Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) Study Investigates the Impacts of Experiential Education Abroad


Jul 6, 2020

Leonie Paul is a Master’s graduate in Sustainable Destination Development from Uppsala University in Sweden, one of the world’s best research institutions and universities. Her thesis research focused on the complex, interdisciplinary, and personal nature of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and how it questions the status quo of traditional pedagogic approaches and learning techniques.

Using The GREEN Program (TGP) as a case study, specialized in ESD, Paul’s research investigates the relevance of experiential studies in a foreign setting and the short and long-term impacts and potential for experiential education for sustainable development. With her degree, Paul hopes to promote the development towards a more sustainable world, awareness in everyday consumption, and usage of resources. 

Read Paul’s full white paper and research study HERE.

1. What motivated you to study learning outcomes from sustainable development programs abroad with The GREEN Program?

Right from the start of my Master’s studies, I knew what I wanted to achieve: Communicating the message of sustainability. Therefore, the focus of my thesis work was soon set in the area of Education for Sustainable Development. But why not combine the rather theoretical work with my passion for traveling and exploring? That’s when I found TGP and its outstanding teaching approach. Nevertheless, as we know from various scientific disciplines, we need figures and facts to prove the validity of any concept. Together with TGP, we came up with a comprehensive study to exactly show the potential that lies within experiential learning.

2. What program learning outcomes did you monitor, and what did you find?

Firstly and most importantly, it works. The study found that overall the knowledge in sustainable development was enhanced and greater awareness for personal and professional choices of TGP alumni was created. Strongly related to their academic background, the participants concentrate their pro-environmental behavior on waste management, recycling, and energy consumption. I found that the establishment of a connection between the students themselves, exchange with locals and professionals, but mainly the immersion into a foreign setting were found to cause long-lasting impacts.

TGP Alumni gained a greater understanding of sustainability in general and had access to possible solutions that provide concepts towards a “greener” future.  95% of TGP students experience a sustainability-related shift with an increase in awareness and consciousness of personal impacts, personal exchange, and expertise in sustainability issues. Thereby the exposure to real-world examples, foreign cultures, and the exchange between the students but also professionals and experts had the most significant impact on the participants. My favorite outcomes are the personal achievements of alumni, for example, the development of an environmental education course or the invention of a micro-plastic trawl for rivers.

TGP’s study trips equipped the participants with a broad range of ESD learning outcomes and the ability to translate those into their personal spheres. Combining a diverse variety of pedagogical approaches supported such a process. Apart from that, the importance of sustainability in a professional context is taken up at various points.

“95% of TGP students experience a sustainability-related shift with an increase in awareness and consciousness of personal impacts, personal exchange, and expertise in sustainability issues.”

ckc6gp6hr003vefi5fm1nngqx david kovalenko h4h9vmow348 unsplash
Photo by David Kovalenko
ckc6hlmsk015lvhi54f3rg2h0 zoe schaeffer kfjdrtvvhuk unsplash
Photo by Zoe Schaeffer

3. What impacts did you find on the career path and trajectory of program participation?

In summary, the results of the final evaluation of TGP underlines the transformative impact of experiential learning, putting impulses from experiences into purposeful actions.  The present findings related to “green” study trips encompass the potential to foster a highly aware and pro-environmental minded future workforce that can actively promote a shift towards sustainability in various disciplines. 50% of the employed survey participants/alumni are already working in the field of sustainability and therefore contributing to important developments on a daily basis.

Taking part in one of the TGP trips helps students to confirm or reorient their academic choice. From the alumni students who decided to change their studies to a different field after the participation, 74% switched to a program related to sustainability which will most likely guide them towards a green career as well.  Overall, TGP alumni are strongly sustainability-driven in their career choices and are determined to have an impact in sustainable development as part or even by the nature of their occupation.

“The exposure to real-world examples, foreign cultures, and the exchange between the students but also professionals and experts had the most significant impact on the participants.”

ck66ukx7t0466g1i52rebuc39 20200111 093718

4. Did you find any observable long-term or short-term impacts on the attitudes and behaviors of program participants, and their sustainable living practices, action, or activism after the program?

The study found that being exposed to foreign external influences has great transformational power in terms of knowledge and personal development. Returning from their travels, alumni promote small- and large-scale shifts on various levels in their home destination. Findings have expressed that the visited country provided inspiration and outlooks on how a transformation to sustainability can be achieved. This gained understanding and solution-oriented thinking are often hoped to be or already applied within the own setting at home.

The TGP alumni are concerned about sustainability issues and their personal impacts in this regard. Their own consumption patterns and behaviors are critically observed and partly adjusted to a certain extent. Usually, the pure awareness about a non-sustainable practice is the first step towards improvement, which is why the outcome can be rated quite positively. Also, the participants have shown the will to spread the message of sustainability and their TGP learnings within their personal, but also professional environments. Consequently, TGP’s impact can create a positive snowball effect. 

“TGP alumni are strongly sustainability-driven in their career choices and are determined to have an impact in sustainable development as part or even by the nature of their occupation.”

ck66vgat004ckg1i5txj10pwr img 20200115 wa0003

5. Did you find evidence that studying sustainable development through a global lens via education abroad is a particularly effective and impactful way to facilitate sustainability education and activism?

Cause and effect, especially in the complex process of learning, these are not easily assigned or determined. However, throughout the study, it became evident that participants were able to develop a vision from their newly gained experiences, personal exchange, and a foreign perspective. This vision for a greener future is then brought back home and eventually transferred into action.

Due to the findings, the relevance of experiential learning in a foreign setting is strongly supported. Sustainability related study trips are able to contribute to the pro-environmental behavior of participants by providing knowledge, awareness, and a personal connection through experiences with the related issues along with challenges and solutions. Students experience a deeper connection with the place visited after returning home and pay greater attention to preservation and development in various fields of sustainable development. The wish for change is at least intended to be brought in the professional career choice.

I believe it is and will become even more important in higher education to implement global lenses within study programs. Climate change doesn’t know borders and we need to collaborate on all levels to fight this severe crisis.

Read  Leonie Paul’s full white paper and research study HERE.

Read Another Article

Honoring Kate Slattery & Highlighting the Shine On Scholarship for Women’s History Month

In honor of Women’s History Month, The GREEN Program is happy to highlight Kate Slattery – a mechanical engineer and photovoltaic designer for SolarCity who challenged herself and others to work toward a global mission of renewable energy and sustainability. We are honored to work with Kate’s family and GivePower to share Kate’s story and provide the Shine On Scholarship to TGP students in memory of Kate. 

read more

How an Online Sustainability Program Helped Jaedyn Medrano Become an Intersectional Sustainability Advocate

This blog features the virtual Nepal Ethics of Sustainable Development Alum, Jaedyn Medrano who says, “this program taught me how to think about a project holistically, and it has guided me along the path to being a better cultured and inclusive young professional.” She is set to graduate with a double major in Renewable Natural Resources & Ecological Restorations in December of 2022.

read more

Defending Reproductive Rights in the Battle for Climate Justice

Reproductive Justice is Climate Justice. The GREEN Program stands to defend the reproductive rights of all women and people who give birth to access safe reproductive health care. We must do more to educate others and understand the interconnection between Reproductive Justice and the Climate Crisis. It’s important to draw the connections between climate change, pollution, and reproductive rights.

read more

An International Graduate Student Embraces Nepali Culture by Studying Abroad through Shine On Scholarship

On one hand, I believe that every student should be given a chance to study abroad at least once in their life, because it teaches us things that textbooks cannot: adaptability, resilience, curiosity, empathy, just to name a few. Whether good or bad, bursting our bubble and learning about our world will inspire us and open our minds. On the other hand, the people we interact with benefit from the diversity, because all of us bring unique perspectives to the table. Perhaps we share an idea that no one has thought of but could be key to solving a problem; we fuel the aspirations of someone who is facing similar difficulties; or help take down stereotypes.  

read more

Remembering Juneteenth and the Fight for Environmental Justice

n June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, TX, and announced the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery. It is on this day every year since that we celebrate “Juneteenth” as the end of slavery in the United States. It is a day that we celebrate ancestors and leaders who fought to be liberated. We celebrate their power, resiliency, and tenacity. 

read more

LGBTQ+ Leaders and Organizations in Sustainability to Know About this Pride Month

The GREEN Program loves to celebrate love, and there is no better way to do that this month than by recognizing a few LGBTQ+ leaders and organizations that are making a difference not just in their own communities but for our planet altogether. Read below to learn more about some people and spaces that are working together to promote a better world that focuses on inclusion and equality.

read more

Meet 8 AAPI Leaders in Sustainability: Across the Globe and At Home

The month of May is known to many as the end of classes and the start of Summer, but May is also known as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Our team at TGP wanted to take a moment to recognize the contributions and influence of AAPI Americans throughout history, culture, and achievements both on a global scale, and from those who are a bit close to home. We also encourage you to learn more about AAPI Heritage Month and get involved through additional resources.

read more

From a Start Up to a Sustainability Study Abroad Program: How Patrick Applied his Passion for Renewable Energy in Iceland

When Fall 2021 rolled around and I saw the TGP scholarship opportunity, I thought I’d apply not expecting much. When I found out that I actually got it, I was like “I guess I’m actually doing this!”. I was a little nervous and anxious but also so excited for the opportunity! I was also grateful that the enrollment process was very smooth for me with no significant challenges along the way.

read more

Boston University Student Gains a Unique Perspective for Renewable Energy & Sustainability by Studying Abroad in Iceland

Global experiences have definitely shaped me into the person I am today through increased cultural awareness and sensitivity. Getting to really know a great group of diverse individuals from all over the world has not only shaped my perspective on current world issues, but has also allowed me to take a glance at certain topics from another angle and point of view.

read more

A Construction Science Major Turns Lessons into Opportunity after a Sustainability Study Abroad Program 

AJ Ewing spent his past Winter Break a little bit differently than most students, by studying abroad on our GREEN Nepal program. As a Construction Science major, AJ notes that he was nervous coming into the study abroad program having no prior experience in sustainability or electrical/solar grids, but he was excited and eager to learn. As soon as he arrived, all his nerves were gone as he was welcomed by our team and ready to dive in. Now, he can honestly say that when he thinks of The GREEN Program, he thinks of “family away from home.”

read more

How a Geologist Made His Sustainability Dream in Iceland a Reality through a Study Abroad Scholarship

As someone who is in a field with a limited representation of ethnic minorities, TGP created a neutral ground where there was a range of diversity on different levels. My GREEN Program experience in Iceland wasn’t just about the adventures and cultural immersion, but about the education too. I thoroughly enjoyed the lectures because I saw how passionate the different lecturers were about their work and research which is truly inspiring. As a geologist, learning more about the wonder that is Iceland in Iceland was definitely a dream come true.

read more

Get to Know GREENie: Maryam Aida Tidjani

Maryam Aida Tidjani got to experience a brand new kind of GREEN Program during the hard times the world was facing, a 100% Virtual and Online experience. Initially planning on traveling to Peru in 2021, the global pandemic continued to shift things around and we had to pivot all travel programs to Online experiences.

read more

Subscribe to The GREEN Program newsletter & updates

Skip to content