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Surval Blog: Reflections on Oxford University Summer Course

23 August 2019

Survalienne Mariana (Liberal Arts / Swiss Gap Programme Class of 2017) shares her reflections on the summer course she attended this July at the University of Oxford in England. You can read about how Mariana was stirred into a newly awakened passion for Sustainability in her reflective article here

“An immense hope in my own generation…”

I recently spent two weeks at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, a summer school offered by Oxford University in England, learning about the challenges and opportunities presented by today’s climate crisis and the move towards a more sustainable system of living. 

From afar, it was easy to have high expectations for both the lectures and discussion material: the name Oxford bears significant weight in itself, and I knew from the start that I would be privileged to be able to peek into the rooms of learning in such a highly regarded institution. 

What I could not have anticipated is how much I would learn outside of the classroom walls and from the other students themselves; participants came from all over the world and with widely ranging interests, making the cohort highly diverse in terms of both academic and cultural experiences. 

For all the differences we had in persona and background, however, I quickly realized that we shared many core values. By nature of the summer school’s focus, we had all come together in pursuit of the same broad goal: to gain an understanding of the planet we live on and to discover how we can take care of it as we enter the professional world.

From the Paris Agreement to Environmental Economics, Energy Systems, and Responsible Investment, the subjects we touched on over the span of two weeks were multidimensional and important in their own ways. With such an intensive schedule and so many possibilities for discussion, time seemed to pass in the blink of an eye. 

Almost ironically, I found myself leaving these sessions with more questions than I had come with - not because of incomplete material nor comments left unanswered, but rather because the program allowed me to further perceive the true depth of this hugely important issue. 

The immense diversity that intrigued me from a social standpoint came to be very valuable in our academic discussions as well, as students could voice the specific ways in which certain issues affected their own communities - it was as though every hand raised represented an oral case study of the lecture topic of the day.

Hearing different symptoms of the same root problem felt across the world brought each issue’s complexity into full view, as different viewpoints represented different needs and ideas. As such, amongst the most valuable gains from this experience to me was simply perceiving the unknown, and how much more there is to learn.

Sustainability isn’t just about being “eco-friendly.” It’s also about good governance and social equity. Within these three broad labels lie myriad topics of study and possibilities for action. Business, law, public policy, science…the sectors represented by each student spoke for themselves. Each one of us had a different voice, shared a new perspective, and brought forward unique concerns. Humbling as it was to be confronted by new subjects and vocabularies, it excites me to know that there are many niches in the environmental and sustainability discourse, already with many experts leading these areas.

The friendships I made and the network we have built stand for much more than just friendly faces and good memories: the collection of voices at the Smith School gave me immense hope in my own generation and for the future, as it became overwhelmingly clear that individuals pursuing their own passions and forging personal futures can come together towards a similar goal. 

All in all, my time at Oxford was truly a transformative two weeks that taught me the importance of questions: when faced with issues as challenging as climatic change and environmental crisis, many of us feel pressed to find a solution. Of course, this was and remains one of my main motivations in both coming into Oxford and after leaving it. However, to approach such a huge question will likely require many sub-sectional answers, meaning collaboration across fields and countries alike. The summer school at Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment represented the value of coming together, regardless of nationality and expertise, to consider different avenues that could be taken towards universal progress.