My Generation: Matt bounces from Italy to Egypt and over to Costa Rica
Where did you study abroad, live,or have lived that you would like to share for the Sustainability Project?
In the fall of 2008 I spent 3 ½ months living in Milan, Italy and traveling around Europe and this past summer I spent 3 weeks traveling through Israel and Egypt. I am currently living in Costa Rica for 11 weeks (2 down 9 to go) and hope to keep traveling the world in the future.
What do you think was/is the most exciting thing about these l ocations?
For me, Italy was very exciting because it was my first time experiencing Europe and the culture is just so different than in the US. Italians care much more about family and being happy than working. Milan serves as the business and fashion capital of Italy so there is a lot going on all the time, but I would imagine that other parts of Italy are even more relaxed and family oriented. They would never bring you a check until you asked for it, and you could spend 3 hours at a restaurant eating a meal and you would never be rushed.
The Middle East is such a fascinating place to visit because it takes such a large role on the world stage of politics and current events. For me, it was also a chance to learn more about my ancestry as a descendent of the Jewish people. The vast amount of history that has taken place in the region was what inspired me the most. I was also able to visit Cairo during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan which was a hectic and memorable experience as well.
Costa Rica is a very relaxed and family oriented society as well. In the first town I visited, it was full of tourists and partying with jacked up prices, however the town next door (where all the locals lived) was quaint and much cheaper. I was told that the majority of people in the town could be traced back to two or three families, so nearly everyone was a cousin or grandchild or of some relation to the people around them. Entire blocks would be populated by a bloodline. Costa Ricans are happy and friendly people for the most part, but their society has its problems too!
Was/is there anything related to environmental awareness or sustainability worth sharing?
– Like most major European cities I visited, Milan had an excellent public transportation network. It consisted of buses, trams, and a subway system that was very efficient and widely used. Seattle could definitely take a lesson or two from Europe. Another thing that stood out to me as different than in the US, is the lack of many common appliances in households. Electricity and water are much more expensive in Italy and appliances using lots of these resources are reserved for only the wealthiest individuals and most luxurious living quarters. I was the envy of all my friends because my apartment had a dishwasher, so we didn’t have to hand wash our dishes. No one in my program had a dryer, as we were all expected to line dry our clothes, either out the window or on a drying rack.
– I was very disappointed with the level of environmental awareness and ideas of sustainability in the Middle East. Both in Israel and in Egypt, trash littered the land. In streets, parks, nature reserves, beaches, it didn’t matter where you went, you were guaranteed to see plastic bags and bottles. It was very sad and made me wonder how horrid places like India and China must be if we hear about them all the time, but never about trash in the Middle East. The Red Sea was phenomenal; however much of the coral I saw was dead which was disappointing as well. The water was very clear for the most part, but not quite like the lagoons in the Pacific Islands we see on TV. When it comes to transportation, the places I visited are behind the US in some regards. Cairo was an absolute mess. With a population of around 20 million people they need a complete overhaul of their transportation infrastructure if they ever want to become a world class city. It is impossible to get anywhere in a reasonable amount of time (except if you go right a sundown during Ramadan because everyone is eating so the streets are empty!). Traffic was a mess, everyone drives like maniacs and no one follows or enforces any type of driving rules. The Nile River was also disgusting and more likely than not very polluted.
– In Costa Rica, the environment plays a huge role throughout the country. Many, if not all, of the main tourist attractions in this country are related to the environment. There are numerous natural parks, breathtaking beaches and lush mountainsides all full of a diverse array of wildlife and flora and fauna. It is not uncommon to see monkeys outside your window in some towns, or to see beautiful birds and butterflies going by. Recycling is commonplace as is the conservation of energy and water. Organic and local food is also big because of the rich natural resources and fertile land that Costa Rica possesses. Cars are a luxury here, and many locals take advantage of a well-run bus system throughout the country. As for tourists, with roads being quite horrid, it is very common to take the buses as well, or to use private shuttle companies that use 10 or 15 passenger vans to transport groups between cities.
Is there one thing that you do in your daily life that can be attributed to sustainability?
Having grown up in Seattle and attended a more-liberal-than-most college I have adapted my habits considerably to the point where I try hard not to buy lots of material goods that I know I won’t use, such as trinkets and toys. I also normally carry my groceries out without a bag, or use a reusable bag if needed (plastic bags have polluted this planet more than anything I have ever seen!). I also try not to eat red meat (I prefer the taste of chicken too! But it is also way friendlier on the environment than beef) and I try to eat locally grown foods as much as possible. I got into a good habit of riding my bike a lot this past summer, but in all reality I won’t be riding much during the winter unless the roads are dry.
Why do you think Sustainability or environmental awareness is so important to our generation?
There are many reasons why sustainability and environmental awareness are important to our generation, the least of which is the fact that our generation is going to inherit one hell of a mess if we don’t change our ways soon. At the current rate our society (the world in general but especially Americans) consumes resources, there won’t be any left for future generations. We might even run out for ourselves. We only have one planet to live on, and if we mess it up we aren’t going to get a second chance. Costa Rica is only as pristine and lush as it is because the Spaniards couldn’t find gold or other resources here so they decided to go destroy some other society. I can only imagine how beautiful the United States were 100 years ago, and I try not to imagine what our world will look like in 100 years because I fear that I won’t be able to recognize anything. It will be like Wall-E, plants won’t be able to grow!
What degree, have you received or are currently seeking, or what field of work are you looking to jump into?
I recently graduated with a degree in business management and a minor in economics but I’m not sure if that is what I want to do with my life. I really enjoy traveling and watching soccer, so if I can find a way to make money by doing those two things I would pursue that option. Once I return from Costa Rica I am going to try and get into the world of finance but it is a difficult field to enter in the current economic climate, and the working conditions are not always the best. I hope to find something that makes me happy and can support me in the long run!
If you could travel to one place in the world where would it be, and why?
I have been fortunate to do more traveling than the average 22-year-old in the last few years, but if I got to pick another place to visit it would either be South America (Argentina and Brazil) or back to Europe (to further explore Spain, Portugal, and Scandinavia)
If you could be one animal in the world what would it be?
I really like penguins but I don’t know if I’d like to be one. Sloths lead a pretty sweet life, at least down here in Costa Rica, as do monkeys which are quite entertaining to watch. If I had to pick one animal though, it would have to be a dolphin. I love the water and dolphins are very smart and sophisticated animals which would suite me well.