“So much of school today is about fitting into a system and learning a certain way. GREEN isn’t like that though. It’s more about doing what you love to do and getting hands-on experience in the mean time,” said UNC Wilmington student Richard Smith about his recent study abroad experience.
A GREEN experience:
This summer, Smith spent ten days studying and configuring renewable energy resources in Iceland with a student-founded organization called GREEN (Global Renewable Energy Education Network). During the program, students separated into small teams to collaborate on capstone projects. These projects took students from different fields and put them together to come up with an idea related to developing renewable energy.
“With GREEN, the focus is different [than traditional study abroad programs],” Smith said. “They don’t just dump you into a classroom and expect you to learn the way you would at school. You’re getting real life experience in your field while also being immersed in a great culture.”
While abroad, Smith and his team investigated new ways to make residential geothermal heating systems economical and practical in New York.
“The capstone project isn’t just an idea,” Smith said. “At the end of the program, a lot of students have received government funding to carry out projects.”
One team of students who studied with GREEN created a world energy project which now provides solar panels for schools in Africa.
It wasn’t all work and no play though, Smith said. During the trip, the students climbed glaciers, camped in a national park, snorkeled between continents, went “super jeeping” and visited hot springs in the mountains.
“One of my favorite things about the program is that you get a real feel for the culture,” said Smith. “When you study abroad in an American program, you’re with Americans the whole time. With GREEN, we stayed with Icelandic people, had native tour guides, had authentic Icelandic food in front of us and listened to Icelandic conversations.”
While in Iceland, students stayed in “eco villages” where the locals practice sustainable living by growing their own food and using renewable energy sources.
“When you’re a tourist, you do excursions, but you don’t really get into the culture,” Smith said.
How it started:
GREEN was founded by two college students who were looking to re-shape ideas about international study. The founders have been successful in effecting positive change in the world and individual students. They have created a program where, according to their website, “The words of a traditional textbook knowledge jump off the page and into the minds and hearts of [their] students through hands-on education at functioning renewable energy facilities.”
“I’ve never seen something where people our age have created something so efficient and successful. Normally, you don’t think that people our age can do that sort of thing but GREEN is proof that we can,” Smith said.
Where it’s going:
Currently, GREEN is an unapproved study abroad program at UNCW. Since his return from Iceland, Smith has been working on spreading awareness about the program and trying to get GREEN programs approved by UNCW Study Abroad. A meeting is scheduled at the October to get GREEN approved, Smith said.
More about Smith:
Smith is a senior at UNCW, double majoring in Environmental Studies and Geosciences. He interns with the Department of Environmental Health and Safety, is a UNCW Study Abroad Ambassador, International Student Mentor, and a member of the International Programs Speaker Bureau.
Since his return from Iceland, Smith has been working as an intern for GREEN. He applied to graduate school at the Iceland School of Energy at Reykjavik University, a recent GREEN partner. And after graduate school, Smith hopes to work in international renewable energy.