala-Backpacker's Hostel. We warmed up with a wonderful shower, refueled at a pizza and pasta restaurant, and then crawled into bed for a slumber.

Daylight came much too early the next morning. I awoke slightly sore and still a little tired. My spirits were lifted (a little) by breakfast from Ms. Stella, and before long, Paul from the RYG Outdoor Centre came to pick us up for a day of canyoning. (For those who may not know what canyoning is -- as I did not before today -- canyoning is a relatively new outdoor sport were people scramble, swim, rappel, and slip their way down gorges.) With the rain drizzling down, we fought our way into wetsuits and life jackets at the centre, and then headed in a coach to the gorge. Canyoning was extremely cold, and we all had our fair share of slips and falls. Our two guides, Paul and Rob, had to prevent the stream (or small river) from carrying me away several times.  Time seemed to fly, and before I knew it, we were making our way back to the RYG Centre. Despite the fact that I could not feel my toes, I could not wipe the smile off of my face.

Today ended with a very relaxing evening. I regained the feeling in my toes after a warm shower, made a quick trip to the store for a snack, and took a short nap. I awoke from the nap to enjoy a homemade, or should I say "hostel-made," group dinner of pasta, fruit, and garlic bread with ice cream for dessert. As I write this and the day winds down, laughter bounces throughout the hostel's walls and the games have only just begun. Can this trip get any better? Sorry "Mum", but I may be moving to Wales. Goodnight, or as they would say in Welsh "Nos Da".

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Cheerio Chaps! - Andrew Sorge

Cheerio chaps!  My name is Andrew Sorge and I am a Senior, Social Science--Teaching major from West Des Moines, Iowa coming to you from across the pond in the gorgeous United Kingdom.  A few months ago I never would've imagined that I'd be enjoying the history and sights of London, the delights of British pubs and cuisine and the rugged beauty of the Welsh/English landscape.  But that is the great thing about study abroad, even a bloke like me who is only a few credits shy of graduation can have the chance to experience this sort of opportunity before closing the book on a wonderful college career.

Looking at a hydrogen fuel cell

 I will be the first to admit that the content of this course is not what drew me to take advantage of this summer opportunity.  I'm far from this class's expert on environmental issues and sustainability but I do recycle my bottles and cans and I make sure all of the lights are off in my house at night. What more could Louie the Lightning Bug ask for? The main reason I enrolled in the Capstone class, Sustainability in the United Kingdom was so that I could finally have my own study abroad experience before I graduate and become an educator within this state, and this trip to the United Kingdom felt like the perfect fit for a number of reasons:

       1. I speak English fluently.
       2. Two weeks abroad over the summer as opposed to one academic semester/year worked a bit better with my plans for student teaching and graduation
       3.The U.K. is vital to our own history and development as a nation but also could provide me with a unique economical, geographical, historical, political and social perspective that can be used in my future classroom.
       4. I could expand my limited knowledge on environmental issues and possibly utilize this to help out the University of Northern Iowa become a greener and more sustainable institution.

London was some kind of monster.  Chicago is probably the largest and busiest city I have ever been too and while London gives me nostalgia, there is no real comparison between the two.  Every road in London is crowded with people, shops and motorists (occasionally the sidewalk caters to the latter as well) and the Tube (London's extensive subway/rail system) seems to contain all 12 million of the cities residents at every terminal we try to use.  It's incredible how efficient the public transportation system of London is able to run despite such a large volume of local residents and the immense number of tourists that frequent the city each year.  This entire metropolitan area is close to the size of Black Hawk County yet it holds more than 75 times the population of Cedar Falls/Waterloo and twice the population of Iowa. That's bloody insane. I'm very thankful I don't live anywhere a city of that size.

Recycling on campus at the University of Birmingham

The people of England are something else as well.  Despite possessing a major focused on understanding cultural issues, history, geographical populations, etc...I still expected to fly from a state of mainly white, mild-mannered people fed by corn, livestock and beer to a country of mainly white, mild-mannered people fed by fried fish, livestock and beer.   England has held such a diverse population of residents that it's hard to believe that the United States is considered the "melting pot" (yes, I know the term is outdated).  But one has to realize that this country has been more or less, the most important global empire over the past 1000 years and has colonized, conquered and assimilated peoples and cultures on all inhabited continents.  And this diversity is what made our time in London so memorable (and tasty).   From my own perspective there was something amazing about seeing a group of people speaking converse in one language and give a stranger directions in another.  The amount of unique cultural interactions that I witnessed over the first several days of our trip was very exciting.  The people themselves seem aloof and unaware of others around them but for anyone who has been to a large crowded city, this is nothing unusual.  When talking to others in shops, on the buses, etc...everyone is friendly and helpful (whether you need directions to the next stop or just someone to snap a photo) although perhaps they can be a bit cheeky and sarcastic for their own amusement.

My favorite cultural experience so far has to relate to the Euro Cup (Europe's continental soccer tournament).  On one of our first nights in London a group of us went to a local pub to watch the match between England and Sweden.  Naturally the pub was packed with English supporters and the game was tied at 1-1.  Shortly after we arrived, Sweden scored to go up 2-1 and the pub immediately filled with groans and then went silent.  It was deflating, even for someone like me who roots for my ancestral fatherland of Germany and does not care for about any English results. But you could feel the disappointment of a nation from just the simple kick of a ball.  However, within moments the pub exploded in cheers as Danny Welbeck scored a fantastic equalizer to level the score at 2-2 and shortly afterwards the noise reached a fever pitch as England went ahead 3-2 and would eventually take the victory.  To have shared that exciting experience in England was incredible and something I will never forget as a football fan.

Of course, on a trip like this, you can't forget that your traditional home cooking is now a foreign concept when you go abroad and London is no place for someone who sticks to only grilled cheese or a burger when they eat out.  Fish and chips is obviously a classic British meal and there is no shortage of sellers on each block and pub you visit, but if you don't always feel like a heap of beer-battered, cholesterol and sodium filled fish and potato goodness then you won't be hard pressed to find numerous cuisine options for Indian, Lebanese, Ethiopian, Thai, Turkish, Italian, Chinese, French, Hispanic and many more cultures and nationalities.  Of course if you've gone mental and forgotten you can get a burger or sandwich back in the States, the U.K. is not lacking in the traditional American restaurants and fast food chains that we are used to back home.

A few of our hosts at the University of Birmingham

To get back onto the subject of the class and off of my ramblings, yesterday we visited the University of Birmingham to meet with several faculty members and students about the U of B's efforts to make their campus more sustainable and efficient.  To be honest, I was dreading this part of the trip.  It's summer, I had little interest in being anywhere on a college campus except for my front desk spot as UNI's Admissions Office.  Add in lectures and presentations on environmental sustainability efforts by a British university and I was already planning an elaborate escape route, but of course that ended up being unnecessary.  I thoroughly enjoyed listening to a few brief presentations about how the university had been vigorously reducing its campus emissions and carbon footprint as well as attempting to further educate its campus of 25,000 students and 10,000+ faculty on "going green".

The coolest thing wasn't how successful they had been or how simple their projects were but the fact that UNI has already begun undertaking similar projects such as switching over to LED lighting, installing systems to make lighting, heating and cooling processes more efficient and refurbishing (or in Baker Hall's case, demolishing) buildings that do not meet efficiency standards and expectations.  Just within the past year UNI has undertaken projects that by simply changing a few light bulbs will safe the university close to $50,000 in energy costs.  UNI am impressed.  We were also given the opportunity to learn about how the University of Birmingham was promoting their efforts to students and faculty with more creative marketing plans, activities and groups that would allow students to become directly involved in sustainability efforts and educating their campus more clearly on things as simple as what materials and items, specifically, are and are not recyclable. We Hopefully after this trip we will have a few more ideas and projects that we can implement to make our university even better and more sustainable for future generations of students and faculty.

As we are driving through the Welsh countryside the beauty the landscape around us is stunning.  There are massive green hills that weave through the towns and wooded peaks that reach far above the Irish Sea to the west.  The highway cuts right through the hills and we can see water flowing through drains and pores in the rocks which almost gives off the appearance that the hills are weeping.  But that notion is asinine, how could anyone be sad in a place this beautiful?

Today, June 19th, marks the approximate halfway point of our trip and I have not been disappointed.  This has already proven to be the trip I was hoping for and I cannot wait to see what the next week has in store for us.  Cheers mates, and Go Panthers!!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Panther Traveling the World - Kara Poppe

Hi, my name is Kara Poppe, and I am a sophomore Geography: Environmental Systems major. Throughout the last several years, I have taken a greater interest in environmental issues. I jumped on the opportunity to go on this trip to expand my passion to the international level. So, here I am in London with 14 other awesome UNI students seeing how other cultures interact with our world. First, I noticed that there are signs in our hostel about "saving the planet." They encourage really short showers and recycling everywhere.  In the bathrooms (or the "toilets" as the British call it), I have yet to see a paper towel! I have really noticed how they do not use disposable products. All of the public transport promotes going green and hardly anyone owns cars. Many of the apartment buildings have cute rooftop gardens. In just two and a half days in London, I have been quite impressed by this minimalist lifestyle.

Now to hear about all of the fun activities that we have been doing! London reminds me of New York City. There are always swarms of people going in every direction. The diversity of the people and places is incredible. So much to see, so little time.  We began our London time with eating fish and chips before catching a ride on the famous Ferris wheel, the London Eye (which also highly supports clean energy)! Yesterday, we took a hop-on, hop-off double-decker bus tour around the city. At one of the stops, I tried having my picture taken with one of the horse guards, but the horse turned its head sharply into my arm. My sweatshirt now has horse slobber on it, but it was definitely memorable. After lunch and pictures in Trafalgar Square, it was off to the best part of the day...the Harry Potter walking tour! Our tour guide was awesome; she was Scottish, had bright red hair, and was a true Harry Potter geek. We walked to the places where many scenes of the movies have been shot and through the area where J.K. Rowling received her inspiration for Harry Potter and Diagon Alley. Can you believe that the Queen cannot shut down the streets of London, but the filming of Harry Potter can?!  We then rode the bus to Buckingham Palace, and we had pictures taken right in front of where Prince William and Kate Middleton shared their two kisses. Then, there was dinner in Piccadilly Circus, which reminds me of Time Square. Of course, we had to take pictures at Platform 9 3/4 in King's Cross Station, too.  Finally, we ended the night by joining the locals in watching the England vs. Sweden football game in a pub. England won 3-2, so there were cheers all around.

Today, we cruised the Thames River from the Tower of London to Westminster, then all the way back to Greenwich. Greenwich was an adorable town with a lot of charisma. It is home of the Prime Meridian. While being at the point at where the east and west meet was cool, seeing the stadium where all of the 2012 Olympic equestrian activities will be held was even cooler. It is still under construction, but I cannot wait to watch the Olympics on TV and be able to say, "Wow, I have been there!" Unsure of what to do in our free time, some of us randomly hopped on our tour bus, and we found adventures. We watched an incredible royal-like parade near the Houses of Parliament, wandered off the beaten path, and strolled through the back of Westminster Abbey.

Happy to be a Panther traveling the world, learning more about myself and others along the way. We have already met two UNI alums here! Who knows what else is in store or who else we will meet? :)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


During mid-late June 2012, fifteen UNI students will be participating in a Study Abroad Capstone course in England and Wales.  This course will be focused on sustainability and ways that students can impact how sustainable our campus will be in the future.  Over the next three weeks, students from this class will blog about their experiences overseas, including their hands on experience with a different cultural, unique environmental issues and new technological solutions while in the United Kingdom.