A New Type of Learning

As I settle into the class European Biodiversity, I quickly realize that this experience is unlike any other. It’s a quick three week course with emphasis on sustainability and environmental science coupled with a week spent in some of the most beautiful marine and forest national parks in Sweden. Unlike a traditional semester-long course, this condensed program emphasizes fieldwork over classroom lectures. The majority of our time is spent immersed in the natural world, exploring marine and forest national parks in Sweden and Denmark. We become participants in the ecosystems we study, witnessing firsthand the delicate balance of nature and the intricacies of sustainable practices.

My friend Emma and I with our professor Inger Kærgaard at the Koster Islands

What sets this class apart is its focus on effort and participation rather than mundane homework assignments. The pressure to complete endless tasks dissipates, allowing us to fully invest ourselves in the work at hand. Engaging with the environment becomes a source of joy and personal growth. Under Inger Kærgaard’s guidance, we learned to appreciate the beauty and complexity of the natural world, gaining a deeper understanding of our role in its preservation. Through her teachings and passion for the material, she not only imparted knowledge but also fostered a sense of purpose and a commitment to a sustainable future. In her presence, I couldn’t help but feel inspired and motivated to pursue a career out in the field. 

Trying to find some marine life to take back to the lab ( we got a crab!)

The trip started it off with a journey to the smallest national park in Sweden Dalby Söderskog, while it was only 0.36 km2 (0.14 sq. mi) the area was still provided a lot for us to learn. Along with visiting captivating national parks, we also embarked on research vessels in which we collected samples from the seafloor to look at in the lab, as well as donning some waders to go collected marine life from the intertidal zones (pictured above).

My friend and classmate Reid trying to eat a snail we found at Dalby Söderskog

This is me trying really hard to lift the clay that we got from the bottom of the ocean into our sample tray (I spilled a little bit).

We then visited the Kosterhavets National Park, a pristine marine sanctuary captivating visitors with its unspoiled beauty and remarkable biodiversity. Stretching across the Koster Islands and surrounding waters, this national park holds the distinction of being the country’s first marine national park, a testament to its ecological significance.

The class exploring the Island and Lighthouse

Above the surface, the Koster Islands offer breathtaking coastal vistas and rugged landscapes. The islands’ flora thrives in this unique ecosystem, with coastal heaths, wildflowers, and shrubs dotting the landscape.  A Swedish guide also joined us for this ride, Sven-Gunnar immersed us in the rich historical story of the fisherman and lighthouse keepers that lived on those islands and the communities that followed them. The houses of the families of the fishermen and lighthouse keepers are still here to this day, as well as the now out of commissioned lighthouse. Preservation and sustainability are at the core of Kosterhavets National Park. Efforts to conserve this fragile marine ecosystem extend beyond its borders, as the park collaborates with local communities, researchers, and conservation organizations. Together, they strive to safeguard the park’s unique habitats and raise awareness about the importance of marine conservation.

The Island of Kosterhavet

In addition to the captivating teachings of Inger Kærgaard and our Swedish guides that joined us along the way, being immersed in Danish and Scandinavian culture during this environmental science course added a unique layer to the experience. The emphasis on sustainability and environmental consciousness is deeply ingrained in the fabric of these societies, making it the perfect backdrop for our studies

Throughout our time in Denmark and Sweden, we had the opportunity to witness firsthand the environmental practices deeply rooted in the local culture. From the efficient public transportation systems to the prevalence of recycling and renewable energy sources, the commitment to preserving the natural world was evident in every aspect of daily life. The Scandinavian countries have long been at the forefront of sustainable living and environmental innovation. This progressive mindset permeates the educational system as well, with a strong emphasis on environmental education and research. In the classrooms and research facilities we visited, it was inspiring to see the collaborative efforts between scientists, policymakers, and communities to address environmental challenges. We were exposed to the concept of Allemannsretten, also known as the “everyman’s right” or “freedom to roam,” a unique concept deeply ingrained in the Scandinavian culture, particularly in Norway and Sweden. It is a traditional legal right that grants individuals the freedom to access and explore vast stretches of uncultivated land, regardless of land ownership, as long as they do so responsibly and with respect for nature and the environment. As well as encourages individuals to foster a sense of personal responsibility towards nature, promoting a harmonious coexistence between people and the environment.

Leaving this immersive experience, we carried with us a newfound appreciation for the intersection of culture and environmental science. The lessons we learned from Danish and Scandinavian practices will forever influence our personal and professional endeavors, inspiring us to incorporate sustainability into our lives and work. As well as begs the pressing question, could we incorporate any of this in the U.S?

See you next week!

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