Study Abroad: Winter intersession in Buenos Aires examines environmental issues

Among the many study abroad programs available to Geneseo students is a brief yet eye-opening trip to the capital city of Argentina, Buenos Aires.

ENVR 250 – Urban Environmental Issues in Latin America – is a winter intersession trip that recently sent 16 students to the bustling South American city.

The program, which is in its third year, is a two-week venture to Buenos Aires where students do fieldwork related to the unique environmental issues the city faces. Four major areas are considered – water quality, nuclear medicine and health, waste management, and ecological conservation – but students also do their own research on other topics. Combined with a one-credit lecture in the preceding fall, this program offers perspective on topics that are likely foreign to most Geneseo students.

Students who participated in the program were enthusiastic about how much perspective they gained from their experiences. "Before we went, I wasn't actually that interested in South America," said junior Jane Raffaldi. "But when we got down there I learned so much and had such a great time that it kind of opened up a whole new world for me."

Buenos Aires suffers from many troubling environmental problems; the river it is situated on, the Río de la Plata, suffers from degradation due to toxic waste, its large population contributes a huge amount of trash that has historically been mishandled and significant poverty has made it difficult for the population to focus on environmental issues.

"It takes a long time to cultivate environmental awareness," said geography professor and program instructor David Aagesen. "Because so many are related to abject poverty, it's hard to convince people to sort out their waste or take care of the water supply."

While such problems were the focus of much the course, so too were the solutions, and the environmental infrastructure of Buenos Aires is seeing improvements. "The population has really stepped it up in a way by switching their cars and taxis to natural gas from diesel fuel," said sophomore Jonathan Biber. "Diesel is very dirty, and Buenos Aires is now the No. 1 country in the world in natural gas use."

What students might take away the most is the all-around experience of Buenos Aires and its people. "You can meet someone and two seconds later you're friends sharing a mate [tea], being invited over to their house for dinner," said sophomore AnnaMaria Smeraldi.

"Because my own family's main concern was always getting food on the table, I never really learned about conservation," said senior Leydi Basilio. "The trip was very hands on, you get to see all these problems with your own eyes."