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Upon Arrival and While There

Societal and cultural expectations regarding sustainability may differ from Amherst. During your program orientation, pay particular attention to what sustainable practices are encouraged or expected.

Remember to ask questions or talk to your host family (if you have one) about what is expected or respected in the community regarding:

  • Where you can get safe drinking water?
  • Is it okay to keep appliances plugged in?
  • How do people heat or cool their space?
  • What is the most appropriate way to get around/use transportation?
  • What are some food/eating norms/customs people have?
  • What to do with food scraps?
  • Where do specific items go? Do they go in the trash, recycling, other receptacles?
  • Learn about the specific climate stress points of your host site: is the location prone to hurricanes? heat waves? housing insecurity? air pollution?

Educate yourself on the connections between systemic injustice in your host site and climate change in global and local contexts. How does climate change intersect with movements for racial justice, gender equality, economic opportunity, and land and resource management? You can find intersections of systemic injustice and climate change, carbon emissions management, energy, water, food systems, purchasing, waste, tourism, educational colonialism, political action, and conservation efforts.

Utilities and Appliances

While studying away, students find themselves in many different living accommodations such as homestays, dorms, apartments, houses, and more. In many of these cases you or your host family will be responsible for paying for your utilities. Energy and water are sometimes more scarce and expensive than in the United States, so be particularly conscious of your energy and water usage. Similarly some appliances you commonly find in the United States such as dishwashers and clothing dryers may not be accessible in your host country. In situations where you may not be accustomed to the machines or new skills required, just ask and learn by doing.

Here are some suggestions to help reduce your impact:

  • Conserve electricity by limiting use of lights/heat/AC.
  • Use proper outlet adapters to save energy consumption.
  • Unplug your devices when not in use.
  • Hang your laundry to dry instead of using a machine dryer.
  • Limit water consumption by taking shorter showers.

"[...] the idea of prolonged restriction on energy consumption is completely new to me." - Maddie Hahm '24

 Read why Maddie decided to study sustainability and air pollution in Spain.

Food and Dining

You may not have access to an all-you-can-eat, unlimited swipes dining hall like Val while studying away. You may be expected to cook for yourself, eat a family dinner with your host family regularly, rely on supermarkets, or not have access to a kitchen while you are away. Here are a few tips for dining sustainably:

  • Embrace the local food. Learn how to cook meals with your host family and try new foods while you are there. Be sure to know if you have any allergies to commonly consumed food.
  • Try to eat locally sourced food. Check out local farmers markets, food markets, or grocery stores where you can.
  • Eat plants! A plant-based diet is often more sustainable than an animal products-based diet. Try a new form of protein like tofu or peanut butter or embrace the commonly plant-based meals in the county.
  • Try the local fruits and vegetables, you may only be able to access them affordably while you’re there. They are also a great replacement for pre-packaged snacks.
  • Volunteer at a local farm in exchange for farm-fresh vegetables and get to know local farmers/vendors.
  • Purchase or bring a set of Tupperware so you can save leftovers.
  • Get yourself a lunch box and invest in reusable cutlery to carry your leftovers.
  • Donate your cookware and other household items at the end of your semester.


Transportation is different in every country and the customs around transportation may vary in each region. Try to become familiar with these customs and make use of public transportation where you can.

Daily Commuting

Sometimes you may be able to walk your daily commutes. In larger metropolises it may be helpful to learn the geography and feel comfortable commuting by foot, biking, or using public transportation. Some places may have emissions-friendly subways/metros/trains.

"Streets in Ahmedabad take on a life of their own. Motorbikes, cars, rickshaws, buses horn at each other craving space to speed up, while cows, dogs, sometimes elephants, goats, and horses take their leisurely walks right in the middle of the street." - Tran '17

Read Tran's experiences with traffic, markets, and weddings in India.

Regional Travel

Carbon emissions from flying are some of the highest per capita, wherever possible consider a mode of transportation that is not flying.

  • If you are traveling throughout many small countries, especially in Europe, consider taking the train or bus rather than a plane.
  • Consider taking a boat or ferries to get over bodies of water.

"I'm taking a class called Integrated Climate Change Planning, which focuses on the potential for cities to mitigate carbon emissions, as well as some of the challenges facing the integration of climate change concerns into urban planning efforts. My professor, Silvia, was kind enough to sit down with me to talk about her experiences as an architect and urban planner working in Copenhagen." - Rebecca Novick '21


The culture of waste may be different while you are studying away. Some places may be much more efficient than the United States and some may rely on plastic packing or other waste products as a form of safety. Get familiar with what is done with each element of waste in order to benefit the waste stream and to be respectful of local customs. Some countries are champions of composting, others may have more bins to separate out different types of recycling, and others send most objects to landfills because of lack of infrastructure or convenience. It’s important to become familiar with your area’s specific methods of handling waste so you can appropriately dispose of food scraps, packaging, and empty cans.


When living away, it is often the case you will be more independent and make more of your own purchasing choices than when living at Amherst. Use this opportunity to be more conscious of what you buy, keeping in mind packaging and choosing only what you actually need. Be critical of what you buy, too, especially since you will only be living there for a few months. It is definitely easy to get carried away with collecting souvenirs, clothes, and items you can’t find at home, and try to be more selective with your choices.

  • Support local businesses rather than large retail chains and purchase locally made goods. Many local businesses rely on tourism.
  • Buy second-hand items (e.g., cookware, bedding, clothes)
  • Do not purchase souvenirs or food products made from exotic or endangered animals (e.g., turtle shells, ivory, animal skins, bones, feathers, or bushmeats)

"I'm so excited by the 'Paris Good Fashion' initiative because of its dual focus on ensuring that the fashion industry is both sustainable with regards to the climate emergency, and ethical throughput in its supply chain." - Alice '21

Check out Alice's blog on shopping at second hand clothing stores in France.


While away, you will likely be provided with the opportunity to engage in several activities that you would not be able to do at Amherst. While many of these activities are fun, it is important to stay cognizant of the impacts that these activities have, and to be respectful of your community. Visit and explore the natural landscape of the region. Each community has its own unique and diverse ecosystem. Wherever it is safe and respectful to do so, go on hikes or walks to explore the area.

Create a space for dialogue within your study abroad cohort or with your program's instructors. Ask questions about your role, both significant and short term, in your new home for the semester. How does your program's activities support or strain local economies, people, and environments?

Some helpful reminders:

  • Do not interact with wild animals.
  • Leave no trace while camping or traveling.
  • Become cognizant of what is respectful or disrespectful in relationship with the natural environment in your new community. Be careful to be respectful wherever you are.
  • Become aware of how the local community relates to tourists and individuals who are living temporarily in their community. If there is a stigma or concern related to the number of people using and abusing the natural environment, consider learning about the local ecosystem in different, more respectful ways.