Our Final Days – Learning Sustainability in the Czech Republic

June 22, 2016

Written (and produced) by: Caroline Frier and Lillian Morse


The last two days of this whirlwind trip have been based in Ostrava, Czech Republic.  It is the third largest city in the Czech Republic and well-known for its steel manufacturing.  On Wednesday, we journeyed to a repurposed steel mill which now functions as a children’s museum, concert hall, cafe, and an educational destination for all ages.  We had fun while exploring the highest heights of Bolt Tower…well, most of us did.  Those with a fear of heights enjoyed the view from the glass outlook in the center of the tower, away from the fenced, open grate walkways.  Our tour guide was extremely informative about the past and now present functions of the factory.  He told us all about the steelmaking process, factory conditions, and the health risks steel workers faced at the time while showing us the control room, the furnaces, and the rest of the factory.  After that, he showed us a beautiful open social space and concert hall where we learned about Tara’s (one of our teaching assistants) hidden talent, singing.  But the day did not stop there!

Prior to meeting with local government officials regarding air quality policy and related industries, we enjoyed lunch in the government building.  After a satisfying meal, we talked with government officials about the problems Ostrava faces with air quality and the factors that contribute to it.  Truly, it is a wicked problem.  So many different factors from industry to heating use to wind patterns affect the air quality of the city that there is no one solution to solve all the problems.  The multifaceted nature of the problem was even more exemplified when we met with a Čisté nebe (Clear Skies) non-governmental organization (NGO) later in the day.  Their work was focused on improving air quality as well as educating the public about the health-related consequences of air pollution.  They talked about alerting the public through air quality apps and websites so that the citizens knew when it was not safe to exercise and when to limit their outdoor activities.

After a long, informative day of studying wicked problems in Ostrava, we sat down for a delicious, relaxing meal and were joined by the head of the NGO herself, Anna Plošková.  We all sat at dinner, reminiscing over the past few weeks, knowing that tomorrow, we would all be headed our separate ways.

June 23, 2016

On Thursday, our final day, we woke up, brought our bags downstairs and ate a delicious last breakfast.  Some of us took advantage of the last day of free chocolates at the front desk while others enjoyed a nice croissant and coffee.  We got confirmation from the front desk that the chateau is in fact haunted, as expected.  Then, the group headed out to Vitcovice’s functioning steel factory where we first met with officials and then were handed hard hats and led into the factory itself.  Although a very hot day, the steel factory was an amazing experience.  We saw parts being built for cars, airplanes, ships, and more.  Such large pieces of steel so carefully crafted to be smooth and flawless.  Also, Vitcovice’s has stopped making new steel.  All the steel they use to make their products now is recycled and repurposed.  We had the opportunity to watch as stainless steel was stretched and created, while we felt the heat radiating off of it from meters away.

After the steel mill, we returned back to the chateau for our final meal together.  Dr. Schenk held a final trip meeting and we each took our turn going around and sharing our favorite parts of the trips. Then, our group began to disperse to their after trip plans.  First, John and Andrew parted ways.  Then the group headed to Prague left.  Groups also headed to Vienna as well as other destinations.  Overall, we could not have hoped for a better group of students and faculty to study abroad with.  Everyone brought different knowledge and interests to the table.  The group was well rounded and enjoyed both times in and out of the classroom, with Dr. Schenk and Dr. Buehler.

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