As many spring semester Global UGRADs were, I was excited to come to the United States. I was daydreaming about the fascinating conversations I would have even before arriving.
“Where is your luggage?” This was the first question I was asked again and again as I moved from the airport to the hotel, then from the hotel to the new dorm. It wasn’t the interesting conversation I was expecting! I easily carried my suitcase with me through all those transitions – a small suitcase that weighed eight kilograms. People were surprised I didn’t bring more stuff! Compared to the other exchange students, eight kilograms was nothing.
In the last two years, I have learned that I need to reduce my carbon footprint wherever I can. My friends helped me learn that lesson—they practice ecological farming with local farmers, and I had the chance to visit their farm. The farm uses no chemicals (such as fertilizers and pesticides) and puts safeguards in place to protect our ecological system. However, they also need to make a profit. What really impressed me was not their ecological farming, but the way they ran their business. They built a market in their farm which allowed customers to visit and buy fresh vegetables and fruits. The market was a success. One day, a hotel called them and asked if my friends were willing to sell the products to them. The hotel wanted to use their vegetables for the long term and could offer a decent price. My friends hesitated because it was a good deal; if they made this deal, they could put more money into the farm. But they realized that transporting the products the long distance to the hotel would create more pollution, which was against their values. Rather than providing products to people living far away, they decided to sell them to local customers first. At last, they refused the offer.
Their story inspired and changed me. In a money-oriented society, few people would choose environment over profit. I started to examine my former lifestyle – recycling, conserving water and electricity, traveling responsibly, etc. I found what I did was not enough and became aware of reducing my carbon footprint, which brings us back to my luggage issue. I did not need any non-essential things with me when traveling, so I packed light. If I took a heavy suitcase, it would increase my carbon emissions because I would need to get in cars more often and not be able to walk.
I know that if we really want to deal with environmental issues we should focus on systemic impacts. However, I think all of us have the responsibility of taking care of our earth. If you can reduce your environmental impact to any extent, I encourage you to do so. If you would like to educate people on how to treat our earth with more kindness, I support you! I believe that if everyone starts to act, changes will happen. Pack light!
Written by Miao Liang (China) who studied at the University of Central Missouri in Spring 2020