After a harrowing day of travel, including a missing zipcar, unwilling taxi drivers, a delayed flight, missed connection , a 6-hour layover at Charles de Gaulle Airport, and another taxi ride, I finally arrived in Riva for the UAP Switzerland Study Abroad trip ready to talk about planning issues (transportation issues possibly?). But instead, I settled for quick meal and an early bedtime.
The first day of classes began with the get-to-know you introductions. I was surprised to find that I was not only surrounded by undergraduate and graduate students from Virginia Tech and UVA, but I was also in the presence of a student who was multi-lingual including Italian (very pertinent information), a student who was interested in international music, a student traveling to Morocco after this trip to hike the highest mountain in Africa, and one student who had a constructed first name compliments of her parents. Not only that, there was someone who was completing a six-month internship in Germany following this trip, another girl who owned a collection of seventy purses with her favorite characters on them, and another student who grew up in the same town where Oprah Winfrey was born — Pretty good company to be keeping on a study abroad trip.
We then got around to discussing the main topic of this trip: Sustainability. Discussions began with simple definitions of what development and sustainable development meant. Words and phrases like growth, progress, innovation, stability, organization of the natural environment, physical development, social growth and population growth arose to describe the topic of development. When it came time to define sustainable development, the different definitions became even more varied. One group thought the term evoked ideas of an ultimate goal, utopia, place-based design, and urgency. Another defined it as development with future needs in mind, planning for transportation and the built environment with environmental protection kept in the forefront. Yet another described sustainable planning with the need for long term thinking and maintenance of certain quality of life for all individuals. It became very clear, very quickly that there were many different views held about this topic, and luckily, we had almost all of them sitting in the same room. We went on to discuss standards for measuring sustainable development, but that topic got even greyer, and I will spare the contrasting details.
The day ended with a pleasant stroll around the beautiful town of Riva San Vitale. A stroll by the lake, a wander through the narrow alleyways, and a tour guide with a lot of history to share made the evening event a very enjoyable one.
Author: Cullen Meves, Graduate Student, Urban Affairs and Planning, VT.